10 years ago today, we signed the papers to purchase Life Teen Camp Covecrest in Tiger, GA. I can still remember the excited feeling of our owning a camp, and the sinking feeling of hoping that our obedience to God to purchase the camp wouldn’t lead to a huge dose of humility if it didn’t work out. In no way has the past 10 years been easy in regard to the camp. Our first summer we were only able to get 31 teens to attend our first ever Life Teen Camp at Covecrest. Not until 2 years ago did we sell out all spots for summer camps there. What happened over those 10 years is nothing less than a total Glory Story for God. Sure, there were and still are numerous moments of being totally humbled, but it has been all worth it.
So what have we learned from taking a great risk to potentially have a big impact on teens? Youth ministry is not about buildings, structures, systems or the latest fads – it is all about building community! Until we committed to forming a community at Covecrest that was outward focused to include all parishes that go there, we were simply a camp that was nice to visit, but somehow didn’t connect to people in a deeper way. We set our sights and hearts on creating the largest homecoming place anywhere. When teens and youth leaders go to Covecrest they are immediately welcomed home as family. When you arrive at Covecrest you never know if a group of Life Teen Missionaries are going to welcome you by surrounding you and doing a banana dance, or stop your car or bus at the top of the hill to welcome you home!
The other key thing we did was to encourage dynamic Catholic families to move to Covecrest. We feel the New Evangelization is lived out through dynamic Catholic families on a mission. We are thankful for the first families – the Saucier’s and the Fitzgerald’s for taking the risk to move to the camp and make a go of it there. We continue to be thankful for the commitment and dedication the Benzinger’s, Ball’s, Barry’s and Martin’s continue to live community every day at Covecrest.
For us it is community or bust?
I believe the same is true for your parish. Are teens welcomed and treasured as a part of a loving parish community. Does your parish simply “Do” youth ministry or are you a youth friendly parish that puts youth ministry as one of the central ministries? Teens are drawn to community. If we don’t offer them community, they will find it elsewhere. At Life Teen Camp Covecrest we found that always striving to form a strong Catholic community makes all the difference.