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Church camp changes lives

Cross at Wesley Woods Camp

More than just a poster on the wall or a blurb in the bulletin. These congregations have a plan for promoting camp and supporting children and youth participation. Here’s how they do it.

Michigan Conference Communications

The United Methodist Church’s mission is to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. These two Michigan Conference congregations are among many that are effectively transforming lives through church camping.

Ovid Community Church

Camp promoter Janell Kebler
Janell Kebler is the designated camp coordinator at the United Church of Ovid and on the leadership team for the Unstoppable elementary camp being offered this summer at Wesley Woods. In 2021 all three of her children will be attending Camp. ~ photo courtesy Janell Kebler

Janell Kebler of the United Church of Ovid is a living champion for that life-shaping mission. Her success in changing lives for Christ can be summed up in a single word: CAMPING.

Janell is an enthusiastic advocate for the importance of Michigan United Methodist Church camping as a way to positively influence lives for Christ. She has experienced this transformation in her own life and regularly sees how church camping makes a positive difference for her family, community, and church. Janell has a plan and a passion for promoting camping, and it is bearing fruit in Ovid.

Janell’s life is living evidence of the power of church camping to help raise disciples for Jesus. She regularly spent time at church camps growing up. Janell attended summer camp each year at Wesley Woods in Dowling, MI in elementary and middle school. In high school, Janell went to summer camp at Lake Louise in Boyne Falls.

After attending Ferris State University in Big Rapids to earn her bachelor’s degree in Business Education and her master’s degree in Administration, Janell settled back in her hometown of Ovid, a rural community of 1,700 persons about 19 miles northeast of East Lansing.

Janell is married and raising three children while also working full time at the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) of Michigan State University. Even with a full schedule, Janell has clearly made supporting the ministry of church camping a priority.

Janell has developed a focused, four-pronged plan for growing a healthy camping ministry at the United Church of Ovid.

First prong: A critical first prong is cultivating local church support and maintaining camping as a high-priority ministry for the church. This includes a congregational commitment to pay one-half of the camping fees for any child or youth from their community who goes to camp. Michigan United Methodist Camps are traditionally less expensive than other camps because even though each of our camps has professional management with paid personnel such as a director, maintenance staff, kitchen crew, and nurse, all camp counselors and the dean are committed volunteers. Still, Janell notes that the full camp fee for her five-day elementary camp of $400 per camper puts the cost of camp for some children, and especially in households with multiple children, out of reach. Janell knows that the support of her local church with scholarships for each camper is critical.  In addition to her local church financial support, the Michigan conference offers discounted fees for first-time campers and returning campers who receive credit for recruiting first-time campers.

Janell suggests that one way to raise the profile for camping in a church would be designated Camp Sunday worship services – early in the season to introduce folks to camp and later in the season to allow the returning campers to share their experiences. During these camping-themed worship services camp songs are sung, campers and counselors are invited to share personal testimonies. The morning message is often shared by a camp leader or focused on a camp-related theme. A special offering supports the camp scholarship fund. Printed promotional materials and camp videos are shared.

The annual chili cook-off and silent auction is a major fundraising event supporting camp scholarships each year at the Ovid Church.

Second prong: The second prong used to support camping involves previous campers/volunteers, inviting them to share their experiences at Camp Sundays and invite their friends to join them at camp to earn the camper referral discount. This prong has been vital in sustaining and growing this camping ministry.

Third prong: Organization is the third prong important to camping success. Janell maintains an electronic spreadsheet with information about each camper who plans to attend camp from her church. She is especially mindful of tracking payments and of applying applicable scholarships and discounts to her record keeping. She stays in communication with camp registrars, her church treasurer, and families to make sure that all bills are paid without missing any discounts. Janell also coordinates car-pooling to assist with transportation to and from camp and keep track of emergency contact information for each camper. Part of her organizational work on behalf of the camping ministry of her church is to use the church bulletin, newsletter, and Facebook to keep people informed about camping.

