From 7th-9th grades, I was subjected to the horror of church camp. It was 5 days in summer (normally June) at a beautiful place that was once a boy scout camp, but was now owned by our church. The purpose of the camp was to indoctrinate us into Christianity, of course. Many unchurched kids were recruited for what was advertised as fun, and many ‘scholarships” were available to them. (Camp cost only about $100 to cover food and transportation, as staff was all-volunteer.)
Each day started out with breakfast at the ungodly hour of 7:00. After breakfast was cleanup, then quiet time until the morning church service at 10:00. The preachers were often minor celebrities of the Southern Baptist youth circuit. The morning service was heavier on Bible study than the evening service, and was subsequently less emotional. Then we would play sports the rest of the day. Campers were split up into cabins, with 6 or so campers per cabin (plus 1-2 counselors) and there were 8 girls cabins and 8 boys cabins. These cabins all were named for a Native American tribe. Same-sex tribes played each other in sports and each girl tribe was matched with a boy tribe for brother-sister tribe prayer time. So we were forced to participate in sports, no matter what. If you didn’t want to mountain bike, they still made you walk the trail. I hated it with a passion. After sports, we had supper, then seminars. These seminars would revolve around some topic like “How to lead someone to Jesus,” or everyone’s favorite, “Abstinence”. After seminar, we had brother-sister tribe prayer time and maybe a canteen break for cokes and candy. Then we would have evening service, which revolved around music. Hours of repetitive, hypnotic music and alter calls with counselors at the ready. We were exhorted to confess our sins and to let the lord lead our life. We were told to keep the fire of camp burning and let it bleed into our daily lives. After the service, we went to the campfire, a huge bonfire by the lake. There we were told we were like the embers being sent out on a mission when we got back home, some of us would go out quickly, others would burn for a long time. After campfire, we went back to the cabins where we were supposed to have prayer with our bunkmates. By this time, it was often about 2 A.M. If the girls got giggly, it would be 3 or later until we were all in bed.
Camp was specifically set up for brainwashing and indoctrination. The isolated setting meant we had few distractions, especially secular ones. You weren’t allowed to have CD players or gameboys and such (This was 1998, slightly before widespread cell phones and ipods). The wilderness setting was frequently used to illustrate the grandeur of god. The repetitive music was like a meditation to close your mind from critical thinking. The sleep deprivation made us more emotional and suggestible. The constant activities left no time for solitude or thinking. Predictably, conversions and rededications were numerous. Most people burnt out within a few weeks of camp, but lasting harm was done to some.
The preaching at camp was generally poor, as far as preaching goes. It was far more emotional and anecdotal than the biblical preaching of “grown-up” church. Stories of dubious authenticity were told as gospel. One of my favorites was about a dumb, redneck type of Christian boy who has to deal with an evil smart atheist evolutionist boy at school. The boy faithfully brings his bible to school every day and leaves it on the corner of his desk in class. Atheist boy begins to pick it up and read it, making fun of it at first. Eventually atheist boy gets saved and becomes a Christian. There were also many cautionary tales about your friends dying in car wrecks and such and going to hell because you didn’t tell them about Jesus. Some preachers also made the boys and girls sit on separate sides of the patio during services, which infuriated me as my only friends at camp were always guys and not the bitchy girls.
Camp sucked in many other ways that had nothing to do with religion as well. The heat, mosquitoes, scorpions in the cabins etc…The food was good, though, and I liking tubing on the lake. That’s about all the good I can say about church camp.