The exodus is on!

Watch them inch onto the freeway ramps on Friday afternoon. See the lines of trailers, campers, and tent-type vehicles crawl toward the outskirts of the nation’s big cities. They’re headed for the good times at the lakes, rivers, mountains, and beaches. Before rushing back to suburbia by nightfall Sunday, millions of outdoor enthusiasts this summer will have crammed about forty-eight hours of leisure-time sun and fun into weekends that are slowly lengthening with the advent of standardized Monday holidays and the creeping popularity of the four-day work week.

There may have been a time when church members had strong qualms about forsaking their church for weekend camping or lazing at the cabin.

Few do now.

And many of the estimated 50 million Americans flocking to campgrounds this year wouldn’t be in church on Sunday even if they stayed home.

National interest in camping and tourism has skyrocketed during the past decade. Authorities, citing a steady 12 to 16 per cent increase in camper population annually, predict a 93 per cent rise in all outdoor activities and a total of 7.5 million camping vehicles on the road by 1980. By the turn of the century boating is expected to grow 215 per cent, camping 238 per cent. No wonder government outlays for federal and state acquisition and development of land leaped from $90 million in 1969 to $357 million this year!

Where will we put all the tents, campers, and boats—and people? Already many a campground on a summer night looks like a convention of Coleman lamp dealers.

And will the Church roll with its mobile flock so that somehow the Gospel is presented to the millions who increasingly spend what one cleric has dubbed “unstructured discretionary time” on the road, in the wilderness, or at resort and recreation meccas?

A growing number of Christian camps, tourism associations, and motel managers are catching hold of the booming trend. A survey by Christian Camping International and Scripture Press shows that 373 Christian camps in the United States and Canada in one decade will have doubled their nonsummer camping programs. Many are providing trailer and tent areas in addition to the traditional lodge or cabin accommodations.

Although there is—as yet—little overall coordination, varied groups are providing outdoor opportunities for Christian fellowship and evangelism in public and private parks, campgrounds, and resort areas. Several motel and campground chains provide come-as-you-are worship services early Sunday mornings for guests and are experimenting with small meditation chapels open around the clock.

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Campers on Mission (COM), a Christian fellowship formed only last January by Southern Baptists, has exploded to a membership of 13,000 and is growing, officials say, at the rate of fifteen to forty new members a day. A blue fish emblem identifies their trailers or cars. Witnessing is the group’s main objective.

“No other nation in history has had such leisure enjoyed by the middle working class,” says John McBride, a key COM figure. “Our conviction is that where there are people, there ought to be someone there who knows the Lord and is communicating it.”

American Lutherans have a trailer ministry, the Lutheran Church in America (among others) has mounted a ski ministry at Aspen, and the Episcopal Church has a recreation work in Snoqualmie National Forest in Washington. Other more informal ministries exist in most states where Christian laymen have banded together to combine wanderlust and witness.

An outdoor ministry pioneer is the Reverend Warren W. Ost, who has headed the national movement “A Christian Ministry in the National Parks” since 1952. Ost, a United Presbyterian, caught the vision for a parks ministry when he was a bellboy at Yellowstone’s Old Faithful lodge in 1946.

The movement, with a present budget of $750,000 a year, gained impetus from the National Council of Churches’ Department of Evangelism, though Ost says the parks ministry probably will separate from the NCC soon. Ost is busy overseeing 225 seminary and college students representing thirty-four denominations in fifty-five national parks and resort areas this summer. The action extends from Mount McKinley to the Virgin Islands, and from Olympic National Park, Washington, to Cape Hatteras beach, North Carolina.

Ost, who says the ministry is “thoroughly evangelical,” notes it is the “oldest worker-priest ministry in America.” Although the staff (including five resident ministers) provide about 300 worship services each Sunday during summer (and year round in a few spots), Ost considers “the way they speak of Christ more important than the sermon they give on Sunday.”

Each staffer is hired by park concessions and works regular shifts. In addition, he or she leads choirs or Bible schools or mans Christian-oriented coffeehouses.

Following the National Park Service’s lead, thirty-three states now have similar state-park ministries. The Pennsylvania Council of Churches, for example, working with the Department of Forests and Waters, had fulltime chaplaincy programs in seventeen parks last summer, and plans more this year.

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Holiday Inns of America has had a full-time chaplain for several years. W. A. Nance, a genial six-foot-four United Methodist, now has a full-time colleague in the Memphis headquarters of the giant 1,315-inn chain: Charles Woodall, an ordained Disciples of Christ minister.

