by Cheryl A. Erdmann (January / February 2004 — Volume 20, Number 1)
A team of churches has provided a week-long confirmation camp experience for youth for many years. For youth and adults alike, a lot is accomplished.
In most cases, when congregational leaders and staff hear the words "team ministry," their minds jump to multi-staff ministry within a congregation, or, if stretched, within a close geographic proximity. Churches of a certain size are able to call or hire staff with varying gifts to bring those gifts to the programs of the congregation. Or, smaller churches in an area may form partnerships for a specific ministry, such as confirmation or youth ministry.
Rarely do we hear of churches from a wide geographic area working together as partners in a ministry and having success with that ministry. However, such models do exist. One of those models has been in existence for more than 40 years. It is called "Confirmation By The Lake."
"Confirmation By The Lake" (CBTL) is a joint ministry of a consortium of Lutheran churches in northern and central Illinois and southern Wisconsin which gathers at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin, along the shore of Lake Michigan. Over the 40 years, 18 congregations have been part of the camp. Generally, about 12 congregations join forces in any given summer.
The congregations work together year round to plan and implement a one-week summer confirmation camp program for their students. These congregations also commit staff time and financial resources to ensuring that the week of camp includes a variety of faith-building activities: worship, Bible study, workshops, structured free time, group games, whole-group activities, and a day of servant work/beach time.
While all this is happening, relationships between the students of the churches and between the adult professional and volunteer staff members happen as well, resulting in lots of community building.
The purpose of CBTL is to help confirmands to apply the learning they have experienced within their congregation's own confirmation programs to issues that they will face as confirmed members of their respective congregations and as soon-to-be young adults. Each day's activities are centered on themes relating to a general topic.
For instance, the 2003 camp used the general topic of "peace in a world not at peace" to design workshops, worship, and Bible study with the daily themes: Inner Peace (Monday), God's Peace (Tuesday), Promoting Peace (Wednesday), Blessed are the Peacemakers (Thursday), and Living a Life of Peace (Friday). The purpose of the topic and themes are to help the students to "travel" the week of camp as both a journey and a destination.
The basic structure and schedule of CBTL stays the same from year to year. Below is how the days Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday are organized:
||Wake-up in dorms (earlier if needed)|
||Breakfast in the Carthage Dining Room|
||Homeroom (small-group Bible study)|
||Chapel (led by one of the professional leaders, with music supplied by the professional leaders and interested students)|
||Option Time (structured free timestudents are supervised at the various activities available including volleyball, basketball, swimming, board games, crafts)|
||Lunch in the Carthage Dining Room|
||Group games (Carthage scavenger hunt, relay races, water balloons, etc.)|
||Option Time (as earlier)|
||Supper in the Carthage Dining Room|
||Congregational Life (students meet with their fellow students and professional leader from their congregation)|
||Large-group activity (Bible skits, speaker, movie, "Wheel of Wisdom," Talent Show and dance)|
||Dorm devotions and prepare for sleeping|
The days are busy and full, and everyone sleeps well at night!
The students at camp are divided into small groups of 8-10 students and assigned to a professional leader (pastor, youth leader) for the daily Bible study. Every effort is made to assign students to someone other than his/her own congregational leader, in order that the students might have the experience of being led by someone from another congregation. These small groups are combined into three large groups for the workshops, and the students rotate through the three workshops each day with that large group.
The professional leaders from the congregations lead the workshops, or, occasionally, an outside workshop leader may be invited. Outside leaders have led campers on such topics as "Dancing with Your Gifts" and "Responding to Those with Differences." These professional leaders enjoy the opportunity to lead workshops on topics that extend the confirmation learning that the students have already received.
A curriculum committee, made up of interested professional leaders from the congregations, plan the workshops. In addition to the curriculum committee, leaders can choose to serve on either the worship or the administrative committees. Leaders plan, organize, and implement the entire week of camp through these three committees.
