By Kathleen Moore
“When I was a bit younger, I thought you could only be spiritual and could only have ‘churchy stuff’in church,” says Kaleigh Flood from St. James, Potomac. “At Camp EDOW, you really get to see that you don’t have to be in church to be able to worship, you can be anywhere.”
The mission of Camp EDOW (the acronym for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington) is to promote the spiritual and emotional development of children, youth, and young adults through the fostering of a safe and positive environment. “We’ve succeeded in our vision, which is for kids to experience the love of God in a different way — through all aspects of camping ministry – through canoeing, through archery, through community, through worship,” says Iman Green, the diocese’s youth missioner.
The camp has been held for two weeks each summer since 2012, and now takes place at Lions Camp Merrick in Nanjemoy, Maryland. This year’s sessions are July 24-29, for rising fourth through sixth graders and July 31-August 5 for rising seventh through ninth graders. Registration is now open.
Chaplains at Camp EDOW lead and guide worship services, but they also integrate faith formation into activities like canoeing and the high ropes courses. And because worship and spiritual formation are woven into all aspects of community life, campers list Eucharist and Bible study right alongside activities like archery and arts and crafts when explaining what makes Camp EDOW fun.
“This past summer, every day we had Eucharist in different locations,” Kaleigh says. “You have so much fun when you’re going to Eucharist. You’re not always sitting down and everything’s different every day.”
“I really like how we do all the different services,” says camper Will Thorne from Church of the Good Shepherd, Silver Spring. “My favorite is probably the one we do on the Potomac River—it’s really pretty, and we’re doing church on the river. Eucharist in the pool is really fun because, you know—you’re in a pool!”
While at Camp EDOW, campers develop new skills, make friends, and learn about themselves.“Some people might be like ‘Oh Camp EDOW is a religious camp? How can you have fun at that?’” Kaleigh says. “I would tell them, ‘It’s so much fun!’ When we have Bible study, we’re acting things out, we’re making skits. We do activities all day. You’ll do archery one day and you’ll go canoeing the next. You just do such a variety of things, and it really is the best week of the entire summer for me.”
“Last summer, we talked about people who believed in themselves and made a difference, like Noah,” says camper Jordan Dunstan, a student at the Bishop John T. Walker School for Boys. “He was 600 and built an ark. We also talked about Matthew, and other people who made a difference like that. We did hands-on activities about them. We had so much fun.”
Camp EDOW is a collaborative ministry that was born of grassroots energy. “This was an idea that really came up through the diocese,” Green says. “A group of people in the diocese were asking the question, ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome if the Diocese of Washington had our own summer camp that young people could claim as their own?’”
The group started a task force, and worked with former diocesan youth missioner Jessica Hitchcock to shape and build what would become Camp EDOW. “Jessica and the staff at Church House helped support the vision, and did a wonderful job of carrying the torch and supporting people in the diocese in the common work,” Green says. “This was a group of congregations who came together to make this happen, and continue to give of their time to make Camp EDOW work.”
The camp provides one of the best opportunities for people from the numerous, diverse communities and cultures of the diocese to spend time together.
“It’s a camp where people get to learn about different people from different parts of the diocese, including those from rural, suburban and urban areas, and those who worship at big churches, small churches, and those who don’t go to church at all,” Green says. “We have kids from area Lutheran, Methodist and non-denominational churches. Most are somehow connected to an EDOW parish through friends or family or a partner organization.”
Thanks to the all-volunteer staff of counselors, chaplains and support staff, a real sense of community is fostered from the first moment the campers arrive. “The instant you settle into your cabin for the first time, you become friends with everyone around you,” Kaleigh says. “You are never alone at this camp; you always have someone with you. It’s such a strong community when we’re there.”
Last summer, each week-long session hosted 30 campers. “We’re looking to expand in terms of encouraging more congregations to send kids to Camp EDOW,” Green says. “My dream would be that every bunk bed is full, and that more kids get to experience one week when it’s all about living in community, God, creation, loving one another, working out each other’s differences, and having grace for one another. So much happens in one short week.”
“You’re sort of like a big family,” Jordan says. “You learn new things, you make new friends, and it’s a safe environment. You know that you’ll be taken really great care of at Camp EDOW.”