For many RVers, a wandering and adventuring lifestyle makes it challenging to attend regular church services. While some campers may visit various churches along their route, others find it hard to constantly be attending new places. We discovered over the summer, however, that some organizations are working to help meet this unique need by ministering right where campers are: in the campgrounds. In the state of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches coordinates the Chaplain in the Parks Program, which organizes worship services in Pennsylvania state and private campgrounds.
Last summer on our Pennsylvania camping adventure, we had the opportunity to attend a campground worship service at Shawnee State Park. Joy Blackburn, 70, a retired United Methodist Church pastor, began serving last year as a chaplain in the program at Shawnee State Park, Choice Camping Court, and Hillegass Campground. Joy and her husband Tom, who is also a chaplain, are long-time campers as well, so the opportunity to serve in the program seemed like the perfect way to continue ministering in their retirement.
The story of the Chaplains in the Park program begins back in the late1950s when Dr. Maurice Goddard, who was then the head of Pennsylvania’s parks program and for whom a state park is named, approached the Pennsylvania Council of Churches for assistance in providing an inter-denominational, outdoor worship service in the parks. The council responded by starting a pilot program at Cowans Gap State Park.
The Chaplains in the Park program officially began in 1960 with a fledgling park presence that by its 50th anniversary had grown to 25 ministers serving in approximately 40 state and private campgrounds. Program spokesperson Audry Crawford said the program’s goal is to help campers enjoy opportunities for informal worship in a relaxed setting within the park or campground with other campers. “Worship services, hymn sings and campfires invite persons from a wide variety of faith traditions,” she said. “This gives Christians opportunity to experience the deep unity we have been given in Jesus Christ.”
Campground worship services aren’t unique to Pennsylvania campgrounds. Last year we highlighted the work of ACMNP, which holds worship services at national park sites across the United States. A quick Google search of “campground worship services” reveals that many other campgrounds in other states, particularly in popular tourist destinations, have worship services as well.
Joy said working as a chaplain has been a fulfilling experience for her because it has provided a way for her to share about God in a different environment: “We have met so many interesting people throughout this summer. I believe every Christian needs to break away at least one time from the regular way to worship in a church and be able to connect with God in this very special anointed ministry and atmosphere. The Spirit of God will lift them up and refresh their spirit.”
To find worship services in Pennsylvania State Parks, click here.