The Holiday Inn (its chief officers are active churchmen) ministry is three-pronged: worship services early Sunday mornings (so as not to conflict with local services and to give travelers an uninterrupted day); “chaplains on call,” a twenty-four-hour counseling service by local ministers; and the erection of small on-site meditation chapels.

Services, led by local pastors, are held in 325 inns. The best-known site is probably the Penthouse Chapel atop the Hollywood, California, Holiday Inn, where World Opportunities president Roy McKeown often speaks to as many as 200 businessmen and travelers. Chaplains on call, about a year old, is operated at 550 inns, with a goal of 1,000 by year’s end, Nance says. The program has been credited with averting at least forty intended suicides.

Beside another ministry to its gigantic employee force of 107,000 worldwide, Holiday is now branching into a camping outreach. Eleven Holiday campgrounds are now open—with fifteen more under construction; services and chaplains will be provided, according to Nance.

The largest franchised campground, Kampgrounds of America (KOA), isn’t far behind. Official Don Ryan says that though no formal program exists yet, a chapel program is being tested at the Dallas, Texas, KOA. A local minister holds services there for forty or fifty people twice each Sunday. Franchised and independent campground operators have also, on their own, initiated special ministries.

Campers know that Granite Hill Family Campground near historic Gettysburg Battlefield, Pennsylvania, is different the moment they pull into the long driveway: the Christian flag flies atop the recreation hall. Jim and Pauline Lott turned the family farm into a campground a few years ago, and regular interdenominational services are a drawing card for Christians from miles around. Campers tote their folding chairs to the rec hall and face the huge stone fireplace, where a portrait of Christ adorns the mantle. Many of the Sunday worshipers had rocked the hall Saturday night with a lively foot-stomping square dance. And the visiting preacher, who gets a free campsite for his sermonic chores, may have been one of them.

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A few townsfolk in the church that the family attends during the off-season think the Lotts shouldn’t be devoting so much time to non-church activities. Lott’s rebuttal: “We have to face the fact that we’re becoming a nation on wheels. We have to meet the people where they are.”

Nearby, at Oak Creek Campground in Bowmansville, Bill Benedick is a campground evangelist. A junior-high-school teacher who attended Dallas Seminary for two years, Benedick chose a “campground Bible ministry” when health considerations forced him to abandon overseas mission plans. He and his wife conduct children’s Sunday school, a teen service, and worship services for 400 during the camping season, as well as a year-round Bible-teaching ministry to permanent trailer residents.

In Pennsylvania, at least, it’s the minority of large campgrounds that don’t hold Sunday services, Benedick says. And large campgrounds in South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach, for example, have vigorous summer-time ministries staffed by laymen, interns, and—on a rotating basis—local clergymen.

Assorted outdoor ministries abound. An interdenominational church at which boats serve as pews, ushers paddle about in canoes, and ministers preach from behind a huge granite boulder is beginning its eighty-third season this month. The “Church in the River” is at Half-Moon Bay, an inlet of the St. Lawrence on the Canadian side. A boat ministry has been launched at West-Coast yacht basins. And in the heart of the Rocky mountains at Salida, Colorado, campers may come to a “non-conference” this summer where the Christian Missions Recruiting Service trains selected workers for full-time work in more than thirty countries. “Tell us the dates you plan to be with us.… What is the cost? Who knows? Just as the Lord leads,” beckons a brochure.

Bicycle ministries? Of course. For the hardy, “dynamic adolescent programming” is the word for Bob Davenport’s Wandering Wheels of Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. The interracial Christian couriers are making their first bike trip in Europe this month. Davenport (twice All-American footballer at UCLA), his wife, and their four children are accompanying the fifty-man pedal patrol. Wandering Wheels—which pushed off in 1964—will also feature its eighth cross-country tour of the United States this summer. And the first coed team will pedal 2,300 miles from San Diego to Savannah.

The Wheels’ main thrust is building bikers’ Christian commitment; a tandem benefit is the witnessing the youth do along the way in churches, parks, and roadside rests. The Wheels also give sacred concerts and testimonies en route.

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The Mennonite Out-Spokin’ bicycling program and the Trail Blazers Camp in Blairsville, Pennsylvania, are other routes mobilizing youth for rugged discipline and Christian adventure.

As a quiet revolution is changing the work and play patterns of Americans, most leaders of Christian leisure pursuits and camping ministries see their work as an extension of the Church.

“Evangelicals must get awake to the fact that the camping movement is on the increase,” says campground evangelist Benedick. “It’s just beginning.… This is the first-century Church.”

Key 73: On The Bridge Together

Can two walk together except they be agreed? Can Baptists and Lutherans? United Methodists and Wesleyans? The National Association of Evangelicals and the National Council of Churches?

