It was June 2011 when my grandmother and late grandfather dropped me off for my first week of overnight camp. With my sisters and cousins by my side, we eagerly met our counselors and quickly claimed a top bunk bed. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this introduction would later be credited with being the origin story of one of my most monumental influences.
From the start, Bethelwoods found and healed a part of my heart that I didn’t know existed. I began as a reserved, but enthusiastic camper, and left a little over ten years later, serving counselors as a member of the Leadership Staff. As a child, what initially drew me into the Bethelwoods culture was how safe and seen I felt. Not only was I able to be poured into by counselors I looked up to about Jesus, but I was loved and encouraged to embrace every unique part of myself to use for His glory. Outside of conquering physical feats such as canoeing and archery, I found myself growing emotionally, and opening up a part of myself that longed for a deeper relationship with Christ, even if I was unable to string together those thoughts at the time.
As I grew older, I was able to explore aspects of my faith through high school camps at Bethelwoods that I can full heartedly credit to my relationship with Jesus making ginormous leaps, (shoutout Dianna!). I started being able to vocalize what made me feel so loved in this secluded area of York county. I realized that the Lord so intricately brought each individual to camp, and like iron sharpening iron created a community based in faith that taught love, acceptance, and tolerance. Such seemingly simple concepts but ones that are so rarely a part of the world today. It was an environment that was not only contagious, but one that I wanted to rest in forever.
- February Seven By The Avett Brothers
I continued to become a counselor, which was a huge influence on me deciding to commit to becoming an elementary teacher, and later moved on to Leadership Staff where I invested in working with counselors in the hopes that my love for camp would trickle down and make the same impact that it did on “2011 Caroline”. With each Summer came new friendships, new self discoveries, and new revelations of faith. No matter the strife going on in my personal life or in the world around me, Bethelwoods continuously acted as a spiritual and personal reset, and that is what kept me coming back. So much so, that leaving the “camp bubble” took active mental preparation to consider what it meant to continue living such a fulfilling life without the people, the firewood, and the hippo. I’d be lying if I said the transition was easy. A place holding an influence so great is hard to process mimicking. But that’s the thing about the Lord; the more I actively worked to take what I learned at camp and to hold on to the relationships that I made, the more He in turn gave me the ability to do so.
Slowly but surely, transitioning from “camp life” to “real life” went from becoming two separate entities, to ebbing and flowing with the Lord at the center of both. That was the disconnect, and once it was discovered, it was so easily mended. Why would I want to live a life without that faith filled joy, the belly laughs, and the undeniable energy? The Lord completely molded my heart through Bethelwoods, and I pray it continues to be that lasting influence for generations to come.
- Caroline McManus, former camper and counselor
I recently cleaned out my storage closet, and in the process, I re-discovered my treasured box of t-shirts. This box of t-shirts includes all of my sentimental treasures of places, times, and people who have shaped my story. If it were up to me, I would carry this box full of folded up t-shirts through every move for the rest of my life. Fortunately, I married a woman who helps me to think more carefully about what I carry and why.
We opened up the box and pulled out the t-shirts, many of which span almost twenty years of Bethelwoods history. As I organized them into stacks, the stories came tumbling out. Look at this staff shirt with the names of all of my summer coworkers! Check out this very vintage Summer 1998 shirt from my first summer at day camp! How about this shirt where I had all my friends sign the back? I eventually worked on staff with this friend. I’m still Facebook friends with this one, and I just learned that her child was an LIT this summer! How are we that old already?! Look, here’s where the woman who would be my Bestie of Honor in our wedding signed! I remember tie-dying this shirt as a counselor and have the original from when I was a camper!
Here is the shirt from my Leadership Training Program years, back when we had SALT and CLIP, before we had LIT and CIT. This is the green shirt I wore on my 15th birthday, when my dad surprised me by picking me up from camp to take me to the DMV to get my driver’s permit on my birthday. I remember coming back later and having a marker fight with the day camp group we were shadowing.
My generously kind and wise wife offered to make me a t-shirt quilt out of these pieces of fabric that hold so many memories. That way I can wrap myself in the memories and stories regularly, instead of leaving them in a box, folded up and forgotten.
