Christian camp helps children keep the faith in a hostile world

Berkshire, UK - With a dozen beds to a dormitory and chilly winds seeping through open windows, this could be a 1950s boarding school. In a converted stately home, children are learning how, in a cold climate, Christianity can be fun.

There are also tennis courts, cricket pitches, gardens, a heated swimming-pool and playing fields. Drawn from Anglican and Baptist churches, the 60 girls and boys are spending a week in Berkshire at one of 100 Venture summer camps run by the evangelical Church Pastoral Aid Society — founded in 1836 by Lord Shaftesbury.

They are discussing how to live as a Christian in a world increasingly hostile to faith. Here, they say, the key feature is that they are not made to feel foolish for believing in God.

Most of the young people, aged 11 to 14, are already committed to Christianity, and the emphasis of the programme is as much on fun as faith.

The day begins with ball games. Breakfast is followed by Bible study, and more games, plus arts and crafts workshops. At “buzz groups”, children can discuss issues such as peer pressure and self-esteem. Lunch in the dining-room, a lively affair, is followed by group activities such as role-playing. Sport, jewellery-making and cookery continue through the afternoon. There is free time, and a sung celebration in the evening before the leaders put on party games, acting and dancing.

George Heath-Whyte, who is 13, said that he was among the few Christians in his year at school. “It is really encouraging to come here where most of the people are Christian. It is fun being encouraged to faith. How can you be encouraged to be an atheist? That would be pretty boring.”

Ed Drew, the camp leader, who is a church youth worker, said: “We are a Christian community and we acknowledge it. It is easy here to be accepted.”

The intention was to give the children, many of whom come from churches with few young people in the congregations, the “best week of their year”, he said. Many return, graduating to Venture camps for older teens.