Welcome to Camp Create
By Rev. Cyndi McDonald
Like most good ideas, this one started with storytelling. As we sat around a table at Glisson for a lectionary discussion, Kindling the Fire, Rev. Zack Martin shared about the Crossroads UMC summer music camp.
Zack described how campers produce a full-fledged musical from popular culture. Last summer’s camp performed the Broadway musical Honk! The sanctuary was filled, and after the performances on Saturday evening and Sunday morning, Zack invited the audience to make the connection between the story of an ugly duckling and the story our faith.
I shared Zack’s story with leaders at Barnesville First United Methodist Church. Our Vacation Bible School hasn’t drawn much community interest the last few years, and we’ve made few connections through VBS.
Like folks at Crossroads, we looked at our community and saw that parents who might not make time for a church program will do whatever it takes to get a child to soccer camp or computer camp.
Rather than imitate the Crossroads UMC music camp, we looked at our own gifts within the church. Some were obvious – artists and art teachers, musicians and music leaders.
Others stepped up and offered to teach kids to cook for one another in culinary classes. Others offered to lead games. One of the church members is a dance instructor. Before we knew it, the idea for Camp Create, a Fine Arts Camp, was pulled together.
The Camp energized the congregation. Members and friends of the church passed out postcard invitations to neighbors, in the library, and even in the beauty salon. They knew about the gifts within the church, and were excited about offering these to others.
We expected more than the usual 15 to 20 kids who attend Vacation Bible School, but were overwhelmed by the community response. On Mondaymorning, 95 kids arrived to take part in Camp Create.
It took almost the whole congregation to offer this camp. And was it exhausting! But there was such joy in sharing our gifts with the next generation.
One of our musicians shared that she had not been part of VBS for many years. When VBS switched to canned music, there was no need for her gifts.
This year, her gifts were needed. By Tuesday she had kids playing chords with handbells. You should have seen the pride in the children’s faces as they showed what they had learned during the week, handbells, chimes, percussion, song, dance moves, and drama.
Sunday morning attendance was greater than any worship service since I came to Barnesville First last year. Parents and grandparents showed up for the performance and stayed for a covered dish lunch and art exhibit. It was beautiful to see people sitting around the tables over a meal, getting to know one another.
Part of the Camp Create planning was to be intentional about making connections and follow-up. The culinary arts group printed a cookbook with the camp recipes and camper photographs. Every kid loves to get mail, and this cookbook came with an invitation to a kid’s movie night.
The camp planning process changed how we think about church events, and encourages us to ask the question, “When we gather, to what next event will we invite our guests?” In other words, we’re learning to always have an invitation ready.
As we evaluate Camp Create, what went well and how we can improve for next year, we’re telling stories about interactions with the children and their parents. We’re talking about other gifts within the church that could be offered next time.
And you know what happens when people tell stories…
Rev. Cyndi McDonald is pastor of Barnesville First UMC. Contact her at email@example.com.