Fourth prong: The fourth prong for Janell’s plan for camping ministry involves more people from her church and community in volunteer service at the camps. This year, five members of the elementary camp team she will lead at Wesley Woods come from the Ovid community. These volunteer counselors receive background screening and extensive training for their work. First-time counselors are paired with experienced counselors. Protocols are followed to ensure two-deep adult leadership for every cabin group and safe practices are being followed because of the pandemic. This year, because of CDC guidelines, Janell’s camp will operate with a full staff but only 50% of the usual number of campers. Janell has found that involving local persons in the camp’s leadership gives parents an additional measure of reassurance in trusting the camp with their children for the week. Janell explains to potential camping volunteer leaders that their service is akin to going on a mission trip and will teach kids about Christ.

When asked why Janell makes an effort to help provide leadership for camping ministry as a Camp Dean, local church camping coordinator, and in her own family, she is enthusiastically honest. “Camping changes lives for Jesus. I know that kids who go to camp will be introduced to Jesus. Our church camps change lives for Christ in a wonderful way. You can see the results in our church and community even after the week of camp is over.”

These kids love camp.
Campers from Ovid Community Church make lasting friendships and learn first-hand about the love of Jesus. ~ photos courtesy Janell Kebler

Janell notes that many Michigan United Methodist camps are looking for staff and volunteers this season. Persons interested in learning more about getting involved in camping are encouraged to check out the Volunteer Page of the UMC Camping website.

Sycamore Creek: Potterville campus

Mark Aupperlee promoting camp
Pastor Mark Aupperlee takes a hands-on approach to the promotion of Christian camping. ~ photo courtesy Mark Aupperlee

Mark Aupperlee, pastor of the Potterville campus for Sycamore Creek, a multi-site United Methodist Church in the greater Lansing area, speaks from his experience when he shares this truth: “Camping is one of our best outreach ministries.”

Mark relates that Potterville has a history of strong support for United Methodist church camping. That support has continued with the valued help of Potterville’s church camp coordinator Cody Dobie.

Aupperlee arrived as Potterville’s new pastor when that long-established church voted to make a new beginning as a satellite campus for the growing Sycamore Creek church. 

Mark was serving in leadership at the Sycamore Creek church when he got a call from the pastor, the Rev. Tom Arthur. Tom valued Mark’s mature gifts for leadership and asked him, “Mark, have you considered if God is calling you to be a pastor?  We are considering exploring adoption of a new campus for our church in Potterville, and I believe you will make a great one. Oh, and I need your answer in 24 hours.”

Mark remembered, “I was doing cancer research with mice in a lab at Michigan State University on the last day of August in 2016, and on the first of September, I was the new pastor in Potterville and beginning the road to becoming a licensed local pastor!”

It didn’t take Mark long to realize the importance of church camping to the present and future ministry of the church in Potterville. He praises the generosity of his church members who raise from $5,000 to $6,000 each year toward camp scholarships, allowing Potterville to regularly cover almost all the tuition costs of any child or youth from Potterville who wants to go to church camp.

Happy at Wesley Woods
Happy after a week at Wesley Woods Camp near Dowling, MI. Invitations to attend church camp have long been part of the Potterville congregation’s outreach to their community. ~photos courtesy Mark Aupperlee

For the congregation’s annual camp cake and silent auction, prospective campers are asked to bake a themed cake to be sold, with proceeds going to camp scholarships. In addition to bringing a homemade cake to the auction, each camper is encouraged to invite a friend and their friend’s family, who are also encouraged to consider camp and bake a cake. The proceeds from the camp cake and silent auction help all  to go to camp.

Further, having this fun event on a Sunday morning after worship encourages unchurched visitors to check out the church. The experience of fellowship at the auction and the life-changing invitation to participate in church camp are part of the Potterville congregation’s outreach to the community. 

It is gratifying for Mark to witness young people, who started attending church camp each summer, now reach young adulthood excited about continuing at camp as counselors. They are eager to pass their faith along to the next generation of campers.

~ Want to learn more about United Methodist Camping in Michigan? Full details at umcamping.org. Or contact Michigan Area United Methodist Camping: PO Box 134, St.  Johns, MI 48879; 616 970-7838; [email protected]. Connect with the Camp Registrar at 989 534-6587 or [email protected].

Last Updated on January 31, 2024

The Michigan Conference