I look back with joy and gratitude on my many years with Bethelwoods. Much of what I have learned as a leader and facilitator came from the leadership training I received as a youth and adult. Bethelwoods taught me skills and gave me a chance to use them in caring for children, growing their faith, and taking risks and knowing someone was there to catch me, whether in low ropes initiatives, the high ropes course, or telling a story during a rainy day. I carry these lessons and experiences with me in the ways I live out my call to ordained ministry outside of traditional congregational contexts. I still lead and facilitate, building on the strong foundation the counselors and staff gave me many years ago. And I will always be ready to lead a repeat-after-me song.
I look forward to snuggling up with these stories and memories in the form of the t-shirt quilt. Maybe you’ll join me around the campfire sometime soon and we can tell some good stories and share a song, too?
- Angela Tyler-Williams, former camper and counselor
"Every season is one of becoming, but not always one of blooming. Be gracious with your ever-evolving self." — B. Oakman
Oakman's quote resonated with me because of our current season at Bethelwoods and for me. The act of becoming has been a new area I have explored in the past year, whether in casual reading or preparation for a sermon. This concept comes from process philosophy (or theology), which focuses on the interconnectedness of reality and how our environment, friends, families, and ourselves change, which is how we come to experience the world. In process philosophy, change is fundamental to ordinary, everyday life and the formation of our identity.
Following several years of attempting to return to normal, Bethelwoods, like myself, is becoming influenced by the experiences of change from the past several years. As a newcomer this past summer, I kept my eyes and ears open, looking and listening to the sights and sounds of the campers, staff, and the beauty of God's creation. Amid my observation, I saw traditions still being held onto that harken back to the days of the covered wagons. On the flip side, I saw a newness spurred on by new and old staff members and campers alike. Both tradition and newness were at odds with one another, but even with friction between them, both are necessary for the process of becoming. I saw this best showcased in our deliberate gracious shifting for our night activities, free-time blocks, arts and crafts activities, and especially during worship.
One memory that makes me laugh from this summer was a camper from week six who asked me why we were doing a counselor hunt on Tuesday night when it was usually done on Wednesday or Thursday night. I responded to them by saying, "Well, you know, sometimes things and plans change, but we still want to value the tradition of keeping it (counselor hunt) as a night activity." The camper seemed curious about my answer, shrugged their shoulders, and walked off. At breakfast, the same camper approached me the following day and said, " I'm glad we did counselor hunt last night because I'm usually too tired to run after the counselors later in the week." I think back to this honest statement when I notice myself getting frustrated with change or the lack of it because this statement holds the reality of being in process. It speaks to the constantly changing landscape of our world and how we have to continually adjust and shift to find our way of being in it. Like the seasons, our ever-evolving selves find moments to bloom and remain dormant, but in that state, we still find ourselves in the process of becoming. Try not to be discouraged by the change; embrace it like the camper did this past summer, and relish in the new reality that change has brought for yourself and others.
Between summer camp and conference center season, new and old things are always happening at Bethelwoods. The tree's leaves might change color, and the covered wagons might be gone, but I hope you take the opportunity to see and experience what is going on at Bethelwoods for yourself. This place may be part of your process...
- Rev. Parker Lucas (Program Director)
The naturalist John Muir, who was raised as a Scottish Presbyterian, spoke of going to the woods as "going home." Most who have visited, worked, played, and lived at Bethelwoods would surely agree with that sentiment. Ideally, a home is a place where you are welcomed and affirmed, where you can rest, play, and learn in a community that acknowledges you as a unique child of God. Bethelwoods has served as a home for several generations in that way and its valued ministry continues on today as well.
I grew up attending summer camp there in the 1980's and then returned to work as a counselor for four summers in the early 1990's. In those experiences, I crossed paths with those who I'd never see again but who left a positive impact on me that I still carry now. I also made friendships with others that have lasted throughout the years and that continue to shape and mold my direction in life. In our current age with the ephemeral nature of virtual meetings, text messages whizzing around, and social media feed updates, it's the tangible memories of gathering with others in a place so real and set apart like Bethelwoods that speak to me the most.
