60 Years of Kildevil Camp—A Sermon by Archbishop Stewart Payne

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By on November 18, 2019
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On June 15th, in the St. Andrew’s Chapel, in the heart of Gros Morne National Park, Archbishop Stewart Payne preached a sermon at a special service that was held to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Kildevil Camp. Then Primate, Archsbihop Fred Hiltz, presided at the Eucharist. This sermon will also be available in the December issue of Anglican Life.

Gospel Reading: 1 John 21: 9-17

The picture presented to us from the Gospel reading today is that of Jesus in his resurrected body; on the Galilean Lake Shore, with a fish breakfast prepared for his tired and weary fishermen friends, who had toiled all night and taken nothing. A miracle takes place as the fishermen disciples obey the Master’s voice—“cast the nets again on the right side of the boat.” There are lessons in all that about the relationship with Jesus and the willingness, though tired to the point of exhaustion, to hear and obey the Master’s voice.

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Archbishop Payne preaching; Archbishop Hiltz sitting behind him

When they had secured a very good catch of fish and had enjoyed breakfast with Jesus, Jesus put to Simon Peter—and thereby to all who were with him and to us—“Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?”. With painful memories of his denial of Jesus three times just a short time before, Peter assured Jesus of his love. It was then that Jesus commissioned Simon Peter, all who were with him, and us—“Feed my lambs; tend my sheep.”

Long before I started to write my second book, I had the title in mind, unusual as it may seem: “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep”. The publisher, Flanker Press, was not enamoured with that title, simply because they knew, as I do too now, that a book has to be marketable. The title has to spark people’s interest in a subject they may be interested in and want to pick it up and read it. So after some thought and negotiation we settled on the title—“The Killdevil Lodge Experience, in Gros Morne National Park”. The content is the same: all about the development of this church camp site where ministry to our youth and people of all ages takes place.

At this point, I should say something about what I perceive “feeding my lambs and tending my sheep” means; in other words to give something of a rational for church run youth camps.

Children come to Holy Baptism in the church so that they may, by God’s grace, grow into the full stature of Christ and be trained in the household of faith. This is a shared responsibility of parents, God parents and the full membership of the church congregation. We all promise to fulfill our responsibilities by God’s help.

From birth all the way through, we teach and lead, not simply by word but by deed and example at home, but also in church and in the community.

The church does much to help children and people of all ages in their spiritual growth and development. For children and young people the normal activities are: children’s time in the context of Sunday worship, Sunday school, youth groups (too many to name), servers, junior choir, and involvement in service and ministry activities. For adults there are any number of organizations: prayer groups, Bible study, and for all age groups worship and pastoral care. There are Kildevil Camps for seniors.

Church run youth camps are just another way in which we try to carry out our shared responsibility to help children and young people grow into the full stature of Christ and be trained in the household of faith.

The exposure of being one with 50, 60, or 100 other young people is phenomenal. They learn to get along with one another, respect one another and make lifelong friendships. Doing daily chores together helps create a team spirit and to know that work doesn’t have to be drudgery but can be fun as they all do a fair share.

All the camp programs—sports, swimming, hiking, canoeing, arts and crafts, and Quest—help their physical and spiritual growth. In all camp activities, young people learn teamwork, fair play, and how to live by the rules. They learn that it is not whether you win or lose that matters, but how you play the game. Worship services in the chapel, prayers at flagstaff to begin and end each day, and the daily religious instruction (Quest) all help in the transformation to a living faith in God and the cultivation of Christlike lives.

The title of my book fits well, I believe, with those who are familiar with the history of this place over the last 60 years. The only structure of any significance on the site in 1958/59 was the Killdevil Lodge, now the Archbishop Seaborn Lodge. That is what Bishop and Mrs. Seaborn and their loyal volunteers had to begin with. Both Bishop and Mrs. Seaborn had had years of rich experiences in Church youth camps in Ontario, Quebec, BC and elsewhere. The mandate given him by our Diocesan Bishop, J. A. Meaden, was to concentrate on youth ministry in Central and Western Newfoundland. He began immediately to look for a site to set up church youth camps. Killdevil became the favourite site.

