This following story was first published in our Fiscal Year 2018 Annual Report, available now online.
During a meeting one afternoon with Chaplain Gay King Crede, Special Therapies Specialist Kyle Fleming was fondly reminiscing about church camp and the songs he was taught there—songs he thought our kids might also enjoy learning. And as they continued to discuss plans for summer spiritual programming, they came up with a great idea. Since attending summer church camp away from Cunningham wouldn’t be an option for all of our kids, why not bring it to them instead?
On Wednesday nights for six weeks throughout the summer, Chaplain Gay transformed the chapel into a campground where our youth experienced Campfire Worship. Helping to create a more realistic camp atmosphere, a donor provided an electric flame, Chaplain Gay made cloth logs, and Kyle picked out the perfect church camp songs to sing as they sat around the campfire. The camp counselors were college students from the Wesley Student Center at the University of Illinois.
“The Wesley students loved the interaction with our kids and the kids themselves really opened up to them,” Chaplain Gay said. “Maybe it was because they’re younger or that they shared their own personal stories but our youth really looked forward to seeing them each week.”
In addition to sharing their own experiences, the Wesley students came up with themes for each week, read scripture and did some sort of activity with our kids. And you wouldn’t believe how many creative ways they found to make s’mores!
“I spoke about how God is always with us even when we feel like God isn’t there or has left us,” Wesley student Maggie said. “It was so powerful to hear the kids share their own experiences about where they found God to be in times of stress or in the unknown. I loved connecting with and learning more from them throughout the summer. Each Wednesday at Cunningham truly embodied the beauty, complexity, and creativity of the Family of God!”
Campfire Worship was a special experience for our kids. Sitting around the fire was informal and intimate and allowed them to open up about their feelings and to new and different ways to be spiritual. The impact our youth had on the Wesley students was also special.
“Working with the young people at Cunningham was an honor and a blessing,” Chris, another Wesley student, said. “When I spoke at Campfire Worship, I focused on prayer. I did an activity where the young people could share prayers for different groups: themselves, people from their families or immediate communities, and then the world. The prayers they offered were earnest and thoughtful. I left feeling like I’d learned from their example, like they and the staff were showing me God’s presence in the world. Every time I go to Cunningham, I am humbled by the community’s resilience.”