One aspect of growing up fundamentalist was going to summer camp. Every fellowship of churches seemed to have a camp of its own. There were also a number of independent camps. Ours was a Regular Baptist camp located west of Traverse City, Michigan. The site had been one of Al Capone’s hideouts during the Roaring Twenties. Michigan Baptists bought the property during the late 1940s. One of the Capone-era buildings, an old hotel overlooking the lake, was still usable. So was a nine-hole golf course with “greens” made of pea gravel.

I’ve already mentioned that my father had building skills. He helped to erect the dining hall, many of the original cabins, and some of the first recreational facilities. After nearly sixty years I can still remember him setting the poles for tetherball and pouring concrete for the holes on a miniature golf course.

Most summers my parents would use their vacation time to work as counselors or kitchen help. While performing these ministries they worked with a variety of helpers from other churches, so they gradually built up a network of acquaintances. We could hardly visit those churches without meeting someone we knew. Sometimes, pastors who knew my father would ask him to lead their song services.

My parents sometimes took me with them even when I was a small child. When I grew older I attended as a camper in my own right. Preparation began weeks ahead of time with a visit to the doctor: a physical examination was required for all campers. There would be a period of several days to a couple of weeks for selecting clothing and recreational gear, followed by packing. Finally the day would arrive for the trip across the state.

Campers were transported on our little church bus. More often than not Preacher Weckle drove. Superhighways were a new thing, and none of them went near either our town or our camp. The drive entailed several hours of jolting and bouncing over secondary and tertiary roads. Campers would pass the time belting out Singspiration choruses or chattering about the activities they planned to enjoy.

Activities were indeed plentiful at camp. Much of the day was planned, but during free time campers could engage in team sports, tetherball, miniature golf, ping pong, leathercrafts, and a variety of other pursuits. Every afternoon featured swimming in the lake.

Planned activities began with calisthenics at the flag pole every morning, followed by breakfast and then cabin cleanup. We’d sit through a morning chapel service, a cabin devotional time, and a Bible or missionary hour. After lunch we always had a rest break, during which we had to stay on our bunks in our cabins. Then there would be some sort of cabin activity (usually a team sport) followed by free time until supper. Another chapel service was the last planned activity, followed by another half hour of free time. An adult counselor would always lead the cabin in devotions before lights-out.

Mealtimes were a big deal. At our camp we were served in a chow line before we found seats at one of several long tables. The food was good, helpings were generous, and seconds were almost always available. This was also a time when the camp staff clowned around with skits and songs. At the noon meal the camp director distributed the mail, including spoof letters from imaginary boyfriends and girlfriends back home.

During those years, the only paid worker at our camp was a caretaker. All other positions were filled by volunteers, usually one week at a time. The cooks, the camp nurse, the counselors, and even the lifeguards at the lake were our pastors, parents, adult friends, and other people from our churches. What these camps may have lacked in polish and professionalism they made up for in strengthened relationships both within and between our churches.

The spiritual emphasis was the most important part of camp. With cabin devotions twice each day, two chapel services, a missionary time, and (usually) some sort of Bible memorization, every camper could expect to be challenged with the things of the Lord. It was during one of those camping weeks that I first understood how the claims of Jesus Christ upon my life were truly absolute. Faced with that challenge, I made the deliberate choice to devote my life to whatever He wished (some would call this a dedication). That was the second time that I can remember responding to a public invitation. Preacher Weckle was in that service and he came and found me afterward. He wanted to know whether I really understood what I was doing, and when it turned out that I did, he wanted to encourage me in doing it.

Camp was also one of the venues through which I slowly became aware that not all churches were just like ours. While I couldn’t have described the difference then, some of the sermons were short on biblical content and long on the preacher’s stories. Some of them were manipulative. In retrospect, I can say that a few were even abusive. I didn’t know it then, but I was experiencing the tension between different versions of fundamentalism, and those differences sometimes left me perplexed.

I doubt that our camp was significantly different from the hundreds of other Bible camps around the country. In fact, as a high schooler I also attended a secular camp once; except for the spiritual emphasis, the programs were nearly indistinguishable. That emphasis, however, made all the difference in the world. I’m sure that some kids’ decisions were based on manipulative preaching or were just shallow. Mine was not. The truth is that, taken on balance, going to camp was one of the best parts of growing up fundamentalist.

This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

Blow Ye the Trumpet, Blow

Charles Wesley (1707–1788)

Blow ye the trumpet, blow,
The gladly solemn sound!
Let all the nations know,
To earth’s remotest bound,
The year of Jubilee is come;
Return, ye ransom’d sinners, home.

Exalt the Lamb of God,
The sin-atoning Lamb;
Redemption by his blood
Through all the lands proclaim:
The year of Jubilee is come;
Return, ye ransom’d sinners, home.

Ye slaves of sin and hell
Your liberty receive:
And safe in Jesus dwell,
And blest in Jesus live:
The year of Jubilee is come;
Return, ye ransom’d sinners, home.

Ye bankrupt debtors, know
The boundless grace of heaven;
Though sums immense ye owe,
A free discharge is given;
The year of Jubilee is come;
Return, ye ransom’d sinners, home.

The gospel trumpet hear,
The news of pardoning grace;
Ye happy souls draw near,
Behold your Saviour’s face:
The year of Jubilee is come;
Return, ye ransom’d sinners, home.

Jesus, our great High Priest,
Has full atonement made;
Ye weary spirits, rest;
Ye mournful souls, be glad!
The year of Jubilee is come;
Return, ye ransom’d sinners, home.