Last Saturday we concluded our final full week of camp programming with youth and volunteers from Orchard Park Presbyterian Church. Reflecting on our time together is Chair of the Pyoca Advisory Council and Camp Friendly Director, Rob Peterson.
“It’s not just a place…it’s an experience!” was the slogan used by Pyoca for many years and it sums up why I (and my family) have become grafted into the larger Pyoca family over almost twenty-five years as a camper parent, camp leader, and Advisory Council member. For me, Pyoca is sacred space, not because of the place itself but because of the Spirit that permeates the community that is formed during each camp week. It’s time apart, away from the busyness of daily life, when we intentionally come together to dwell in the presence of God and celebrate each other. I have found few other places where I experience this to such a degree, and it’s what keeps me excited to do what I can to help this place and community grow into the future.
Orchard Park Presbyterian Church has had a long and fruitful partnership with Pyoca, one that we treasure. Summer camps are in our congregation’s DNA: we have held camping programs since the early days of our church, and we’ve been working with Pyoca for at least thirty years. I give thanks for those who had this vision and the commitment to make it a reality, and for our Pyoca partners through the years!
Over time our camping ministry has grown from the “original” Camp Friendly for 3rd-5th graders to include Jr. High Leadership Camp as well as EPiC (Everything Possible in Christ) for 9th-10th graders. We welcome all, not just members of our church, to our programs for younger campers; this has blessed us with connections to families and congregations from around Indiana and surrounding states. For us camp is not only a discipleship ministry for children and youth of our congregation, but also an outreach to others as we “camp on”. This year we shared camp with 84 campers in our three programs: thank you to these campers for coming onboard, and especially to their parents who entrusted us with their care during our week at Pyoca!
Our camp program has also become an important spiritual and leadership development tool for our Youth Ministries as we partner with Pyoca staff to care for and lead our campers. High-school, college-age, and post-college young adults, most of whom came up through Pyoca camping experiences, willingly devote a week of their time each summer to nurture our campers – and, as they learn, it’s a 24/7 job! One of the greatest joys of my long involvement with our camp program has been the opportunity to participate in the growth in these young people as they progress from camper to leader.
Our camps could not continue without the strong commitment of adult leaders, congregation members as well as church staff, who share this love of Pyoca and camping. This year we brought 25 counselors and adult leaders to camp, and although there are too many to name individually, I must single out our other adult leaders for their continuing commitment: our camp doctor Dr. Tricia Galanti, Nancy Peterson (my lovely wife, the craft lady), Kristy Truax, who helps in so many ways, and our spiritual/camp leaders Rev. Trish Lisa (Camp Friendly), Rev. Jenni Cartee (Jr. High Leadership Camp), and Katie Haugk (EPiC).
There’s so much in our camp experience that it’s not possible to share in detail, but I would like to give one example of the ways lives are changed at camp. One of our campers, like others before her, had some struggles at the beginning of the week, sure she didn’t want to be at camp and therefore not eager to participate. Over several days, as our counselors and Pyoca staff worked with her, through the moving of the Spirit we saw her begin to engage more, smile more, and willingly try some new activities. Near the end of the week, when everyone was tie-dying t-shirts, what she wrote on her shirt said it all: “the best place on earth – Pyoca”. It again brought to my mind that old Pyoca slogan: “It’s not just a place…it’s an experience!”. It’s the place, yes, but also the people, and, most importantly, God working through us – and us opening to God – that make it all possible. Thanks be to God for Pyoca, for the Pyoca community past and present, and for the connections that we share through our ever-growing faith experiences there.