About three months ago now, I helped lead worship for the final Epworth Camp Service in Louisville, IL. It was the end of an era. The spirit was upbeat, people were grateful and thankful and there is a vision for something new, which I think it always helpful.
Reflecting back to the last time I left an actual camp at Epworth – it was at the close of Holiness Camp in mid July of 2015. The final service of the final camp of the season ended about 8:30 on Sunday evening, we packed up the sound, loaded the Harvest trailer and then talked to a few people for a bit. Then, I walked back in to the dining hall all by myself, shut off the lights, walked out, got in the van and drove off. That was it. I still remember the interesting sense of finishing.
After a quick calculation, including summer camps and other weekend events, it looks like I’ve spent about 380 nights at Epworth Camp in Louisville, IL. This number is topped only by Beulah Camp, which I have attend since I was an infant. When a person has been somewhere for more than a year, (if you stacked all those nights end to end), it does begin to feel like home in some way.
Epworth opened up in 1947 as a dream of a pastor in the area who wanted a camp in close geographical proximity. Times have changed and people do drive farther for things these days – so the geographical issue may not be as a big of deal as it once was. But for 68 years, this dream has been alive – to reach students, in that part of the world for Christ.
My first summer was 1992. That would mean, I’ve been connected there for 23 years – 35% of the camp’s total history! My mom was also a camper there when she was a teenager. That’s pretty amazing history.
Most all the Harvest people over the last 20 years have passed by Epworth Camp in one way or another. There were some Harvest team members, who after serving went on to serve in ministry at Epworth – on the core teams or as speakers and leaders.
Here are some of the highlighted Harvest / Epworth memories:
1. It was one of the first Sr. High Camps to invite me to lead music for the week – just me and the guitar.
2. It was one of the first week-long camps for which Harvest led worship (even before Harvest was named Harvest).
3. I remember playing the guitar for hour and twenty minutes one evening during a altar call time at Epworth. The fall after that summer evening worship service, I recorded Altar, an instrumental prayer album. I have always gotten comments about this music.
4. Of all the camps Harvest has served, there have been more ER trips at Epworth than any other – thankfully all relatively minor.
5. Camping has always been a very hands on opportunity for many folks – including me. God used Epworth in lots of faith journeys! Here’s just one of the many videos from Harvest at Epworth.
EPWORTH JOURNEY CAMPS
In an interesting turn of events, the leadership from Epworth, even without official campgrounds, have created a whole new program at another conference center. I’m excited about this prospect for a few reasons: 1) the conference center is close to my own home area, 2) it’s going to be a great opportunity to reach students and 3) I like how they are thinking creatively.
I just read that Acton Bowen will be the speaker this year for the Jr. / Sr. High Epworth Journey Camp. Acton was the speaker for Fire-Up a couple years back and did a great job! He is from Alabama and spends all of his time speaking to students around the country. It’s really impressive that Epworth has him scheduled for July 2016!
I’m also intrigued by the leadership of Epworth (and the conference) to partner with Durley Camp – the premiere Free Methodist Conference Center in this region. It’s a testament to the partnerships needed for this kingdom work to be accomplished in today’s culture. Durley Camp is top notch and has much to offer.
Finally, I’m really interested in this idea of a camp being hosted so close to the St. Louis metro area. Epworth Journey Camps will be closer to the Mississippi River District, which is one of the districts with a relatively high concentration of large congregations. It’s a great opportunity for student ministry groups to jump in at a ground level of a new endeavor. You’re invited to check it out!
Looking forward to and praying for new ministry opportunities in July!