Written by Connie Larkman
What do you think would make "The. Best. Camp. Ever." for high school students in the United Church of Christ? That question is sure to be answered –– by high school students -- at Idea U, a two-day camp pilot program and partnership between the Ohio Conference UCC and one of the denomination's historically-related universities.
"Idea U" is a collaborative project with Heidelberg University designed to create a unique youth-designed summer camp experience," said the Rev. Phil Hart, Ohio and Indiana/Kentucky conference minister. "We are putting everything on the table and asking young people themselves to start from scratch and create an amazing, life-changing event."
The Ohio Conference is looking for 18 innovative high school students (entering grades 10 through 12 in Fall 2016) who will dream and build a new kind of church camp by and for young people. The chosen group will spend two days together, June 21-23, at Heidelberg University, using a process called "design thinking" to create plans for what they consider an amazing summer experience for young people.
"They will use Twitter, Snapchat, texting and all sorts of technology to immediately get feedback from other young people about the ideas that are generated," said Hart. "This way, we can check our ideas immediately and see if they work or if we are off-base. This approach doesn't just take 'input' from young people. It says that their experiences and perspectives are key to helping us hear from the Still Speaking God."
"When Paul Stark, chaplain at Heidelberg University, first approached me with the idea a high school camp that they could host on their campus, I knew this idea was in line with a vision our Division of Outdoor Ministries had for ‘sacred making' –– making the sacred happen in lots of ways and in various locations throughout the conference," said the Rev. Nicole Havelka, minister for resourcing, networking and creativity, Ohio Conference UCC. "I am thrilled about the possibility that this camp can become a model for how we create youth and outdoor ministries in the future –– by tapping into the creativity and leadership skills of the very people the programs are designed to serve."
Lisa La Du, a Heidelberg alum and member of the Ohio Conference's Division of Outdoor Ministries, also sees great potential in the project. "I am a strong advocate for finding alternative ways for youth to better understand their religious faith," La Du said. "I believe that being involved in a faith community that is intentional in helping them grow is important. When I was a teenager, it wasn't Sunday school that helped me mold my faith as much as church camp, church retreats, and youth events. It seems as our society has become more technological, the harder it has become to attract youth to the traditional summer camp. The opportunity to go to a camp on a college campus [like the National Youth Event] where one can not only use, but is encouraged to use, smart phones and tablets may be the way to encourage more youth to explore their Christian faith in a new and exciting way."
The Ohio Conference is taking applications from interested youth, who have to write an essay to be considered for the project, with a May 1 deadline.
"Ultimately, I hope the youth are able to grow a different kind of camp that will attract more UCC youth to participate in an event that will encourage them to grow in their faith in a way that they find meaningful and exciting, whatever that might be for them," La Du said.
Hart added, "I hope this begins a greater collaboration among the Conferences in camping/faith formation ministries in the future."