The history of Kenbrook Bible Camp: Over 50 Years of Growing God’s Kingdom
Back in 1949, a dream of faith among the Loyalteers Sunday School class at the Fairland Brethren in Christ Church was put to work with energy and commitment. The vision for a camping ministry to children and youth was born. With the name Kenbrook Bible Camp (Ken means to know or understand – thus the camp’s name means “to understand the Bible in a camp beside a brook”) and under the mottos, “Christ for Boys and Girls, Boys and Girls for Christ,” something new came into being. With little financial resources but with much giving of time and talent, the camp was carved from the wooded hillside. Trees that took hundreds of years to grow were transformed into cabins, a bathhouse and a lodge and Kenbrook became home to a temporary community of staff and campers for the first time.
For the next twenty years, the camp expanded its influence in south central Pennsylvania, consolidated its mode of operation, and became a setting where hundreds of young people opened their lives to Jesus Christ. As at the beginning, the financial resources to develop the camp were limited, but the boundless energy and commitment of the core group of Board of Directors and the Kenbrook Membership provided the resources to serve the expanding ministry. Gifts of time and gifts of material including lots of food were joyfully offered in sufficient quantities to meet all the needs. But as the camp grew, as times changed, the strain was beginning to show and the load was taking its toll. It was time for something else to happen.
That change came in the early 1970’s when the Atlantic Conference began to look seriously at family and youth ministries within the Conference and to consider its involvement in camping ministries. Although Kenbrook was an independent ministry from the Brethren in Christ Church, it was certainly a ministry of the church and for the church and it was only natural that the Conference would cast its first glance at a relationship with Kenbrook. It did not take long for a mutually satisfactory arrangement to be concluded and the ownership and operation of Kenbrook Bible Camp was transferred to the Atlantic Conference of the Brethren in Christ Church.
Two key developments to this broader involvement were the Promotional and Development Committee and the Ladies Auxiliary. The “P & D Committee,” as it was known, was appointed in 1974. It was composed of several Board members plus other key leaders and businesspersons from the Conference. This group realized the potential in outdoor Christian education and had the vision and vitality to do something about it
The second major development that established Kenbrook as a ministry of the Atlantic Conference was the Ladies Auxiliary. The founders of the Auxiliary possessed unbounded energy, creativity, commitment and vision to have a support role for the camp. They raised substantial amounts of money, gathered food, made curtains, sewed trip equipment, cleaned facilities, helped prepare meals, and prayed. They recruited people from across the Conference to be involved in their projects and established a presence in almost every congregation through an Auxiliary representative.
In 1979 the Woodland Retreat Center was begun and completed in 1980 allowing us, for the first time, to serve guests on a year-round basis. Off-site trips in canoeing, backpacking, rock climbing, and biking were introduced to the summer camp program, as was a counselor-centered curriculum. The lake was also completed.
Facilities continued to grow with a second retreat center named Mountain View, a new swimming pool, expanded maintenance facilities, two staff residences, an additional guest apartment, expanded office facilities, and a year-round bunkhouse in the youth camp area. This necessitated the addition of housekeeping staff.
The decade of the 1980’s also saw the development of internal structure and policy to do the work of a growing camp. Kenbrook had never obtained federal tax-exempt status and an initiative was launched to obtain this before further major capital fund drives were undertaken.
On the program front, Bible Adventure weekend camps for 6 to 8 year-olds were introduced for the first time, eventually growing to four weekends each year. Resident camp sessions were extended from 6 weeks to 9 weeks each year.
A quarterly camp newsletter, Trail Talk, was developed to keep the constituency up-to-date and give promotion to upcoming programs and events. This newsletter has now been renamed to In Focus.
The transition into the 1990’s was marked by the 40th Anniversary Celebration that included the release of the recently written history of the camp entitled, Beyond Our Dreams, by E. Morris Sider, a multi-media presentation at General Conference, and a celebration weekend at the camp.
This decade saw the expansion of wilderness trip camps and the introduction of technical adventure activities into the program including climbing, caving, winter camping, and kayaking as means of challenging youth and adults to growth in Christ through outdoor adventures. A logical extension of these trips was the addition of a professional ropes course at the camp. The Pine Grove Furnace Wilderness Camp programs were also added to the schedule following a winter in which snow days resulted in the cancellation of one of our most popular weeks of camp at that time.
After carrying capital debt for over 14 years, Kenbrook launched a major capital debt reduction campaign in 1994. The Free to Serve campaign had a goal of $800,000 to liquidate the debt and open new futures for the camp. In the summer of 1998, the friends of the camp celebrated being without debt for the first time in 18 years and after burning the mortgage, continued to celebrate by breaking ground for the new staff residence which added a total of four new dwelling units to the camp. This facility was built almost entirely with volunteer labor.
Almost without taking a breath, we turned our sights to development that still needed to occur…a new youth camp lodge with kitchen and a multi-purpose facility. The Foundation for Growth campaign set new giving records for the camp as the goal of 1.8 million dollars was reached.
Now into the new millennium, we have completed the upgrade to the youth camp through Fairland Lodge, several new heated cabins, and the completion of the new Multi-Purpose Building.
These all give a sense of movement and growth, an understanding of some of what has been happening at Kenbrook, and hopefully, a challenge to see more happen.
Through prayer, seeking the mind of God, taking time to sort through priorities and resources, and by God’s help, we will yet see accomplishments that are still ‘beyond our dreams.