by Rev. Greg Klimovitz
Local neighbors are frequently the most effective partners for creative ministry initiatives. This has been a learned and generative truth for the leadership of Kirkwood Camp ever since merging with Camp Brainerd of Lehigh Presbytery in 2015. Previously located a mere five miles apart, the two camps forged a new future together after the sale of Brainerd in 2014. As the neighboring presbyteries of Philadelphia and Lehigh fused together their resources and commitments pertaining to local camping ministry, crafted a temporary leadership team to walk through the transition, and elected a unified Board of Directors of equal representation, a new era of possibilities was leveraged in East Stroudsburg.
Rev. Ruth Santana- Grace, Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Philadelphia commented, “What makes this partnership exciting is it gives two distinct presbyteries the unique opportunity to consider together how to rebirth and shape Christian camping in a way that will be relevant to our present and future reality; to continue to transform young hearts and minds as a people of faith.”
Rev. Ruth Ann Christopher, co-chair of the Board of Directors and minister member in the Lehigh Presbytery, added, “To be able to stand up and tell a group of people how these two presbyteries came together, how we are equal partners, how we are excited, how it has been successful, I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me and said, ‘that is so hopeful.’”
The renewed energy that now envelops Kirkwood has enabled the camp, previously slowed by strained finances and regularly deferred maintenance, to move away from narratives of limitation towards revitalized dreams for shared ministry in this sacred space. Since 2015, Kirkwood Camp has repainted various buildings, renovated a women’s restroom, replaced surface flooring in Stroup House, drained and dredged the swimming pond, added new sand to the waterfront beach, and broke ground on two new sixteen-bed cabins to be opened by mid-June. As a symbol of Camp Brainerd’s ministry legacy, church partners also relocated the beloved Brainerd Bell, Circle of Swings, and the Gorman Roof Chapel, complete with a cross made of wood from Camp Brainerd benches now embedded into the ground of its new home.
In the partnership’s first summer camping season, registration numbers also increased to 350 overnight camper weeks and 110 day camper weeks. Young people gathered from across both presbyteries to engage in fellowship, worship, recreational activities, and leadership development opportunities as they escaped their regular rhythms and centered on the presence of God alive and well at camp. As Rev. Carter Lester, co-chair of the Board of Directors and minister member of the Presbytery of Philadelphia, noted, “[Camp] becomes a liminal space and a place where they are able to encounter things and experience a deeper level of community and, in many ways, a deeper way of experiencing faith and God through prayer.”
While increased enrollment and various projects have underscored the reframed narrative of the Kirkwood Camp, the recent addition of Tommy Campbell as camp director has served as another critical witness to the new season of ministry and leadership. Campbell brings with him strong experience in both Christian camping ministry and business management along with a love for the Gospel and passion for leadership development. “The uniqueness of camp is that it is the good soil Jesus talks about in Matthew [13:8]. We give kids the opportunity to listen to God’s voice and what God is telling them to do.” Campbell remarked. “We are doing what we can to make sure this is the best camp that can be a centerpiece for [the ministry of] both presbyteries.”
As Kirkwood Camp continues to move forward as a partnership between the neighboring presbyteries of Lehigh and Philadelphia, their shared hopes, dreams, and resources will enable the camp to thrive as a vital ministry alongside both the 180 collective churches and 18 million local residents within a 90 mile radius. “[We are in] pretty much unchartered waters and we have found synergy by coming together,” Rev. Lester stated. “We don’t have a full vision yet, but we’re on the right path.” While Kirkwood’s vision forward may not be fully developed, one thing is clear- the two presbyteries are able to do far more together than they could have ever done alone. Thanks be to God for the faithful and evolving ministry of Kirkwood Camp.
Watch the video recap from Summer Camp 2015: