The Uniqueness of the Kirkwood Summer Camp Experience, by Tommy Campbell

This summer, Kirkwood is expecting over 300 campers for the first time since 2005. Our summer staff began training on June 2nd. Our training consisted of community building, camp activities, trauma training, diversity training, a visit to a local church, and an overnight canoe trip. We were joined on June 9th by board members, families, and friends to commission our staff here at camp.

Our program began June 17th, with our first Joy of Creation week. Joy of Creation allows for our campers to sign up for “classes,” which occur in the morning. Later in the day, they participate in camp activities and bible study in their small group. This Joy of Creation week was less music and arts focused than usual (we offer a variety of classes and, in this case, the campers got their choice). This week’s classes were focused on games and outdoor education and adventures.

Our high school small group was a great example of how our community forms each week. The campers in that group came from as far away as Pittsburgh and Staten Island. About half were new campers and half returnees. They bonded really quickly and did an excellent job overcoming the tasks our staff challenged them with at our low ropes course (pictured). As high schoolers, it’s not surprising that they shared varying levels of faith and cynicism towards the church–but by the end of the week, they articulated a greater openness to God’s calling in their lives. A majority of the group signed up for multiple weeks this summer.

Week 2 at Kirkwood was Fantasy Camp week. Mostly made up of returning campers from last year’s fantasy camp, with a few new additions. There was an extra layer of excitement around Kirkwood the whole week. Our four small groups worked to make banners and costumes, as well as build secret forts in the woods to rally their groups around. On Thursday, the whole community together played “Capture the Castle,” a game that uses a full half of our site to play within the fantasy world we have created.

A huge part of our program is that Kirkwood is neutral ground. Kids who attend our camp meet new people, and people who are not like them. They are away from home and school and technology–and so they have a unique opportunity to test out different versions of themselves over the week. Through Fantasy Camp, we take this to an extreme–role playing elves, orcs, gnomes, and spellcasters. But through bible study and worship, we have a great angle to ask our campers who they want to be in their own lives. The uniqueness of our community during Fantasy Camp is an important opportunity to minister to those kids who normally would not volunteer themselves to be in a summer camp situation. I have included some pictures of our best costumes and the group picture from the end of the week. Click here to view the Kirkwood Summer 2019 album.

Our Bible study and worship curriculum this year is based on the Parables of Jesus. Focusing on the parables of the sower, mustard seed, prodigal son, lost sheep/coin, the good Samaritan, the parable of the feast, among others–we were able to allow all of our campers an accessible way to build up their faith, understand God’s love for us is never ending and always goes unearned, and what our call to go out to love and serve the Lord really means.