News and Views

What we do at camp has an exponential impact

Posted by Guest Author on

By Chris Schlieckert*

two campers practice canoe safety in the pool at Manidokan Camp and Retreat Center before hitting the river.
Two campers practice canoe safety in the pool at
Manidokan Camp and Retreat Center before hitting the river.

I have been to approximately 150 weeks of summer camp as a staff person. I have been a dishwasher, a lifeguard, a counselor, a wilderness guide, an assistant director, and director. But this year I had a new role: parent of a summer camper. My oldest daughter, Anna, was finally old enough to attend her first overnight camp, a half-week Mini Camp at Manidokan.

I was able to experience camp in a whole new way: through the eyes of a parent. My wife and I got the reminder e-mails that the health form wasn’t complete (until a few days before camp), helped pack her bags, talked her through her nervousness about being away from home for the first time, wondered how she would sleep without us tucking her in, worried that we hadn’t heard anything from camp (even though I am the one who always tells parents “no news is good news” from camp), and refreshed the camp Facebook page constantly to look for photos.

young camper holds up a fish caught while fishing at camp
Young camper holds up a fish caught
while fishing at camp.

I was also able to see the impact her three days of camp had on her. I heard her recite the story of Moses (this year’s theme), sing camp songs insistently for weeks, tell me about all the friends she had made and beg me to set up play dates with them across the state, see how proud she was to do the Flying Squirrel, and see a new level of confidence in her. Her excitement was just the same after a week of day camp at Harmison and West River.

One of the frustrating things about working at camp is that we often don’t know the true impact we have on the campers because we only get to see them for a week. We hope they return for several summers and we get a better glimpse at the person they are becoming. When we are really fortunate, they become summer staff for a season or two and we journey with them as they become a young adult.

As a parent of a camper now, I was able to see in a new way how those precious weeks at summer camp change the trajectory of a child’s life and faith. Camp is a sticky experience (sometimes literally). Because it is an immersive and set-apart experience, the lessons learned at camp about self, others and faith have a staying power few other settings for youth provide.

I believe what we do at camp has an exponential impact on the world. This summer, 1,400 young people came to camp. While here, they experienced the love of God, engaged in authentic Christian community, and were called to put their faith into action to transform the world in Jesus’s name. Now those campers have returned to their homes, churches, and schools throughout our Conference, energized to spread the love, community and transformation they experienced at camp.

Anna spent her whole summer in various programs and camps, ranging from ice skating, to art, to environmental education, but I know the time she spent at Harmison, Manidokan, and West River will have the greatest and most long-term influence on her life.

I am grateful for the support the Baltimore-Washington Conference gives our Retreat and Camping Ministries. A unique oversight structure, strategic financial support, and strong ministry leadership has nurtured a relationship between us that has become the healthiest across our United Methodist connection. In addition to this support, more than 250 volunteers and 95 staff were involved in camp leadership this summer. It is because of this commitment to our young people through the Retreat and Camping Ministry that I know my daughters will be stronger, more confident, more connected to community, and more committed to their faith because of the time they spend at camp.

*Chris Schlieckert is Director of Retreat and Camping Ministries for the BWC.