"At camp there are people of all ages, getting the space and ministry they need to enjoy God’s creation and be embraced by God’s love. It can be both a joy and a challenge to minister in this kind of setting."
The Joy of Chaplaincy
It is one of my joys in ministry to serve for a week each summer as a chaplain at Camp Calumet, a Lutheran summer camp and conference center in New Hampshire. Growing up in the Midwest, I had experienced several camps as a camper, counselor, and youth director, but I had never experienced anything quite like Calumet.
Calumet is two camps in one. On one side is the youth camper camp, the kind that most of my Midwestern experience had led me to believe was the main thing (and they do it well out there!) But on the other side is the Family Camp conference center, campground, and cabins. At camp there are people of all ages, getting the space and ministry they need to enjoy God’s creation and be embraced by God’s love. It can be both a joy and a challenge to minister in this kind of setting.
Here are my 7 tips on how to find great joy in your summer camp chaplain experience.
1. Communicate, Communicate
Get the details. You will need all the logistics, of course, like arrival, departure, housing, etc. But also clarify the expectations the camp as of you during your time as the chaplain. Are you putting together a daily Bible study for adults or a mini-homily for youth? Are you preaching and presiding at a worship? Eucharist? What is the camp culture traditions of who leads what in worship? These are all important things to know before arriving at camp.
Be sure to communicate about you too. Who will you bring with you? What are your personal or dietary needs? What resources do you need for the studies or homilies you will lead, and how do you get those? Do you bring them all yourselves or does the camp have a stash of materials you can access?
2. Think about Your Audience
As a Family Camp Chaplin at Calumet, we kick off the week by presiding at the Sunday Eucharist. We lead a daily Bible study for adults and a daily devotional for families with children, as well as a worship service for anyone on the beach. It’s a lot of moving parts! So, know your audience. Maybe you will incorporate some counselors into skits that help tell the Bible story or theme for the day. Maybe that’s covered by someone else and you just get to read the story and give them a spiritual takeaway.
3. Find What Inspires You (or just use the annual curriculum)
Whatever format your camp follows, ask them about the theme. Are they using a curriculum? (Did you know camps had these?) Often they do, and they are tied to a theme of the summer, week, and day. That can give you a lot to work with right there. Or, if you have the chance, like with our adult Bible study, pick something you are passionate about and want to study yourself, so you can come up with some great questions and activities for those adults to do to explore what God might be doing in their lives during their camp experience.
4. Bring Your Family
At our camp, we have the privilege of bringing our family to stay with us. If that is something that can be worked out at your camp, it is a lot of fun to be there together. If your kids are old enough, they can go to the day camp and stay with you at night. At some point, they can go to the overnight camp, at least for part of your time. But even babies can be a lot of fun at camp if you are prepared and the accommodations are not too rustic.
We took our babies camping, and as long as we had a place to clean out or toss the diapers, we were all set. Your kids gain an immense opportunity to see faith in action in a unique community of camping ministry and get inspired to be a camper someday. You might even be able to find a babysitter for an off-duty time, just ask the staff! Then you and your spouse can head out on that rejuvenating hike.
5. Be Available, but Not Too Available
As a chaplain, you are here for the camp first, of course! They are the one feeding and sheltering you for a week so that you can help them to minister to all their campers and staff. Hanging around at mealtimes and giving people a chance for casual conversation can lead to some powerful moments of pastoral ministry. Just keep in mind that camp can also be very intense. You are there to minister but also rejuvenate your soul for your congregational (or other) ministry. Be fully present to the campers, but be sure to prioritize the activities that are most important to you when you get some free time.
6. Know the Camp Resources for Spiritual Health and Share Them
If you spend some of your camp time hiking up a ridge or exploring a labyrinth, you will not only be renewed but you'll be able to share those resources with others! Invite them to worship, share what interesting Bible study you are doing, give folks a chance to consider how God might be calling them to study, worship, or enter into some quiet reflection at camp.
7. Get to Know the Counselors, They Have Good Ideas
If you have a chance to connect with counselors, grab it. The counselors can sometimes be tired—at least they will be by the third day of camp—and bringing fresh ideas to them will often be welcome. But more importantly, be there to listen to them and to invite their ideas for the direction of a theme.
Most camp counselors have spent a lot of time in their training thinking about these Bible passages and themes, and then they are talking about it with youth on a daily basis. They could bring some key insights as to how the campers are connecting with the material and what you can do to help it come alive.
God bless you on your Camp Ministry this summer!
Kirsten Nelson Roenfeldt is the Pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Sturbridge, Massachusetts. In the summers she also serves as a chaplain at Camp Calumet, a Lutheran (ELCA) camp located on the shores of Lake Ossipee in Freedom, New Hampshire.