Growing up, I attended a week of church camp almost every summer. It was a vacation away from parents where I could make new friends and engage in outdoor activities that would otherwise have been unavailable to me. My fellow campers and I would encourage each other as we engaged in things like archery, rock climbing, spelunking, and canoeing. We also learned to work together through teambuilding challenges and low- and high-ropes courses. Of course there were also the typical Bible studies, daily devotions, and evening vespers services that you would expect from a church camp, but with energetic camp counselors leading these activities, they never felt boring.
When I outgrew being a camper, I spent a few summers volunteering at the camp and later on, became a staff member. It was after I came back to the camp after a few years of college that I noticed a change in the atmosphere there. The place still attracted the same fun-loving, youth-focused counselors as before, many of them having been longtime campers as I had been, but there were a few faces missing from the usual crew of core leaders. The camp board had decided to put an end to the programs that they felt did not reflect our denomination’s beliefs. With the loss of these programs (some of our most popular), we lost a great number of campers as well.
Along with this change, the board had also tried to run our camp in a similar fashion to our sister camp on Lake Erie. This did not work out the way they had hoped. Our sister camp holds a more laidback atmosphere and hosts several weeks of family camps that provide intergenerational experiences. Our camp, however, is based more in adventure and rustic, outdoor activities. Programs involving rock climbing, ropes course activities, and archery require staff that have the appropriate certifications to lead such things safely. Our sister camp is run primarily by volunteers, but it’s rare for us to find volunteers who have even a basic life guarding certification for swimming pool duty, let alone the more adventurous activities. Due to this change in how the camp was staffed, several more popular programs got cut for a few summers, and reintroduction of them typically failed when certified paid staff were hired once again.
While these two changes proved disastrous for our attendance, there was a third issue looming that caused a mortal blow which the board chose to ignore. Church attendance has been on the decline for multiple decades now, and many of the individual congregations that contribute to the funding of our camp and our sister camp no longer have youth groups. But the board became so focused on maintaining our camp as a Christian church camp that they ignored the fact that their target audience could no longer be found in churches.
So now they have decided to sell our camp. After years of mismanagement, it has become too much of a burden to justify them holding onto it. It is heartbreaking to see this happen as the property has become a second home to dozens of us during the more than fifty years that the camp has existed. It hurts even more that we rarely ever saw our board members; many of them never visited the camp even once during the summer seasons. And since they didn’t visit, then how could they have truly understood what was needed by our camp?
Ultimately, they became so wrapped up in making sure the place remained a Christian church camp, that they forgot what was really important: the kids!