A camper races to the front of the sanctuary, accepts the poster with the song lyrics from a counselor, and holds the poster above his head while the rest of the campers sing along with the piano. He belts out “Radical God” with pride while facing the sanctuary of campers. Counselors sing and dance alongside the camper up front. Other campers dance in the aisle and their pews in cabin groups following the motions and singing the lyrics on the poster. “Radical God” is a popular song amongst this group, especially at the “chugga chugga, chugga chugga, clap clap, roll” refrain of the song with the motions and twirling. Based on the eager participation of the campers, they have sung the song several times and were quick to pick up the motions and lyrics. With about fifty campers, fifteen middle school and high school staff, and five counselors, the church is buzzing with energy.
Sights like this are common at day camp run by Lutheran Outdoor Ministry of Indiana and Kentucky (LOMIK), often referred to as Luther Road. Campers and young people are involved in leadership roles throughout the week. Sometimes campers practice leadership by saying a prayer with the group, other times they gather a team’s consensus while competing in big group games. Opportunities arise throughout the day for campers to step up and they do so willingly. A popular time of the day occurs when campers can pick between two activities, usually a game or a craft. The popularity is clear when counselors announce the “You Choose” time and it is met by a chorus of campers exclaiming “yes!” and then excitedly listening to hear their options. Campers are able to self-select if they want an active or quieter activity for themselves, which likely contributes to greater enjoyment for the campers.
Trinity Lutheran Church is located in Valparaiso, Indiana, about an hour east of Chicago. The congregation demonstrates a commitment to providing day camp to young people by covering the cost for all campers, as well as sending up prayers for everyone involved. Campers, in turn, are invited to gather an offering with specific coins each day (pennies on Monday, nickels on Tuesday, etc.) to go to future camp funds and the food bank. The church opens up the building and outdoor space to day camp so that it becomes common to see campers racing through the sanctuary and through classrooms playing the big group games.
Day camp is a popular annual event at Trinity Lutheran, with many campers returning year after year. When campers reach middle school age (6th grade), they graduate to a new level of leadership where they are no longer campers but rather “staff” who help out the LOMIK counselors. Staff wear tie-dyed shirts each day and help run the activities. Campers often discuss looking forward to someday being able to wear the tie-dyed shirts. Young people who are staff also reminisce about how excited they were to become staff when they were still campers. The shift in roles is both exciting and challenging for staff, as they encounter the joys and difficulties that accompany real leadership. Sometimes the age gap between staff and campers is not large, or siblings may be in opposite roles, which challenges the staff to try different strategies for effective leadership and sharing their faith with others (with the support of the LOMIK counselors). Staff at times express surprise that with the leadership comes the responsibility of running, rather than participating, in the games and activities. There are the expected growing pains of taking on new levels of leadership, yet many staff return each year and are able to get more comfortable in their role. LOMIK counselors meet with staff at the end of each day to check in, offer encouragement and advice, and support their growth in the new role.
Barb Herzenger, the deaconess at Trinity Lutheran, oversees all of the fun and growth of the young people at day camp. She personally knows each camper and staff member at camp, regardless of whether or not they are a congregational member, and she works out of the church office while day camp is happening. She greets people in the morning and closes out the day with reminders for the next day, such as to dress like a superhero or princess or to bring the specified coins for the offering. She describes great satisfaction with the congregation’s partnership with LOMIK’s day camp that has lasted for many years. Additionally, the church provides preschool day camp for the children who are not yet old enough to participate in LOMIK’s day camp programming. Of the campers, she says,
“I love the relationships [that I have] with the kids and seeing them spark when they catch onto something.”
The sparks do seem to fly as campers enjoy learning about God, singing praises (along with silly songs), and growing in their faith and leadership. She also speaks highly of the LOMIK counselors and appreciates the modeling that they do for both the campers and staff alike. The day camp provides opportunities for growth and maturity amongst staff that flows back into the congregation. LOMIK provides the opportunity for day camp that the congregation could not do without the counselors. Back at the front of the sanctuary, the camper returns the lyrics poster to a counselor and takes a seat with his cabin group. Another camper is invited to say the final prayer of the day and everyone bows their heads while she gives thanks to God for the day and day camp. After the final “amen,” the LOMIK counselors end the day by dismissing campers to their parents and guardians with a goodbye song.
“Goodbye everybody, it’s time to take your rest. Lay your sweet head upon the Savior’s chest. We all love you, but Jesus loves you best. Goodbye, goodbye-o, goodbye!”