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Summer Camp Curriculum Design & Visioning - An Inside Look: Guest Post by Troy Taylor

24 Mar 2021 8:52 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

The email announcing that the 2023 InsideOut design team would be creating our summer camp curriculum over Zoom wasn’t surprising because, well, everyone knows all meetings are over Zoom now. I quickly responded, letting the team know I would do my best to be available again, even if it was through my laptop screen and not at a beautiful camp setting as it traditionally has been. My life as a furloughed Camp Director still managing camp while staying at home with my three year old daughter doesn’t leave me much bandwidth for additional undertakings, but this is one I wanted to show up for. 

I am one of two United Methodist representatives on the ecumenical team that sets the annual themes with scriptural daily focus for a Christian camp resource used all over the country. Each spring, I have the pleasure of gathering for a handful of days with representatives from other mainline Protestant denominations for this creative process. Together we land on a theme, break it into days, connect it to scripture, then try to explain what’s in our heads for program writers to flesh out into activities and lessons. Because this generally happens with camp people at a retreat center, it feels like a three night camp with long, intense working sessions. 

The team gets input from United Methodist, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, Church of the Brethren, Episcopal, United Church of Christ, Lutheran, and Baptist backgrounds. I’ve always appreciated these people, but over the years I’ve also developed a deep trust in them and our ability to work together and push each other to get at the heart of what we hope each year’s resource teaches. Everyone cares deeply about the finished product, the process of getting there, and each other. I like to think of myself as a new kid on the block in this group, but I walked on in 2013 and have been a part of it most years since. 

We put this resource together with care for many considerations. We want a curriculum that is somewhat evergreen, yet pertinent to the specific times we’re in. We want an even sampling of scripture from Old to New Testament to attempt to get at the whole story of the Bible. We lean towards story-based scripture because it tends to be easier to work with from a program perspective. We aim to choose stories from the Bible that feature relatable figures for as many people as possible. This has us conscious of how many women have voice, how often the poor have voice, and how much the outsider gets a voice, in addition to the major protagonists. We are mindful of how the presence of Creator, Jesus, and Spirit show up in the theme. We set a goal not to repeat scriptures from previous curricula for at least four years, to cover more of the Bible and stretch ourselves. These considerations keep the team poring through scripture and soul searching. The project is ambitious, which is what we show up for, but wow, it leads to some head-pounding-on-the-table kind of moments to get where we want to go. 

We discuss, break into smaller groups, take lone walks, talk one-on-one at meals, and have late night epiphanies to bring back to the group the next morning. We have impassioned debates about which scripture best matches a specific day we’re considering. We scrutinize the flow of each day, whether to put the most introspective sessions in the beginning, middle, or end of the week. We worry over how scripture can so easily be used as a crutch or weapon for something that isn’t intended. We get frustrated, we hold on hard to the concepts that resonate deeply with each of us, we explain ourselves – often multiple times – and eventually we let go of some ideas. 

We all bring strengths, knowledge, and personality to the team and consequently the resource we produce. I see myself thinking often of the young generation’s longings, particularly those campers who are unchurched or struggling with their faith. I play devil’s advocate frequently (though everyone generally gets a turn at some point). I hear my skeptical campers frequently holding me to a higher standard, wanting themes that speak deeply to their questions, their frustrations, their disillusionment, their joys and passions. Everyone on these teams brings with them their social and theological location, and we are constantly tugging each other towards some sort of center. Our hope is, in the end, the Spirit has guided us to a center that includes the perspectives and needs of many different types of people. 

What we always marvel at by the end of the process is how we manage to come out of the several day meeting with a fully formed theme. We come with nothing on paper and by the end we have a description of the overarching theme, each day with a thought-out progression based on the rhythms of summer camp weeks we all know, a scripture to go with each theme, bullet points outlining what campers will explore in each of those daily themes, and an idea for artwork. All this will be passed on to a team of hired writers to make into a full week of lessons, worship ideas, activity, and many other resources, divided into multiple age groups all with unique lessons. Apply to be a writer

There’s more than enough for the novice counselor, dean, or Director to have a detailed outline of everything they might do. Even for the more seasoned camp leader who wants to inject their own creativity, this saves weeks, possibly months of work. We know people will tinker with it when they get it. We camp leaders will second guess some of the scripture choices. We know some will switch days around or drop a day altogether and insert a preferred theme there. In fact, we hope people customize the curriculum product to their camp. We hope it can be many things to different camp leaders, but always be inspiring and grounding as summer leaders imagine and plan camp. As it inspires conversations and sessions all over the country, there’s this potential to unite hundreds of mainline Protestant campers in considering a similar set of questions in the same summer. There is such opportunity for discussion and input in this digital, shareable, connected world our campers and staff inhabit. 

When our Zoom planning concluded this year, our design team still marveled at how we’d managed to cram so much thought and careful planning into a matter of days. Due to the production and publication cycle, we come up with the theme two and a half years prior to its release. I am still amazed at the theme of deep longing experienced as a faith community called “This is Our Prayer,” planned in 2017, that ended up being so timely as the summer 2020 theme. Future themes coming down the mail chute focus on creation reflecting God, naming and identity, and the Fruit of the Spirit. 

I hope when you use the InsideOut summer camp resources you will catch a glimpse of the ways they have been so thoughtfully and lovingly written. Our ecumenical team of volunteers does what we do because we love it, of course, and because even the act of making it and putting it out into the world is something like camp. Like most of you, I’m stoked to rely on Zoom less in the coming years, to go to a beautiful camp setting, recreate with wonderful people, and be touched by the Spirit through all that. My fingers are crossed that our next planning will be more like that. It’s what we were imagining as we put together the resource. But, we also know from this past year, all our future plans will need to reach far beyond the conventional and be able to meet a changing world. We’re prayerfully seeking that vision as we put these themes together.

Check it out– I hope it resonates with you, too. I hope the resource helps you in the great task ahead of planning our summers, rooted in our great tradition, while always changing and growing in our faith and understanding. If you use the resource, remember that the design team treasures your evaluations and input so that each successive year is even more useful to you.

If you want to know more about the process or would be interested in any aspect of the writing team, shoot me a message at troy@campmagruder.org. I’d love to answer deep burning questions, do some storytelling, or nerd out. Many blessings on your thoughts, meditations, and planning for the coming summer and beyond.

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