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Encounter camp this summer: Invitation and insights from Rev. Clay Lundberg

By: Rev. Clay Lundberg, co-chair of the Dakotas-Minnesota Camp Council and pastor at United in Faith Parish, and Doreen Gosmire, director of communications, Dakotas UMC.

A camper at Minecraft camp, stops to smile after reaching the top of the climbing wall at Wesley Acres.

Photos courtesy of Facebook pages for Lake Poinsett, Storm Mountain, and Wesley Acres.

Are you ready to learn more about Jesus? Your United Methodist Camps are excited about the 2019 summer camping season programs.  

Rev. Clay Lundberg, who serves the United in Faith Parish of Burke and Herrick, South Dakota, and is the co-chair for the Dakotas-Minnesota Camp and Retreat Council, says, “Camp opens up a space for all individuals: youth, adults, and everyone in between, to be the truest form of themselves, to be the person that God made them to be.”

There is still time to register for one of the many camping opportunities available. Pastor Clay invites everyone to develop and enrich their faith journey at one of your United Methodist camps. Details are available online.

Pastor Clay shares insights about his own camping experience, the Minecraft camp that he leads at Wesley Acres, and exciting developments in the camping ministry. 
 

Pastor Clay Lundberg leads Camp Sunday at United in Faith Parish.

What do you remember about your camp experience?

My experiences at camp range from my first opportunity to go to church camp when I was in third grade through middle school. When I was in third grade, a big group of us from the Gregory United Methodist Church did a Son-seekers camp at Storm Mt. Center. I can’t remember who was leading the camp, but it was in the hay-day of puppet ministries, so we spent a lot of time playing with, talking with, and learning with puppets. From there, I shifted to being a camper at Lake Poinsett and would attend camps there from fourth to eighth grade. I had the honor of being a part of MADD (Music-Arts-Dance-Drama) camp from sixth to eighth grade. The highlight of that camp was leading a worship service at the Lake Poinsett Camp Chapel on Sunday for the lake community and all our parents. Two years at MADD, we did a traditional worship service in the chapel, but we campers were in charge of everything: picking music, learning skits, everything. My last year of MADD camp, we did a musical for worship: Welcome Back, Billy Best, a re-telling of the Parable of the Prodigal Son set in the 20s. Some of us were involved with the music: singing and dancing, while others of us painted sets, built props. In one way or another, all of us used our gifts to be a part of worship on that Sunday. Through my years of camping, I met several dear friends, but during that week putting together that musical for worship, I met friends that are life-long friends of mine. 

That particular year of MADD Camp’s impact on me continues to this day because it was on the shores of Lake Poinsett that my call to ministry was first named. I was having a bad day at camp for whatever reason, and it led to a conversation with Laurie Kidd, the dean of the camp that year. I was down about my size not because someone at camp had made fun of me, but just because of my own insecurities. Laurie looked at me and said, “God gave you big shoulders; do you know why?” And I responded, “Well no, but I wish He wouldn’t have done that.” Laurie laughed and said, “No, don’t say that. God gave you big shoulders because He knows you can handle a lot and He has a big plan for you.” I have never forgotten those words. I have never forgotten how that moment made me feel. When I started claiming my call to ministry, my mind immediately went back to this conversation, and I knew that I had found the “big plan” God had for me. 

Why is a camp experience relevant to faith development?

Campers enjoy the view from the top of Storm Mountain.

What I have found both as a camper, and now as a counselor, dean, and member of the Camp and Retreat Ministries Council is that having an intentional place away: away from normal rhythms, normal surrounding, normal expectations opens up a space that allows for greater faith development. There’s a vulnerability that is created by being taken out of the familiar and thrown into an entirely different way of living. It leads to an openness that cannot be replicated in even the best local church student ministries setting. It’s a space to ask the questions that someone wouldn’t feel comfortable asking around friends they’d have to see every week or a youth pastor they’d be afraid of disappointing. It’s a space to try new and different things that they may not have the opportunity to try at home.

Perhaps it is because I went to MADD Camp and helped lead a call to worship and music, but I’ve always thought of camp as a place to try new things and maybe carry those new things back to local churches. My faith and my place in the church became my own because of camp. 

Camping might even help us become an entirely different person. Camp opens up a space for all individuals: youth, adults, and everyone in between, to be the truest form of themselves, to be the person that God made them to be. A friend of mine from seminary, also formed in his faith through camping, said that he felt like he had a “home self” and a “camp self,” and the camp self was the sincerest form of himself. Of course, the hope is that as one grows in confidence and maturity, that the “camp self” becomes the only self, but camp opens up that space for us to truly find who God made us to be. 

We are also provided opportunities to learn from new people who challenge and stretch us in different ways. When I stopped going to church camps in high school, it was to attend music camps as I was confident that I was going to be a band teacher rather than a pastor. At music camps, there was that aspect of being in a place apart. We found ourselves away from the parent. We wished we would have played saxophone rather than a snare drum. We were away from the band teacher whose primary instrument was not percussion, and she couldn’t help us anymore, apart from those who are just in band because the band boosters give a $1,000 scholarship if a student is in band all four years, that leads to growth as a musician and as a student. 

