What hath Long Scraggy to do with Cleburne? Only a small handful of people are qualified to answer this question, but here's a hint: The Presbytery of the Southwest (PSW) has organized and operated their summer youth camp throughout her 21-year existence. But the camp actually began much earlier, meeting for the first time in 1937 on the Platte River. Back then, the Presbytery of the Dakotas spanned the distance from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico! Over the years, the camp met in many places, from Long Scraggy, Colorado, in the 1980s to Wimberly, Texas; El Capitan, New Mexico; Happy, Texas; and Amarillo, Texas. This year, it moves to a beautiful property in Cleburne, Texas, just outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Though the camp has met in many places, it has had only one home: in the heart of the PSW regional church.
My camp experience began 15 years ago as a timid 12 year old, unsure about leaving home for a week. What a wonderful shock to discover 70 other kids just like me, kids who understood the difficulties and struggles of being an Orthodox Presbyterian. I found sweet fellowship with my peers where I knew I belonged. What a comfort to know throughout the year that I was not alone.
Through the PSW Youth Camp I was befriended by the pastors of the Presbytery, who were my counselors, teachers, and friends year after year. Through the camp I saw my own pastor in a different light. These men loved us, and we knew it! The Lord used these valuable relationships to eventually develop within me a strong call to the ministry. The relationships that began many years ago continue to develop into a deep bond of brotherly unity. It is this same unity that has expressed itself in many other areas of the life and work of this Presbytery.
Our camp is different than any other summer camp I've been to. It is clearly centered on the primary means of grace, the preaching of God's Holy Word. At camp, the regional church meets together every day for worship with excellent sermons that fit with the year's camp theme. In addition to corporate worship, each child memorizes Scripture passages, a portion of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and a hymn.
Not only is the camp edifying, it is pure fun. The camp is divided into teams who compete for the honor of winning. They earn points based on their creativity in choosing a team name, team cheer, and in performing in the skit competition. Points also are earned in various sporting competitions, such as a swim meet. However, the vast majority of points are earned through memory work.
Adding to the covenantal nature and focus of the camp is its multi-generational history. Several generations of the Vandenberg family of Carson, North Dakota, have been involved in the camp throughout the years. When the Rev. Glenn Jerrell, a longtime camp supporter and member of the PSW Camp Committee, accepted a call to pastor the congregation in Walkerton, Indiana, his youngest son Matt responded by saying, "OK, we can move, but only if I can keep going to the PSW youth camp." Now a grown man, Matt serves as a camp counselor, along with his wife, Brandy. Rev. Jerrell, in reflecting on his years of camp involvement, said, "I'm not one for a lot of special programs in the church, but I'm impressed by the covenantal uniqueness of this camp because it's so tied to the regional church." Groups also come from Colorado, Iowa, and Pennsylvania.
Some might question the overall benefits of such a camp, in light of the time and money that is poured into it every year by the regional church and its families. Our presbytery provides a significant monetary subsidy through its Camp Committee to defray the direct costs to the families.
How do you quantify the spiritual benefits that come as a result of summer camp? Although such benefits are impossible to measure in pounds, ounces, feet, or yards, they are very real. These spiritual benefits are measured through the growth that our covenant youth exhibit in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are seen on the faces of our children as they show their delight in the opportunity to spend the week studying God's Word together with peers who share the same faith. By God's grace, we also have unbelieving children attend. What a wonderful opportunity for evangelism and discipleship as these un-churched teens sit under the preaching of God's Word every day, memorize his Word, and learn to sing his praise.
The benefits of camp do not end when the week comes to a close. The last night of camp, a directory is handed out that contains contact information for each camper and counselor. The day after camp, the correspondence begins. Letters, phone calls, emails, blog posts, and instant messages keep the youth of the Presbytery in regular communication the other 51 weeks of the year.
It is this unity among the members of the OPC congregations that brings Presbyterian government alive to our young people. By participating in summer camp, they see churches of the presbytery uniting for worship and fellowship.
The PSW Youth Camp is one of many such camps held every summer by OPC presbyteries and congregations across America. Each of these camps has its own unique history and flavor that make them a blessing to the churches in their region. To find the camp nearest you, please visit the newly developed Camps and Conferences page by clicking here.
The author is a member of Christ Covenant Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Amarillo, Texas.