Sacred Music and Arts Camp:
How To Guide for Churches
By Jackie Jamison & Fr. Sean McDermott
Why we do it:
In the experience at our church, it was clear that the traditional VBS approach was not working. When we bought an expensive curriculum, we felt that the curriculum did not reflect who we were. It was not a good outreach tool because those families that resonated with the canned curriculum were not looking for our type of church. Also, with all the VBS programs in our area, we felt like we were advertising a program few people were interested in - except for moms of very young preschoolers who sometimes seemed to view it as a daycare. This made our audience skew young and made it difficult to keep older kids interested in VBS. It was also more difficult to find volunteers as few people were excited about the program (like singing contemporary praise songs made exclusively for the VBS, etc.).
However, when we wrote our own curriculum for VBS, we found the process exhausting. It was not sustainable from a volunteer stand-point to write a new VBS each year. It also felt like some of our efforts were wasted. For example, we would plan complex snacks that tied in with our theme, and then most of the kids didn't like them. Or, we would plan games, and only half the kids wanted to play. Also, the decorations were such a big production! The goal was to use decorations to transform the church to create a special experience for the kids, but to do this well was a constant drain on volunteer talent.
We wanted to come up with a kids program that was reflective of who we are as a church that would naturally lend itself to getting everyone in the parish involved and invested. We also wanted a program that could be repeated annually without extreme planning efforts spanning most of a year. And we wanted the program to be cost-effective. What we came up with was Sacred Music and Art Camp (SMAC).
What it is:
Sacred Music and Art Camp starts from the premise that we want our children to grow into full members of our church. So we want to start from our church’s existing structure and resources.
For example, instead of creating a camp Bible curriculum, we say Morning Prayer together each day of camp with students as readers and playing instrumental preludes. Instead of writing songs about our theme, we pick hymns and have our choir director teach them. This change invests the older kids in camp as readers and prelude artists, it teaches our children how to say Morning Prayer communally and gives visiting children and families a true picture of who we are as a church. It encourages parishioners with no interest in the camp to come and join us as well.
While SMAC will have a theme like a traditional VBS, SMAC intends for the children to contemplate a theme while working on projects. The goal is for the children to experience a theme through prayer, music, working with their hands, and through teaching. The whole week is an embodied experience. Rather than create a passive experience for the kids via extensive decorations, we have the kids transform the church throughout the week with their own decorations. From passive consumer to active creator - it is a powerful shift.
Like VBS, SMAC demands that people give of their time. Unlike VBS, SMAC gives volunteers the opportunity to use their own unique talents. It has been incredible to see how the volunteers have shaped each year of SMAC. We have had a variety of adults teach a workshop and have utilized the older kids of the parish as well. Volunteers from the church lead the children through projects that they are excited about. A graphic designer might lead the children in designing book covers related to the theme of the week. An environmentalist might lead the children in a hike around the property to investigate the natural elements. A language teacher might lead children in a session learning a new language with vocabulary related to the theme. The purpose is to show the children that if one is attentive, the Gospel relates to every field of knowledge and craft.
We start each morning with Morning Prayer. Announcements are made at the end of MP, and then we have the large group activity. We pick one large group activity that can be the same for the whole camp week. Having a larger project like this helps shift children’s mindset from doing a craft in a slipshod manner to learning an art. We have found it helpful to have a movie explaining the art form being done such as mosaics or stained-glass. After the large group activity, the children will take a break for snacks and to just to run around for a bit. Then they break into small groups and attend a different workshop each day. We group kids together by age and have them rotate throughout the week. Ideally, the same workshops will be offered each day so that every child rotates through each workshop on different days. (This also greatly simplifies planning to have the same workshops each day!)
For the youngest children, we have a Junior camp (2-5 year olds) that is led by a couple volunteers. Parents who are dropping off their children are asked to help with this group one day out of the week. They do different crafts and mostly have time to hang out and play in the nursery. Next year we plan to have some special junior camp workshops for the older junior campers who are ready for more structure, but not ready to do the workshops designed for rising first grade and above.
Camp runs Monday through Thursday. On Friday we try to go on a field trip that relates to our theme or a hike (families drive separately, if interested). That night, the whole church is invited to Evensong and meal. The kids exhibit the new chant or hymn they have learned, and all the artwork and crafts that were completed are displayed. This brings the entire parish into SMAC and helps everyone see the work of the children.