These and the sixty-plus other member organizations of the Key 73 evangelism coalition do not see eye to eye about everything, but last month in St. Louis they agreed overwhelmingly to walk together into 1973 with arms linked in joint outreach “to confront every person in North America more fully and more forcefully with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Until the St. Louis meeting each group was more or less committed to doing its own thing in 1973 (and each still is). But representatives decided to explore “things we can do together,” then voted to initiate development immediately of seven “concepts” or program areas. These include special calendar events, nationwide Bible study, lay witness projects, and proclamation of the Gospel to the masses. They also went on record urging local churches to get together and plan strategy without waiting for headquarters to push.

Roman Catholic clergy observers were present for the first time. Key 73 executive director Theodore Raedeke said their response was “enthusiastic.”

Generally, a let’s-get-with-it-now spirit prevailed, putting the pack out in front of cautious Key 73 leaders who feared that any appearance of presumption on their part might disrupt the fragile alliance. United Methodist evangelism staffer Joe Hale, member of the Key 73 Executive Committee, said the surprising show of unity and purpose made the meeting “our best yet.”

The only gloomy note concerned finances. April and May salaries and other bills were not paid, but officials were optimistic about wiping out the $6,600 deficit soon.

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Meanwhile Key 73 is shaping up as a pan-institutional bridge leading to unified outreach unparalleled in American church history.


‘Free To Be Itself’

The one-hundredth anniversary of the disestablishment of the Church of England in the West Indies is being observed by the Commonwealth of Jamaica with a set of commemorative stamps that depict a free church with its door open to the people.

The established Church of England, supported by the government and ruled by acts of Parliament, followed the crown to the British colonies in the New World. The bishop of London governed the church in the colonies but, because of slowness of communication, was uninformed about local conditions and needs.

“Organization of the church was random and feeble,” says the government of Jamaica in its official announcement of the commemorative stamps. “These difficulties in time resulted in a lapse of Christianity and of missionary work. At the turn of the nineteenth century, the evangelical breeze was blowing in the Church of England after the official slumber of the eighteenth century and had two effects: the anti-slavery campaign and the missionary movement.”

Methodist churches became strong, and Baptists and other evangelical groups established work in Jamaica. In 1824 the Church of England, to strengthen its work, established a local bishopric in Kingston. After abolition of slavery in 1833, pressure grew to free the Anglican church from dependence on the government in London.

When the Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1869, similar action followed for the Church of the West Indies.

“The church had to grow up and be itself,” says the Jamaican government, “still supported by the Christians in England, but no longer by the state. In its freedom since then, the church has multiplied, and the centenary of disestablishment is well worth celebrating. It set the church free to be itself.”


Making Malta Modern

For a long time it looked as though the effects of Vatican Council II had bypassed Malta. The former British crown colony was for centuries held in thrall by a rigid sacerdotalism unparalleled even in rural Ireland. After independence came in 1964, the church used elections to stress salvation or damnation as political alternatives.

With painful slowness things have improved; no longer are Labour party leaders (who sought to improve appalling social conditions) put under interdict and banned from the sacraments. A minor battle currently raging in the ninety-five-square-mile Mediterranean island is indicative of changing times. In an attempt to modernize the 1,500 separate ecclesiastical units that take care of the 300,000 Catholics, a report by the McKinsey Company proposed sweeping reforms and economies for the better husbanding of the church’s annual income, said to be approaching the million-dollar mark.

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Though the report was championed by Archbishop Michael Gonzi (85 but still formidable), reservations have increasingly been sounded by his coadjutor, Emanuele Gerada. The latter’s alleged association with the Labour party leader alarmed many priests who suspected an attempt to displace Gonzi, and they petitioned the Vatican in support of the reforms. With a general election imminent, Rome is playing it safe. The Vatican has switched from appearing to favor Gerada, and has now decided that old friends are best after all and that Gonzi should have his way.


Modern Miracle?

Students of Bethany (Oklahoma) Nazarene College still believe in miracles. The Lord helped them raise over $77,500 in less than three weeks, they say.

The challenge was given by the Reverend Charles (Chuck) Milhuff, 33-year-old evangelist from Kansas City, Missouri, on the last day of the college’s spring revival. Milhuff, as well as the students, was well aware of the school’s $600,000 deficit. He asked the student body of 1,500 if there were a thousand of them concerned enough to pledge the school $100 each to be paid sometime during the month of April. After a moment of silent prayer, students all over the chapel stood, agreeing to the pledge.

Plans started almost immediately. Blood was sold to the community bloodbank; students worked overtime jobs, wrote letters to interested friends and churches, and held a huge garage sale that netted over $5,000. By mid-May students had raised $88,500.


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