Sit back for a minute and try to imagine those memories in your mind's eye because I am certain that you too share many of them in your own way:
Director of Children's Ministry, EPC Columbia SC
When I first started working at camp in 2012, it was the office assistant position. It was a summer only position. I applied so I could be close to my 2 youngest children who both worked at camp that year. In the fall of that year I was asked if I would be interested in being the office manager starting in 2013. I accepted the position with great excitement.
Not only was working for a Christian non-profit something I always wanted to do, but it gave me the opportunity to meet more people.
My family had recently moved and I was hoping to find some new friends. And boy did I ever. There have been quite a few people that have become very close friends that I met at camp either through working together, our non summer programs, our guest groups, camper families, and members of the ministry team.
So essentially, camp to me is building relationships, learning about others, helping others, while keeping Christ at the center of it all.
- Colleen Johnson, Office Manager
Bethelwoods. Where do I start? Bethelwoods is a sacred place where I can step out of the real world and step into a place that provides calm and peace. Bethelwoods as a child, a camp counselor and a mom provide me different experiences but in all of these roles, I find peace and comfort when I make the left turn into the camp driveway. I cling to childhood memories with my church family and to memories I made as a camp counselor. I cling to hope that my child will experience Bethelwoods as a child just as I did and hold those memories near and dear to her heart as well.
I remember coming to camp as a child with my church family. We had countless church retreats here. We’d play games, tell stories over meals, enjoy worship at the campfire, and even annoy our parents to take us canoeing into the lake. One fall, a dad agreed to take us canoeing. We got to the middle of the lake, he took our paddles, and then began singing to us. Thirty years later, we still talk about how we never asked him again to take us canoeing. I have fond memories of camp with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents and church friends.
The summer between my junior and senior year of college, I worked as a camp counselor at Bethelwoods. The following summer I was a unit coordinator for a short stint at camp. While I always loved camp as a child, this was going to be a stretch for me. When I heard I got the job, I have to admit I was a bit nervous. I had no clue how to build a campfire and what if these people actually wanted me to sleep in the covered wagons and actually take a group of kids hiking and tent camping? This was going to get me out of my comfort zone and require me to share my faith with children and even other camp counselors. After a summer of being stretched spiritually and getting out of my comfort zone in other areas, I must admit, this was one of my favorite summer adventures. I have such fond memories of my time as a counselor. I got to see the opening of the new swimming pool. I was used as a counselor most weeks but also got to lifeguard some as well. I made friendships that even continue to this day. And yes, I even learned to build a campfire AND enjoyed taking campers on tent camping excursions during the week.
After college, I got the opportunity to serve on the ministry board for Bethelwoods. This was a neat time to see the other side of camp. I got to see how decisions were made for camp. While on the board, I got to see camp start the process of adding new cabins, help make decisions for summer camp options and create more friendships.
This summer, I got the opportunity to introduce Bethelwoods to my daughter through family camp. While 2020 has been a very different year for everyone, I am so thankful Bethelwoods offered this option for my family. Emma Grace still talks about things we did at Bethelwoods. She talks about twin Lexi and the “other big kids”. Emma Grace has even told people that when she turns five in April, she’s going to big camp without her mommy and daddy. However, she has invited our extended family, her preschool, and daycare to come to family camp on the weekends when adults are allowed. ☺ To see Bethelwods begin to invest in my child warms my heart. To see the camp seed be planted and her faith be poured into and fostered makes my mom hear smile. Some parents would call me crazy to let my child go spend a week with a bunch of college kids at camp. However, Bethelwoods, to me, is such a sacred place that has shaped my faith and life as a child, young adult, and mom that I will not think twice about sending Emma Grace there each summer.
- Katherine Crawford Dix
Our Mission: A place set apart to encounter God's love through creation and community as we grow.
SUMMER CAMP LINKS
Address: 922 W Mt Gallant Rd
York, SC 29745
Phone: (803) 366-3722