Recently the Church has come out with a new young women’s camp guidebook.
Every camp is different, every stake is different, and every girl is different. This means that no young woman has had exactly the same experience as another. But in general, you can often count on some shared experiences, like classic camp songs, silly skits, and tearful testimony meetings.
But with all the changes to the guide, what will it mean for camp? How much will the experience actually change? The answer is both a lot, and not as much as you might think.
A More Global Young Women’s Camp Guidebook
I read the guidebook before I read anything the Church wrote about it, and just by reading it, I could tell that the Young Women’s Presidency was aiming to create a more globally applicable young women’s camp guidebook with less strict structure and requirements.
I noticed right away that there were no certification requirements. Learning about camping, first aid, fire safety, etc. was just a suggestion for appropriate activities, along with others such as spiritual growth, friendship and leadership skills, and talent and skill development.
Camps will focus on things that leaders and youth leaders are inspired to do by personal revelation, rather than focusing on certification, checklists, and camp skills. Leaders will focus more on their young women’s spiritual needs. Camp might feel a lot different, but the Spirit will still be there, perhaps even stronger than it was before, and isn’t that the most important part of camp?
And, if your camp as a whole enjoyed the certification activities, or if the leaders believe it’s still a good idea to teach first aid, etc., there’s no reason to think those activities will cease completely. They’re still suggested activities in the new guide after all.
I love Girls’ Camp. If you ask me where my favorite physical location on this Earth is, I’ll talk your ear off about my Girls’ Camp. I loved the beautiful lake, the quaint cabins, the air-conditioned lodges, the plethora of trees… and all of these things are just the physical aspects of the place. But as the second full paragraph in the new Young Women’s camp guidebook says,
“The location of your Young Women camp—whether it is in a forest, in a park, on a beach, or in a meetinghouse—can become beautiful to the eyes of all who gather there. Like Alma and his people, young women need a place where they can gather together, separate from worldly influences, feel the Spirit of the Lord, grow in unity and love, and strengthen their faith and testimonies of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.”
This is already very different from the old manual, which said things like, “They can find joy in an outdoor setting” and “With the world of nature as your classroom,” marking that camp was a very outdoor-centric activity.
But not every place has good access to campgrounds and nature. In the article the Church released to announce the new guide, there’s a quote from Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson. She said that on trips around the world, she’d visit cities that would “go on for miles and miles with no parks or green spaces,” and ask, “Where are they going to find a place set apart from the world?”
Now meetinghouses or backyards can be locations for Girls’ Camp. But don’t panic! I bet that if your ward’s camp had easy access to a more traditional camping location, that it will likely continue to camp there.
Not only did I love the physical location of my Camp, but I made memories, formed friendships, strengthened my testimony, and learned any number of other lessons at Camp.
Removing Negative Practices
I loved camp, but some young women don’t have such a wonderful experience at camp. Maybe they took the brunt of harmful pranks or bullying, or maybe they just didn’t feel the Spirit the way they would have liked to.
Three things in the new Young Women’s camp guidebook that make me think that there were some practices that the Young Women’s Presidency didn’t approve of are:
“Hazing, pranks, and other unkind, immoral, or disrespectful conversation and behavior are unacceptable.”
“In areas where the young women have been participating in camp for many years, there may be some activities, songs, and customs that have been repeated each year and have become traditions. Carefully review these traditions to ensure that they are appropriate and meet the purpose and needs of camp.”
“Camp should not be elaborate or include staging, events, or decorations that distract from the purpose of camp. Also avoid experiences in which the young women may mistake strong emotional feelings such as sadness or surprise for feeling the Spirit.”
I remember at my camp that the leaders were very serious about forbidding harmful pranks, but most years there were still a few. In terms of traditions, now that I think back on some camp songs we sang, perhaps they wouldn’t be considered exactly appropriate. Our decorations and theme every year always seemed a little excessive to me, and I’ve heard many stories about lessons designed to make girls feel the Spirit but really just scared them or made them feel pain or sadness.
Some of these things might be difficult to change, but in removing these more negative aspects, camp will become more positive and simplified, creating a space where the Spirit is more likely to want to abide.
Objecives laid out in the New Camp Guidebook
For this, I’ve created a Venn diagram to illustrate just how much the goals of camp have changed.
