Happy (and Holy) Campers

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Rare photo of me at church camp (1990s)

It’s summer time.  When this time of year rolls around I think back to the summers when I attended week-long church summer camps in Georgia.  We called it Youth Camp.  I have a lot of memories and formed a lot of friendships from those years.  It wasn’t your normal summer camp.

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I am just right of the kid holding the sign (1975)

My first year to attend was in the summer of 1975.  My Dad was working in the camp as a counselor for one of the cabins and he was also teaching a class.  The first camp I attended was in Pine Mountain just outside of Columbus.  It was quite a new experience for me as the only church I knew was our local congregation.  There weren’t many people my age in our local church and then I attend a camp where it is an overload of kids my age.  I didn’t my first church camp experience and didn’t return the next summer.

In the summer of 1977 our state headquarters started having camps at our own campground in a place called Camp Echeconnee located west of Macon.   Due to a fire in the kitchen, the first week of camp was postponed and my camp ended up being the first camp held there.  It wasn’t anything like it is today.  In camp standards – we roughed it.  ?During that week, someone thought it would be a good idea for us to go on a hike and when we returned several campers had chiggers.  I’m itching again just thinking about that.

I continued attending camp until I left for the United States Air Force in 1982.  When I returned to Georgia in 1985, I tried my effort at being a cabin counselor.  I can tell you that was a whole different experience.  It was a lot of work but it was also very rewarding too.

If you look back through photos or old camp annuals you probably will find little evidence prove that I attended since I wasn’t one of the popular ones at camp.  The popular ones got the most of the attention of the photographers.   I was always an introvert so it really didn’t matter to me.  I just wanted to keep from looking stupid most of the time.

camp2As you would think with a church camp, it was about church obviously.  We had church services every night.  During my days, we knew a lot about revivals and having church every night.  That was nothing new.  We were also a Pentecostal group so you know we had some wild times and there are some stories I could tell you.  One thing I look back and laugh about was during that first camp, we had our church service under a picnic pavilion.  A group of guys were “in the spirit” and running around the outside of the pavilion.  When me and another kid decided to join them the guy in front stopped and looked at us and said, “You guys are only running around because we are.”   He seemed to be put off that we were joining them.  I laugh about that now.

Some other unique things about youth camp in those days were that they would not allow us to wear shorts or anything “worldly”.  Girls were allowed to wear pants but encouraged to wear dresses to church services every night.   We also had separate times for swimming at the camp swimming pool.  Boys and Girls could not swim together.  It was considered “mixed bathing” and a no-no in our church rules.

Yes, there was a lot of church but we had fun too.  Aside from the chigger incident, we got to have lots of recreation time.  Honestly, that was probably my favorite time.  I loved playing basketball although I wasn’t any good at it.  Another favorite was what they called “Killer Ball” (Yes, at a church camp no less) but it was just a variation of Dodgeball.

We had a schedule that included devotions, singing, Bible classes and other classes like learning how to do CPR.  Church camp was the first place I learned how to do CPR.  We also had fun time which would be anything fun for the campers like water gun fights, group games, field day type activities.

On the Friday night of camp it was a tradition to have a camp banquet where it was a non-spoken thing that guys would ask a girl to the banquet and sit together although any signs of affection were totally prohibited.   I attended many, many camps where guys were just thinking they were all that and, of course, had their pick of who to ask.  Me?  Yeah, right.  Mr. Introverted, All-Dressed-Up-And-No-Place-To-Go guy?  Oh I tried but I crashed and burned in my attempts to secure a “date” to the banquet during the entirety of my camp career.  Now I look back and see how overrated all that was.  We were just going to the same cafeteria to sit together and eat a fancied up meal and see who were going to get various awards that the camp gave out.

Speaking of the meals…..let me tell you the meals were always good.  I can’t remember ever complaining about the meals at camp.  The cooks there were awesome.

Camp was probably one of the first places I learned about how to budget.  In those days we bought a “snack shack” card which we used throughout the week for sodas, candy and other snacks.  Workers would punch the card for what you would purchase.  I had to manage my card so that I wouldn’t run out before the end of the week.  Somehow I seemed to manage okay in those ancient days before debit/credit cards.

Let me say that most of the time, kids were WILD.  I guess from all the Pentecostalism at home in their local churches they cut loose at camp.  Forget about getting much sleep because there were all kinds of activities after lights out.  You learned to sleep with one eye open.  If not,  your bunk would end up in the shower or shaving cream would mysteriously appear on your face.

A successful camp for camp directors would be how many kids got saved, sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost.   It was a good camp if everyone got some or all of those check marks.  Counselors in the early days would brag about how many kids in their cabin were saved.

I have to say that I will never forget some of the amazing people that I got to know at church camp.  Yes we had some of that strange Pentecostal thing going but aside from that craziness, there were some good people and experiences mixed in the madness.  No, I never attempted to run about the building again and I never got the hang of speaking in tongues but I did get some good foundation in spite of those things.   When you get older you just sort through all of that and find the good from it.

Camp is a lot different now.  There are no rules against wearing shorts.  There is air conditioning.  The chapel has carpet and padded seats.   The gym doesn’t double as the chapel now with metal chairs.   I wonder how they handle the whole issue of social media and kids having their smart phones now.  I am sure it is a challenge for workers now.  It was always a unique experience to disconnect from the real world for a week.

Several of my camp friends have become pastors, teachers and careers in the church.  I keep in touch with many of them through social media.  We always think back to those days when the summer arrives each year.

Yes, we got a lot of God during that week but there is nothing wrong with that.

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