The RPCA held its annual Junior Camp over three days in the first week of the Spring School Holidays. Nineteen children, aged 8-12, and seven adult leaders enjoyed a three-day retreat in the Australian bush at the picturesque Yarra Valley. Eleven of the children were from the Geelong congregation, two from McKinnon, one from Frankston and five from outside the denomination.

Due to the pandemic closing the camp for two years, this was the first Junior Camp for half the children and the first or second time some of them could remember meeting each other. The camp organiser viewed “relationship building across the different congregations” as a primary goal of the camp.

Arthur, an enthusiastic first-time camper, said, “When I first came, there was a kid here and he talked to me, and hung out with me, and helped me put my stuff away and feel at home. He played games with me, and I felt really welcome.” Hannah, another first-time camper, noted as a highlight that, “all the girls are really friendly to each other.” Jethro loved that there weren’t too many campers, and Augusteen liked “just being here and talking to people. There’s people here I don’t see very often.” Jemimah liked playing with the younger campers who she doesn’t normally hang out with. Juliet, who was excited that her sister, Olive, was old enough to come this year, reflected, “It’s different than a school camp. It’s more of a community feel; we all know each other well by the end.”

Josh Feldman was the camp speaker, exploring Hebrews’ “running the race” metaphor to challenge and encourage the children. Pippa commented with appreciation, “The talk was really helpful for my age. It was…appropriate to adolescents.” Bertie valued that it was able to “make us think about not having to be perfect to be accepted in God’s eyes.” Willa liked the “active part of the talks” where the children had to race each other while encumbered by ropes or carrying heavy objects “to help us understand what it’s like running with burdens.” Reuben was encouraged “that there’s other people cheering you on to finish the race.”

The schedule was relaxed and simple, giving a balance of free time and structured activities. Hut Building, where small buildings were constructed from fallen limbs and other bush material, was mentioned by nearly every child as their favourite activity. Heidi noted, “It was very enjoyable, and it was great to work as a team. It was fun to be out in the bush and nature. It was good to see the final result of everybody’s hut and then we lit little fires [inside them] and that was amazing. Luckily, we didn’t burn down the whole bush, so that’s a win.” Eva loved the concert for which the children worked together to create skits to perform, and she thought, “the Free Time Craft Table was the best. I made a chatterbox and cards, and I drew pictures.” Fynn liked the bracelet and picture she made. Lottie loved the Night Hike and the challenge of the different competitions, such as the Scavenger Hunt. Roddy was looking forward to skipping rope and was not disappointed. Solomon, along with many others, found the Dorm Inspections to be “highly fun.” The boys and girls competed against each other to have not just the cleanest dorm, but to give the judges an experience they will never forget (which included hot drinks and snacks, music, live performances, aromatherapy, floral displays and even hand written letters of appreciation). Roasting marshmallows, cookie decorating, story time, singing, dorm devotions and games were a few more of the camp highlights.

Margaret McEwen a.k.a “Granny,” who’s been helping at different Junior Camps for decades, noted the importance of “positive memory building” with the children: “It’s great to look back on funny things that happened and have those foundational memories together.” The camp cook, Luke Feldman, grew up coming to Junior Camps and couldn’t wait to see his daughter experience the same things he had growing up. “There are things I remember and value about being here, and I suppose being involved in it, I get to see her enjoy those. To me, it’s an Australian identity spending time in the bush. It’s about them appreciating being out of the world they normally live in.”

Thanks so much to Sarah McEwen for compiling this article and the photos. Sarah grew up in the Southside RP Church in Indiana, USA, but moved to be part of the Geelong, Australia congregation over 17 years ago. She is married to Josh and has four children. When she is not working as a teacher librarian at Covenant College she enjoys painting, sewing, or catching up with friends over a good cup of coffee. This was Sarah’s first time as a helper at a Junior Camp.

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