It’s the same at church camp. We all have different motivations for going to church camp, but more often than not, we find that we’re all there to have fun and discover something new about our faith, but we’re all in the adventure of camp together so that we can learn from each other. While at camp, we may hear something that our pastor back home or parents said, but we’re in a different space, a different rhythm, and those words can take on a whole new meaning.
 

Campers enjoying the water activities at Lake Poinsett.

As the co-chair of the Dakotas-Minnesota Camp Council, what are some improvements or things that people might want to know about our United Methodist camps?

It has been my honor to serve as the Co-Chair of the Camp and Retreat Council for the past couple of years. Through this position, I have gotten the chance to meet all of our site directors across the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area and have discovered the heart that they all bring to camping. At our Dakotas Conference Camps, Lake Poinsett and Wesley Acres have been accredited by the American Camping Association, an independent body that ensures camps are operating safe, age-appropriate camps. Storm Mountain is not far behind, and with Levi and Lara Ziegler on staff, it will only be a matter of time before the ACA accredits all our camps. 

Even though we pride our camps on being places apart to encounter Christ, creation, and community, and maintain that ethos in different ways, people might be excited to know how up-to-date and modern the amenities at camp are. All of our sites have the technology available that enhances camper experiences while still maintaining that atmosphere of disconnecting. Screens for projecting song lyrics are available at all sites in different spaces, many spaces at all three Dakotas camps are climate controlled, and counselors and deans have access to wireless internet at all three sites in the Dakotas if they would wish to pull a video clip off YouTube or play a song on Spotify if needed for a devotional time. 

You lead Minecraft camp, which is a unique or niche camp, describe what happens and what the goal or the purpose of the camp is?

Campers show off their work at Minecraft Camp 2018.

A few years ago, Christy Heflin, who at the time was the site director at Wesley Acres, sat down with me to talk about a new idea for camp she had: both of her boys were interested in a video game called Minecraft. We wondered how we could incorporate this into a camp. A friend of mine from seminary also enjoyed Minecraft, so we put our heads together to see what could be done. We put together a plan: bridge the game to real-life activities (or IRL, in video game jargon). Alongside time of simply playing Minecraft, we do activities that you can do in the game: archery, hiking, swimming, and since we’re at Wesley Acres, high ropes. To build community, campers do a team-build project. We break the campers into groups of four or five and give them an hour every day to make one big, massive build in Minecraft. I provide them with no direction or instructions other than their build has to take them the entire week to build. Then, on the last night of camp, we do our Builder’s Showcase where campers show off what they’ve done over the past week. Over the past four years, Minecraft Campers have built entire cities, giant pixelated versions of international landmarks, roller coasters, haunted houses, and replicas of Wesley Acres Camp. All the while, we take full advantage of all that Wesley Acres and a typical church camp have to offer: games outside, worship, campfires, and everything one might expect from a church camp.

One of the highlights and things I love most about Minecraft Camp is our Bible Study time. When Minecraft rose to popularity in 2009, two teachers noticed that they could use Minecraft as a teaching tool to make stories come to life, so Chris Miko and Garrett Romines put together The Unofficial Bible for Minecrafters, which took highlighted stories from the Old and New Testament and turned them into Minecraft scenes. They have since released a complete Old Testament and an entire New Testament. I use these alongside more reliable biblical translations to accent our teaching. I also have the books available during quiet time and other free times. I have had campers who chose to read all three volumes of the Minecraft Bible during camp. During our bible study times, I also give campers a Minecraft Building challenge that connects back to the lesson we’ve done.

Pastor Clay Lundberg, back row, far right, was one of the leaders for the 2018 Minecraft Camp.

The goal of Minecraft Camp is to interest campers who might not be otherwise interested in a church camp the opportunity to experience a place apart. My primary goal in leading the camp is to take something that might be foreign (like camp or even the Bible) and help imaginative campers engage something familiar (Minecraft) in an entirely new way so that they can know Jesus’ love in an entirely new way. My secondary goal is for campers to see that there’s life beyond their tablet screen during the summer, that they can do some of the things they do in the game IRL. 

What is one hope, dream, or vision you have for the upcoming camping season?

My hope for the upcoming camping season is that in one way or another, campers will have that same moment of realization that I had on the shores of Lake Poinsett: God has a big plan in store for us as disciples. It’s my hope that God will realize, just as we did at MADD Camp so long ago, that each of us first and foremost is loved by God and that through the Holy Spirit, God has given us gifts, talents, abilities, and passions that will help us live into the calling placed on each one of our lives. I hope that every camper has the opportunity to find God’s call on their lives, whether that call is to ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church or a job as an HVAC installation expert, and is encouraged to grow in their love of God and neighbor. 
 

UMC

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