by Erin Morey, St. Paul's Director of Communications and Community Outreach
On Sunday, January 27, we celebrated Calvary Camp Sunday! Established in 1936, Calvary Camp is a camping ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh located on the scenic shores of Lake Erie in Conneaut, Ohio.
I have never been a Calvary Camper, but my son is. I’ve heard many stories from him and his friends. But to get a better idea of the meaning of Calvary Camp through its history, I spoke with St. Paul’s parishioners Margot Strong and Elaine Mycoff.
Margot first participated in Calvary Camp 70 years ago – and attended from the time she was 8 years old, until she was 17 years old.
Much of Calvary Camp is still the same since that time, Margot told me. Some of the changes are that, initially boys and girls attended camp during different times (now, the program is co-ed, but cabins are divided by gender). Also, there was no pool. Instead, campers walked the 180 steps down to Lake Erie to swim! (Margot was an enthusiastic swimmer, and tennis player, but admitted that she didn’t enjoy the camp’s archery program.)
Growing up in the city of Pittsburgh (and attending Calvary Church), Margot enjoyed the opportunity to spend time in nature. She also had a lot of fun. Calvary Camp was where she learned to lighten her hair. Also, young men working on the farm of the Camp’s founder, Bishop William Thomas, often met young women working at Calvary Camp – and it was a great honor if one of the young men liked you so much, he named a cow after you.
Bishop Thomas’s son, John Thomas, also became a priest. Father Thomas was very active with both St. Paul’s and Calvary Camp. Margot treasured the memory of Father Thomas, then a newlywed, walking hand-in-hand with his wife, Janet, at camp. She was grateful for this model of a loving relationship.
The experience was deeply transformative, as well as fun, though. Calvary Camp didn’t have a Chapel then. Worship took place at an outdoor area. Campers from many faith traditions were moved by the spirituality embedded in the life of camp.
Elaine Mycoff also attended Calvary Camp as a teenager during this time. She was part of a program called Youth Conference built around a specific theme, and she was excited to share her strong memories of her experience.
Elaine loved that Calvary Camp was a good place to be. It was a safe place to be away from home, where people were kind to each other. Camp was very organized, with Communion each day (outdoors – the Chapel was being built when she attended). Each morning, the youth would gather and hear a speaker (such as a well-known radio show host, who sent tapes), and then have a discussion.
Elain also enjoyed the free time there. Youth were free to relax and enjoy themselves. She enjoyed all of the camp’s activities (although, even though the camp had a pool by this time, she disliked swimming and didn’t spend time doing that). Even the trip to camp was fun - she had fond memories of the teenagers from her parish piling into their priest’s station wagon and driving up to camp together. (She also admitted that in her excitement to go, she packed far more clothes than she needed.)
One especially meaningful experience was a nighttime hay ride. The campers would ride to a campfire, and enjoy marshmallows, where they would hear a sermon about topics like how to spend their time, or healthy relationships. She was always impressed that the staff cared about what was meaningful to teenagers, and was willing to meet their needs. She felt that they really understood, and spoke to, who the campers were. She also enjoyed the fact that the youth at each table were intentionally rotated at mealtimes, so you could meet new friends.
She was sad when she finally became a senior in high school and could no longer attend camp. However, over the years, her family would return and volunteer at camp, to help with maintenance, and her brother attended Family Camp there with his children.
Years later, Elaine realized that she had attended Calvary Camp at the same time as another St. Paul’s parishioner, Sandy Ludman. Elaine had grown up attending Good Shepherd in Hazelwood, and Sandy did not, so they did not meet up again until later in life. When they realized this, the women reminisced over their camp group picture that had both of them in it!
I am so grateful for the happy memories Margot and Elaine shared with me. I am also grateful for the work that Calvary Camp still does today, creating happy memories for a whole new generation.