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The early days of church camping at Killdevil were challenging to say the least. Finances were, literally, non-existent. To pay for the lodge and build a kitchen/dining hall, the Trustee Committee borrowed $10,000 from the bank. Apart from paying a small wage to the cook and the caretakers, everything was done by dedicated volunteers. Financial appeals were made again and again to individuals and to parishes. At one stage parishes in Central and Western areas were assessed (I’m not sure how that worked out). Many fundraisers were held all the way through the Diocese of Newfoundland, and after 1976, the Diocese of Western Newfoundland supported Killdevil with limited finances. As time went on government grants, Local Initiative Projects (LIP) were procured. Two big windfalls, the sale of the property to the Federal Government (Gros Morne National Park) in 1977 for $200,000, and the input of nearly one quarter of a million dollars for the 1987 Boy Scouts of Canada Jamboree.

Youth camps began in 1959 using borrowed canvas tents and outdoor toilets, gradually progressing to cabins made of wooden bottoms and canvas tops, and then to all plywood cabins. Bowater’s Pulp and Paper Mill in Corner Brook and the Lundrigan’s Company in Corner Brook were both very generous in their support of the Killdevil Camp and Conference Centre. Campers swam in the cold salt water in the bay, down over the banks just behind us here, and were often stung by jellyfish whose habitat they were invading.

Travel to and from this site was difficult in the early days: train or bus. It could take campers from the Northern Peninsula a week to get here—by road part way, and then by boat, and then by road again, etc.

From the start, daily worship services were (and still are) a primary focus of all church youth camps. For the first 6 years the lodge sunporch served as a multi-purpose room including chapel space. The need for a chapel was often discussed by the Board of Trustees, and because of the need for site expansion and the shortage of money, the idea of accommodating a chapel in one end of the recreation building was considered. But Bishop Seaborn was always firm on the side of having a separate chapel building.

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Hence this beautiful A-frame chapel built in 1965, at a cost of $5,849.91. A loan of $3,000.00 from the Bank of Montreal had to be obtained nearing the completion of the building. Volunteers did considerable fundraising in the meantime. Some of the girls from the Senior Girls Camp and the Junior Girls Camp that summer of 1965 each helped to raise a set of rafters for the new chapel, St. Andrews. All the furnishings were donated. The late Rev’d Gordon Pevie found the altar and brought it here as a gift from the people of the resettled community of Irelands Eye, Trinity Bay, NL.

The plaque above the altar reads: “This altar was made by the undersigned during the months of June to October, 1937”. “The work was done at a great personal sacrifice because of the fact that the only available time for this work is between the hours of 8 and 11 pm. Great care was taken to produce good workmanship and design so that the effect would be pleasing to the critical eye of the lover of art. Nfld. Is just coming out of a serious depression lasting since 1929. Corner Brook, Nov 6, 1937 – Ernest Bugden.”

This is just a snippet of some of the many things that have been done over the years in the attempts to “feed my lambs, tend my sheep.”

Celebrating the 60th anniversary of Killdevil Camp and Conference Centre brings to my mind the motto of Bishop John Organ: “Honour the Past, Live in the Present and Embrace the Future”.

Honouring the past affords us the opportunities to lovingly remember and pay tribute to the many volunteers and paid staff who have given so much of themselves (time, talents, and treasure) to build up and maintain Killdevil Camp and Conference Centre, including especially the ones who gave many years, many summers, preparing for, directing and staffing the youth camps. (I’ll leave you read the names and the tribute to some of them in my book).

Living in the present, their legacy to us is a great one as we humbly and thankfully enjoy the fruits of their tireless, unselfish and devoted labours and their vision. We are familiar with the demographics of today—the out-migration of families with children, families having far fewer children, family camping, so much more today by way of organized sports and other activities for youth—as a result the numbers of campers are down compared to years ago, making it somewhat more difficult perhaps to make ends meet financially. In the meantime, Kildevil Camp and Conference Centre is a first class and popular for youth camps, conferences, workshops, and many other activities of a learning, growing, and celebratory nature.

The future will have its challenges for sure. Changes are inevitable. All I can offer is that we should continue to strengthen our relationships with Gros Morne National Park and parish advocacy work, and should explore financial resources provincially, federally, and through our own diocesan structures, including the area of volunteering. The age of volunteers is never over.

Jesus’ words on the lake shore of Galilee to those tired and weary fishermen friends: “Feed my lambs; tend my sheep,” were words meant to direct their thoughts to future work and ministry. And so those words of Jesus direct our thoughts to future work and ministry—to embrace the future where God’s great work still awaits us.

May we go forth in the love and name of the loving gentle one, with his words always in our minds and upon our hearts—“Feed my lambs, tend my sheep”.

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