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In twelve brief chapters, Venable and Joy trace history, theory, and practice of church camp experience in a very practical way. This is designed to aid the current or potential camp leader or counselor, as well as give insight to church school and Christian educators who are interested and concerned about church camp experiences, and how they might fit into an overall programme of education and formation.
'How to Use Camping Experiences in Religious Education is designed to get you up and running as quickly as possible. Chapters 3-11 constitute the 'handbook' tools, each offering information on a specific aspect of religious camping. Each chapter ends with an annotated bibliography that points the way to other resources.'
This points to two primary strengths of this book. First, the chapters are brief, to-the-point expositions of specific aspects of church camps. How does bible study fit in? How does worship work at a campground? What makes a good camp counselor? These considerations form the core of the handbook text, which addresses the following topics:
oCamp bible study
oWorship at camp
oRites of passage
oChoices and strategies
oDeveloping a leadership team
The last chapter is a special love of Donald Joy's, so he details the advantages and considerations of holding a backpacking experience camp. This chapter also shows the details one must consider when getting further involves in any kind of specialty camp.
A second strength is the bibliographic material at the end of each chapter, which gives a current guide to outside resources - knowing that this book doesn't provide all there is that needs to be known, it assists the reader in locating useful resources to build upon the broad principles provided in this text. The references are varied and useful on different levels; for instance, the bibliographic references for small groups includes three books of practical suggestions, but also includes an autobiography (of E. Stanley Jones) that helps illustrate through the life of a person the importance of small groups, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer's 'Life Together', a book that shows the overwhelming importance of small groups in the face of overwhelming obstacles and life struggles.
It is the combination of these features that gives this book real power. The suggestions are direct and easy to understand, but they are also open-ended in theory and practice, so that the reader will be encouraged to use these guidelines and ideas as a starting point, and not as an end or a set curriculum.
Through the book, the importance of community is highlighted. The formation of camp communities small and large, the importance of community spirit and feeling in and outside of camp, and the power that community can play in the education and formation of campers permeates all the suggestions and narratives.
'Community is not something to be taken lightly. During the time set apart for camp, campers and counselors alike are searching for meaning and significance, and they often find it in the unique bonds that they form with one another. The experience of community at camp is magnified when the homes, communities, and churches we come from fail to reflect and make use of this strength.'
Tying the theory and practice of church camping back to the example of Jesus in his wilderness reflections and wandering ministry, Venable and Joy show a biblical basis to the practice of camping. The authors show their enthusiasm most strongly in the conclusion, where they state they will continued camping ministry 'so long as we have breath'. Their final statement, 'Blessed camping!', is in fact what this book is to camping. A blessing indeed.
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