Planning a SMAC:
We have a pretty relaxed planning process now that we have done this several years. If you are starting this for the first time, it will require more work and preparation. Now our parishioners and volunteers know what it entails, so it is easier. At the end of April or early May, we hold a meeting for anyone interested in order to set a camp week, pick a theme, and brainstorm workshops and large group workshop. At this meeting, it is helpful to give other people certain tasks to complete (i.e. "see if X will lead a workshop on X”).
In early June, before everyone leaves for the summer, we have a follow up meeting to confirm workshop topics and leaders and fill major volunteer roles. Workshop leaders are expected to work on their ideas and have them ready before camp starts.
Finally, we will check in with people the week before camp to make sure all is on track.
Doing it this way, many hands truly make light work. For example, this year one volunteer oversaw the whole process, one did registration, four volunteers organized their own workshops, one planned the large group activity, one planned the Friday night dinner, one organized the Junior Camp, and the priest led Morning Prayer. The overall leader only had to check in with people and make a volunteer schedule for the assistants and things like that.
In terms of large group workshops, we've done calligraphy and faux stained glass (using transparencies and colored transparent paper) the past two years. I think next year we might do icon making. We've learned that having a short video most days is a hit during this time. It's also good to have a couple backup activities for this time as kids get done with it by the end of the week. (And if those activities include contests you have much more buy in from the boys!) And it's nice to pick something that kids can do at varying levels. Like the calligraphy our first year was pretty advanced, whereas the mosaics this year were easier for all ages to do.
Sample 1 -Theme: Light of Light (2017)
Monday to Thursday: 9 am - 12:30 pm
Friday: Agape Dinner at 5:45 with Evensong, camp slideshow and talk by Ken Myers on music that portrays light through sound (for all participants, their families and the whole All Saints parish)
Ages: Rising first grade (if unaccompanied by older sibling/parent) through adult*
*Note: There will be a junior camp for younger children whose parents are attending – we ask that parents of junior campers take a shift helping with the little guys
9-9:45 - Morning Prayer with musical preludes and readings by interested youth +
Choral Instruction: hymn relating to the theme of light (Ken Myers)
9:45-10:30 – (Large Group) Faux Stained Glass Project with instruction on stained glass, and artistic uses of light and color (speakers include: Chris James (stained glass in cathedrals, Dan Malcolm on color theory, Malcolm Hughes on uses of light in landscape painting)
10:30-11 – Break
11 – 12:30 – Pick a workshop (see below for options)
Monday – Woodworking, Origami, Experiments in Light
Tuesday – Woodworking, Origami, Candle Making
Wednesday –Tin Can Lanterns, Crochet, Photography
Thursday –Tin Can Lanterns, Flower Arranging for the Altar, Writing and Illustrating Stories
Sample 2 - Theme: The Good Shepherd (2018)
Monday to Thursday: 9 am – 12:15 pm
Friday: 5:45 p.m. Agape Dinner, Evensong, camp slideshow (for all participants, their families, and the whole All Saints parish)
Junior Camp/Nursery: Ages 2+
Full Camp: Rising 1st graders
Field trip: Friday morning field trip for interested families to Meadowlark Farm School, from 10 am -12 pm. $10/family. Meadowlark is in Fluvanna County (approximately 40 minutes from All Saints) and has chickens, ducks, goats, lambs, and gardens. (Sunscreen, bug spray and comfortable shoes are recommended!)
9-9:45 – Morning Prayer (Fr. Sean) and singing instruction (Ken Myers)
Preludes: I/C/M James (Mon), Asher Comer (Tues), I/C/M James (Wed), Kaz Shinozaki (Thurs)
9:45 -10:30 – Large Group activity (mosaics)
10:30 - 11 - Break
11 -12:15 – Small group workshops
Leaders and Locations:
Large Group - Sr. Lynda (Undercroft)
Manuscripts - Fr. Sean and Karis (not Monday) and Isaac James (Basement)
Felting - Jackie and Priscilla (2nd classroom)
Shepherd’s Crooks - Phineas G, Tanya, Sr. Lynda (Outside - rain location: Undercroft)
Pasture Observation and Painting - Sharon and Owen/Robert talk on Monday (Outside - rain location: 1st classroom)
Junior Camp: Katy Shonka (see additional schedule attached below)
Agape Dinner: Jacque Spruill
Photography: Jackie and Owen and Kristen
Upstairs greeter: Kristen
Roaming volunteer during workshops: Julie
Outdoor volunteers during break: Junior camp volunteers