But for those who dislike graphs of any kind, here they are, listed out.
Old Manual’s Camp Objectives:
• Draw closer to God
• Appreciate and feel reverence for nature
• Become more self-reliant
• Respect and protect the environment
• Serve others
• Build friendships
• Enjoy camping and have fun
New Guide’s Camp Objectives:
• Strengthen her faith in and testimony of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
• Understand her identity as a daughter of God.
• Live a worthy life as she obeys the commandments and lives gospel standards.
• Receive, recognize, and rely on the promptings of the Holy Ghost.
• Prepare for her divine roles as a leader, wife, and mother.
• Understand and keep the covenants she has made.
• Develop friendships and have fun.
While we could argue about things like whether “Draw closer to God” and “Strengthen her faith in and testimony of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ” are the same objective or not, it’s clear to see that some of the objectives are very different. The new young women’s camp guidebook seems to be focused on spiritual growth far more than the old manual, which seems to emphasize nature and the environment.
I did some research at BYU’s library, where they have the really old camp manuals in their special collections archive. Every one of the old camp manuals I looked at has a different set of objectives. I thought it would be interesting if I listed them here:
1978 Young Women Camp Manual Objectives
- Strengthen the young woman’s testimony of God, of the purposes of His creation, and of His special love for her.
- Develop skills that enable her to care for herself and others in the outdoors, using wisely the simple, natural resources of the earth for food, warmth, and shelter.
- Develop sisterhood with other girls and leaders and strengthen family ties.
- Learn to appreciate the beauty and order of God’s creations — plants, animals, the elements — and their relationships to each other and to man.
- Gain self-confidence by reassessing personal values and goals.
- Gain self-confidence by increasing physical vitality.
- Gain self-confidence by developing and sharing talents.
- Develop leadership abilities by cultivating gospel principles of love and service.
- Develop leadership abilities by practicing leadership skills.
- Develop leadership abilities by becoming a better steward over the Lord’s creations
1969 YWMIA Sports-Camp Manual Objectives
- To develop a testimony of the gospel and to create a deeper sense of God as our Maker.
- To teach girls an appreciation of the beautiful and to help create a love of nature while learning to live in the outdoors.
- To develop closer relationships between leaders and girls.
- To develop leadership qualities in leaders and girls.
- To give girls experiences that are fun, exciting, and adventuresome.
- To teach fundamental knowledge and applications of skills in the numerous activities at camp.
- To conduct a camp in which all members share the work and activities.
- To guide campers toward better social adjustments, formation of good habits, and development of character.
- To remember at all times that the girl is more important than the program.
1961 YWMIA Sports-Camp Manual Objectives
- To develop a testimony of the gospel and to create a deeper sense of God as our Maker.
- To teach girls an appreciation for the beautiful and to help create a love of nature.
- To have real fun and adventure.
- To teach fundamental knowledge of and skills in the numerous camp activities.
- To conduct a camp in which all members may live the democratic way of life.
- To guide campers toward better social adjustments, formation of good habits, and development of character
1940 Y.W.M.I.A. Camp-O-Rama Objectives
- To build character.
- To develop girls physically, mentally, and spiritually.
- To enrich their lives with friendships.
- To develop helpful social attitudes.
- To create a taste of simple joys.
- To have real fun.
- To show youth that the best things in life are free.
- To help them understand beauty in nature — the sunset, the trees, the moon, stars, etc.
- To bring out the hidden possibilities within each girl and help her find herself.
- To create a deeper sense of God as our Maker.
In the end, I wouldn’t worry about camp changing too much. The changes all seem very positive and needed, aiming to create a more globally applicable program. But if your program was perfect, there’s no reason you can’t keep everything the same.
There are no certification requirements, but you can still learn and teach fire safety, orienteering, first aid, cloud formations, plant identification, and everything you liked before. Some traditions might have to go, but that leaves room for better, more positive ones.
I think this change is just another urging from Christ that we should be making personal righteousness a priority. With all the recent changes in the Church, I’ve noticed that many of them focus on personal revelation rather than checking boxes. I believe Christ is asking us to step it up and become better. He doesn’t need to hold our hands and tell us everything we need to do down to the last detail. We need to walk by faith, remembering true principles and coming to Him when we need help.