Half-Century Old Camp Keeping Our Kids in Sync

30 Nov 2023

By Amy Galliford

SYNC, the annual churches of Christ children’s camp, has had an immeasurable kingdom impact in shaping the faith of countless leaders, many of whom serve in our network today.

This September saw dozens of kites and mini aircrafts soaring above the hills of Stanwell Tops, created by the children of the churches of Christ.

Children and leaders gathered for a week of worship, fellowship and activities at The Tops, centred around the creative theme ‘Top Gun’ – the sentiment behind the mini aircraft event. Beneath this theme was a deeper focus on the book of Acts, with camp director Avril Mundy explaining, “We wanted to look at what we can learn from those last moments of Jesus’ life and His relationships, and how people in the early church lived out their faith.”

The week continually referenced the words ‘up’, ‘around’ and ‘out’, which spoke to the ideas being explored about children’s relationships with God, faith communities and the wider world. These ideas were all unpacked in ‘J-zone’ through a mix of worship and dancing, drama pieces and interactive teaching – all at characteristically kids-camp energy levels.

After mornings filled with small groups and sessions, the kids donned hats and sunscreen to spend their afternoons at various Tops activities. However, the gap between the spirituality of the worship sessions and the physicality of the outdoor adventures was not so wide. Between defying their fear as they inched over the abseiling rockface’s edge or staring in terror at the giant swing’s release cord and still daring to yank it, the activities were replete with opportunities to activate the perseverance, faith and courage they were learning about. As Avril says, “To really learn something, we need to action it.”

Leaders intentionally invited the kids to reflect on their experience, using simple moments in the dinnertime queue to ask questions about how God was working. Leaders like Avril are acutely aware of the eternal significance of incidental conversations like these and the deeply formational nature of their ministry.

“It is always about the small moments – they make the largest impact,” Avril says. “You don’t recognise it until you look back and realise that person is now a fully matured Christian who is impacting the world.”

Having attended herself in the ‘90s, Avril is familiar with this dynamic. She recalls seeing church in a new light – vibrant, exciting and full of people she wanted to be with. “This was a chance for me to really find delight in God’s people.”

Tammy Preston, a former SYNC director, had a similar experience in the ‘70s, only a few years after Judy Gordon founded the camp in 1971. She reflects on the unique feeling of such a celebratory, uplifting space where worship among many other children of God felt larger than life.

“I got a glimpse for the first time of being part of the bigger kingdom of God, part of a bigger story,” says Tammy, who at 12 gave her heart to the Lord at the 1980 camp.

With their own stories woven so tightly into its history, Avril and Tammy epitomise the generational impact of SYNC camp on the people of churches of Christ. Both reference the countless leaders whose own faiths were shaped and founded at Stanwell Tops decades earlier and the endless ripple effect of the camp’s legacy.

“It’s a place and a program that has impacted generations,” Avril states.

Tammy speaks of her ongoing surprise at the frequent messages she still receives from leaders and parents who now serve with their own families about the camp’s impact on them as children.

This localised effect of the camp on families and communities is core to the leaders’ hearts for the camp. While the spiritual impact on children remains central, the empowerment of the leaders themselves in their church ministries is also prioritised. The camp acts as a kind of mountaintop experience where leaders are refreshed with energy and purpose and equipped to support the flow-on effects in their local contexts.

Avril’s hope for the program is that it would bear fruit at this local level, whether by catalysing increased engagement in kids on Sundays or helping leaders enhance the programs they are offering in their churches. As she puts it, “I’d love to see it become a fresh, well-used, positive resource for children’s ministry in our network.”

Given this intention, Avril encourages churches to continue sowing into their children’s programs by passing on information to their volunteers and inviting kids from both their own communities and outreach programs to SYNC – and helping to fund their attendance if they are unable to themselves.

“Our God is a big God – in my experience, he takes every opportunity we give him and does big things,” she says.

With thousands having risen through the camp over the past five decades, its kingdom impact is immeasurable.

Read more stories from churches of Christ in NSW & ACT HERE