NEW PALESTINE — Most weeks this summer, Mariel Grove can be found leading young campers, from rising to rest, as a camp counselor at Lutherwald, a summer camp just outside Howe, Indiana.
Recently, however, the Ball State University sophomore and some fellow camp staff members found a change of pace at Cross of Grace Lutheran Church, where they brought a taste of camp with them in the “Camp Comes to Church” program.
This week of “camp” began at 9 a.m. each morning and ended at 4 p.m. There was no swimming, no sleeping in a cabin and no large-group games with the 50 campers Grove estimates attend each week of camp. But the program offered crafts, games, songs and even campfires to the nearly 20 children participating.
The event gives children who aren’t necessarily ready for a week away from home a chance to enjoy some of the activities closer to home.
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“It’s a lot different … but equally as awesome,” Grove said.
Some of the local “campers” agreed.
“I made a fish here,” Nick Ammerman, 8, said of his morning craft, a colorful fish with a design made of glued-on beads. “We just played a group game, Train Wreck, and it was fun.”
Nick said he heard about the camp-themed program during vacation Bible school and thought it sounded enjoyable. It lived up to his expectations.
Nick ate lunch at a table with other members of his cabin group, Fire. The children brought their own lunches to the program, and two snacks were provided each day.
Miles Pavia, 11, said he enjoyed a “Superman prayer,” a prayer of thankfulness sung to the tune of the Superman theme, before a morning snack.
“We’ve been doing a lot of activities … a lot of fun games,” said Miles, part of the Wind cabin group.
The “cabins” were assigned by age group; the program is designed for students entering Grades 1 through 6. The age-grouping was done so that when cabins met for Bible study, children would be with others of similar age.
“I’m hoping that when their parents ask, they’ll at least remember the story for the day,” said Michaela Mellinger, an Indiana Wesleyan University junior majoring in children’s ministry. “That’s the important part.”
Mellinger is an assistant director for Luther Road Traveling Day Camp, the Lutheran Outdoor Ministries Indiana-Kentucky program that brings Camp Comes to Church to congregations who sign up for an available week.
It takes $3,000 to bring the program to a church. She and three other camp staff members were at Cross of Grace to lead the week’s events — from Bible studies on daily themes such as forgiveness and serving, to slip-n-slide kickball on a water-themed day, to the closing campfire with parents to summarize the week.
Mark Havel, pastor at Cross of Grace, said the church got the last week available for the program to come. With that week (June 27 to July 1) leading up to a three-day weekend, July Fourth plans and/or family trips, he knew some campers had to miss a day or two. But the response was so good that he’s already talking about having the program return next year and planning to avoid the holiday so more campers can take advantage.
Mellinger shared that enthusiasm.
“This is this church’s first year, so we’re excited to be here,” she said.
Havel thinks the camp-themed program is a good option for parents searching for meaningful ways for their children to spend summer days. He knows another hope of program organizers is that after getting a glimpse into camp, the children will be interested in a week away at actual camp someday.
Miles said he was open to that idea. For him, this was “kind of the beginning of thinking it.”