By: Beth Herrinton-Hodge
I can think of few more life-changing experiences for youth than the opportunity to develop a healthy self-esteem and appreciation of one’s person and body as a precious gift from God.
The church is in a particularly opportune position to present solid, faith-grounded, spiritually nurturing sexuality education for the young people in our congregations. Yet, it’s a challenge to find curriculum and comprehensive information to aid in communicating these essential messages.
I have been involved in researching, developing and teaching faith-based sexuality education in the PCUSA (and beyond) since the beloved “God’s Gift of Sexuality” curriculum was launched in the late-1980s. Since those materials disappeared, I was at a loss for resources to support a solid program.
Until one day I stumbled upon Eighters Camp, a.k.a. Created to Be Me camp (affectionately known by campers as Sex Camp).
WHAT?!?!? Sex Camp??? It’s not what you think!
Created to Be Me is a week-long summer resident camp program for young people who have completed the eighth grade (thus the label Eighters Camp). The initial sexuality program was developed by Linda Adams Goddard, a former Presbyterian Christian educator in Midland, Texas, in response to a recognized need for comprehensive, faith-based sexuality education by parents in her congregation. A few years after developing and teaching the congregational curriculum, a Christian Church (DOC) minister asked Ms. Goddard to develop a one-week sexuality education camping program and “Created to Be Me” was born.
Rev. Goddard is now a retired Commissioned Sexuality Education Minister in the Disciples of Christ (DOC) church. Her 30+ years of ministry have focused on developing the camp and congregational programs, nurturing and training camp keynoters and program facilitators for Just Say Know Ministries, the parent organization that oversees Created to Be Me camps. Over the years, the camps have spread from one region in Texas to nine separate camp sites across the United States. Most Created to Be Me camps are held at DOC camp sites, but have been utilized by Presbyterian camps as well. (See www.justsayknowministry.com for this summer’s dates and locations.)
Why offer this program in a camp setting?
A camp setting offers experiences of faith development and spiritual nurture that are rarely matched in week-to-week ministry settings. Young people look forward to going away to camp. They are often away from family and parents but surrounded by caring, trained, responsible and vetted camp staff who offer appropriate supervision with just enough freedom for campers to grow and explore their relationship with God and God’s world. At camp, young people build deep bonds with peers and can immerse themselves in Bible study, faith development and social connections over an extended period of time.
At Created to Be Me camp, the narrative of Jesus’ life as a human, a teen, a healer and justice worker, and Son of God form the foundation for a teen’s reflection on living as a child of God. The Genesis creation stories and Psalm 139 enhance the biblical narrative with the message that each person is beautifully and wonderfully made. The aim of the scriptural message is to encourage young people to view sexual intimacy as a gift from God intended for loving lifelong committed relationship. Accompanying the scriptural messages are daily workshops presenting factual sexuality education to enlighten youth to the dangers, risks, and consequences that can occur when God’s gift of sexual intimacy is used outside of marriage.
When presented in a camp setting, young people are offered a broad and deep exploration of Scripture and information in a safe environment. Typical camp activities such as swimming, crafts, games, dances, and campfires round out the week, giving youth a respite from an intense learning environment. Small group discussions in mixed- and same-gender groups give space for teens to ask questions, deepen learning and strengthen relationships with a close group of peers. Each small group also prepares and leads daily devotions and vespers.
Presenting young people with sexuality education is a challenge in any context. There are so many variables regarding content and message. There are varying levels of attendance and commitment when offered in a week-to-week or brief weekend setting. Taking a youth group or youth class away to camp to explore God’s gift of sexuality offers a welcome alternative in which to offer an affirming and life-changing message.
Maybe churches will consider developing a similar camp alternative for their sexuality education program.
For more information visit Just Say Know Ministry
Beth Herrinton-Hodge is a Teaching Elder and Certified Christian educator in the PC(USA). She serves on the Board of Just Say Know Ministries and is looking forward to her fifth year as a small group leader at Created to Be Me camp. She also serves on The Advocate ministry team with APCE. Beth works at Louisville Seminary and has taken both of her teen children to C2BM camp.
Beth’s email is: beth.writesCE@gmail.com