By Matt Gardner
If kids can’t go to Bible camp, the diocese of Caledonia will bring Bible camp to kids—and parents are welcome to join the fun.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, the diocese realized it couldn’t hold its annual summer program at Camp Caledonia, located at Tyhee Lake, B.C. Traditionally, the diocese has hired a student seminarian each summer to teach Bible stories and lead activities for campers.
Sending a seminarian to Camp Caledonia to lead virtual activities posed a challenge due to limited Internet access and poor cellphone connections. Instead, the diocese took a different approach with the help of partner On Eagle’s Wings Ecumenical Ministries (OEW), which offers Christian education programs for remote northern communities. The diocese has previously incorporated parts of the OEW curriculum into its summer Bible program.
In response to the pandemic, OEW turned its curriculum from an in-person program to one that could be done by families at home—using kits in backpacks that give the program its name, Bible Camp in a Bag. The diocese of Caledonia seized the opportunity and held its first backyard Bible camps in 2020, a trend that will continue this summer.
“What we’re trying to do with this is to actually engage parents in the Bible story along with their children so that the parents are learning alongside the children,” says the Rev. Lesley Hand, Anglican priest and executive director of On Eagle’s Wings.
“Often they don’t realize they are because they’re just having fun, teaching their kids. But they’re also hearing and engaging with the Bible story.”
Bible Camp in a Bag takes the regular five-day Bible camp curriculum—led in pre-pandemic times by an OEW team going into a community—and converts it into home programs that provide enough content for three weeks of activity.
Each child or family receives a backpack with five different kits inside. Each kit contains a booklet with prayers, a Bible story, a note for parents on how to work through activities with children, and instructions and materials for making crafts. A memory stick or DVD features OEW volunteers who lead participants in making crafts, telling Bible stories and singing songs.
One of the benefits of bringing of the camp experience home, Hand notes, is that parents can experience the same “basic level of Christian education alongside their children.”
“What we experience in a traditional Bible camp setting where there’s a team that goes into a community is that parents tend to drop the children off and come and pick them up three hours later,” Hand says. “Because COVID has made us adapt to a virtual environment, we decided that we would structure it in such a way that we can actually engage those parents.”
The Rt. Rev. David Lehmann, Bishop of Caledonia, one of the founding board members of OEW, has used the ecumenical group’s material in his parishes since the late 1990s. After becoming bishop in 2018, he incorporated parts of the OEW curriculum into the diocesan program at Camp Caledonia.
“When I became bishop, I realized the summer campers [were] creating their own summer program from scratch,” Lehmann says. “We were hiring people and they were trying to come up with a curriculum and all I thought was, why re-create the wheel?”
“Because the bulk of the people attending our summer camp are Indigenous, a northern-Canadian-designed program made far more sense in my mind,” he adds.
The partnership between the diocese of Caledonia and OEW greatly expanded during the pandemic. Unable to host their in-person Bible camp, the diocese took advantage of the backyard Bible camp kits that teams of OEW volunteers put together.
“They count out the markers and cut the length of yarn that they need and count out the paper plates that they need,” Hand says, “This is a whole crew of volunteers that love this ministry and love the north and love the Lord, and that’s their motivation to do this.”
It was July last year by the time the diocese of Caledonia received its Bible camp kits and was able to distribute them to families, “just because we were shifting gears and then we had to learn a bunch of technology,” Lehmann says.
The first backyard Bible camp was built around the theme “Christ loves all people” and proved a hit among Anglican families. Lehmann says that the kits were “very much appreciated”.
“Kids [were] tearing into stuff … They didn’t need the videos to do the crafts,” he recalls. “Most of the kids just looked at the [instruction] sheets and got into it. I dropped some off to one family myself and stood back and was just amazed at watching the kids get excited and engage in the stories—and the parents appreciating the fact that we couldn’t get together [in person], but we had a resource for them.”
The theme of this year’s camp is “Living in God’s house together.” Lehman hopes the experience will help parents and children to “step out of the regular routine that’s been happening and to engage in some Bible story, do some crafts and some activities … to think about how God connects us all in this and that God is with us in this pandemic.” Ω
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