By Fred Koenig
For many children and youth across the state, it just wouldn’t be summer without church camp. In 2013, more than 2,000 campers participated in Missouri Conference camps at one of the four United Methodist campgrounds in the state.
The camping tradition is now running three or more generations deep at some of the camps. Camp Jo-Ota is celebrating its 60th anniversary on September 28. Next year camp Wilderness will celebrate its 50th anniversary of hosting campers.
Although 2013 was a strong year for the camping program, at 2,080 campers it wasn’t the peak. About 40 percent of the campers at Missouri Conference camps attend Camp Galilee, and that camp has not yet returned to the number of campers it was hosting prior to the Joplin tornado in 2011. Camp Wilderness in northwest Missouri did have an increase in numbers this year.
Although there is much tradition associated with camps, each year the camping ministry works on ways to improve upon what they offered the year before. Blue Mountain in Southeast Missouri made a shift from volunteer staff to mostly paid staff for the entire summer.
“You had trained staff at the camps, which lead to a higher quality program overall,” said Lee Walz, director of Camping and Retreat Ministries for the Missouri Conference.
Blue Mountain added several camps this year. The entire schedule across all four camps has become much more robust in the last few years. When Walz started working for the Conference in 1996, there were about 50 camps on the schedule. Now there are usually about 85.
There was an increase in third through fifth graders at camp this year, which may be a result of the parent/child camps for younger children that were started a few years ago.
More churches utilized the voucher process this year. Churches can request vouchers for campers, and then pay for the camps after they are over. They can use the vouchers to provide campers with a full scholarship, partial scholarship, or just give them time to fundraise, so they don’t have to pay their registration fees up front.
The camps don’t close down when the kids leave at the end of summer. The rest of the year the facilities are being used more and more for retreats. Jo-Ota is hosting a retreat for spiritual healing following loss on October 18 – 20, and a women’s retreat on November 1 – 3. For a complete schedule of retreats, go to www.mocamps.org.
And even though some kids may have not unpacked their bags yet, it won’t be long before plans are being made for camp for next summer. “When I started, we were putting out the camp book in March, and opened registration in April,” Walz said. “Now the preliminary schedule is being posted on our website around the end of August, and registration will open December 1.”