The reader may have noticed that the standard schedule does not apply to Thursday. On Thursday, the entire camp participates in a combination service/fellowship activity. After worship, students and chaperones either bus or carpool to various project sites in the nearby city of Racine, Wisconsin. Each year, a member of the curriculum committee arranges 810 service project sites, providing a variety of opportunities that hopefully will appeal to the various interests of the students. This past summer, campers:
- prepared lunch for children attending the Salvation Army Day Camp.
- engaged in activities at a Respite Care site for Senior Citizens.
- assisted with activities at a Day Care Center.
- sorted food donations at the central Food Bank.
- sorted book donations for an inner-city reading center.
- cleaned and made ready a transitional shelter for homeless older teens.
- gardened and cleaned the local zoo.
- refurbished trails at a local nature center.
After completing their service project, the students and adults met at a Lake Michigan beach with box lunches for a picnic and beach time. In spite of the cold (it is in June, after all) water, hearty students and adults did swim! (Some were "encouraged" to do so!)
At the end of the week, what has been accomplished? In other words, why would congregations continue to participate in CBTL? The leaders of these congregations have given the following reasons:
- Camp gives their students the opportunity to meet students from other churches in a structured environment. Often students who have different interests from their congregational classmates connect in a special way with students from other congregations.
- Camp also gives those students the opportunity to meet caring Christian adults. They meet people that connect with them, through either the formal or informal activities, in a way that they may not have connected with other adults.
- Camp gives the professional and volunteer leaders of the congregations the chance to use their gifts and talents in ways that they may not be able to in their congregations, either because of the size of the congregation or because the leaders' responsibilities in their own congregations do not allow them to do so.
- Camp planning and organizing, as well as implementation, provides a support group for professional and volunteer leaders of confirmation programs.
- Camp provides each congregational group of students and adults an extended opportunity to grow in faith together.
Starting a Camp
If a group of churches wished to begin a similar program in your area, what would they need to do? Below are some thoughts, based on how CBTL is organized:
- Find an appropriate location. CBTL uses Carthage College because it offers dorm rooms, meeting rooms for small and large groups as well as for activities such as crafts, and access to the college sports and recreation facilities. Carthage also is small enough that students can move around the campus fairly quickly, and adults can supervise them without too much difficulty.
- Be committed to the time needed to plan camp, including the meetings of all participating churches as well as the sub-group meetings for curriculum, worship, and administration. Also, make sure the congregation is comfortable with having its professional leaders spend a week away from the congregation.
- Look at camp as an opportunity to help your congregation's confirmation program be enriched by the gifts and talents of those from other congregations.
- To your confirmation families and congregation, present your camp program as a great thing to do and not as one more obligation. Begin talking it up at the beginning of the confirmation process.
- Be prepared to subsidize the costs for your students and provide for extraneous costs. Get the students involved in fundraising projects.
- Write firm rules of behavior and insist that both parents and students sign them.
- Seek out members of your congregation with special gifts that would help camp be even more fun and exciting. In the case of CBTL, several adults come back every year just because they enjoy leading the crafts, planning the group games, and doing other activities. One adult, a former camper, even brings his "Wheel of Wisdom," a youth-oriented "Wheel of Fortune"-style game, complete with lights and sounds. This gentleman's day job is to travel to schools, fairs, and private parties with the Wheel of Wisdom, but he offers his services free of charge to CBTL. And the students love it!
- Last, but most important, pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That guidance is probably the most important ingredient in a successful camp, and, frankly, the ingredient that I find most visible, year after year.
If you would like to have more information on Confirmation By The Lake, call the Camp Dean, Pastor Roger Schindel, at Christus Victor Lutheran Church, Elk Grove Village, Illinois, (847) 437-2666. Churches that might be interested in participating in CBTL itself are also welcome to contact Pastor Schindel.
Deaconess Cheryl A. Erdmann is Director of Christian Education and Family Ministry at Bethany Lutheran Church, Crystal Lake, Illinois. She is an ELCA associate in ministry as well as a member of the Lutheran Deaconess Conference.