For more than 30 years, children, youth and young adults have been ministered to through the South Georgia Conference’s summer camping ministry. Through their camp experiences – whether as a camper or counselor – all have said their faith was strengthened and encouraged.
To celebrate the Conference’s camping ministry and the impact it has had on generations of students, we asked former counselors (Leadership Team alumni) to share with us how their camping experience(s) shaped and grew their faith and impacted their futures.
We’ll spotlight one former Leadership Team member in each of our upcoming issues.
Rev. Thad Haygood has been going to Epworth By The Sea since he was “in (his) mother’s womb.”
His first experience with the Conference’s camping ministry was in 1981 when his father, Rev. David Haygood, was appointed camp director. He spent his summer evenings sitting in the back of Epworth’s Nalls Auditorium singing “Celebrate Good Times” – reading the lyrics off a slide projector – and watching the Leadership Team work.
Going to camp the next year “was like being right at home,” Rev. Haygood said. “Epworth is in my blood.”
The Conference’s camping ministry occupies a special place in Rev. Haygood’s heart. Many special memories and friends were made during the summers he spent at Epworth, and it was during camp that he walked up to a dimly lit altar and asked Jesus into his heart.
“I remember crying when I had to leave the friends that I had made at camp, only to see them again the next summer and pick right up where we left off,” he said. “I remember the big red bus that used to take us to the beach and the village during the 1980s. My camping experience at Epworth was second to none.”
Rev. Haygood remained a camper through high school and served on the Leadership Team for four summers, from 1992 through 1995, serving as head counselor in ‘95.
“During those summers I made lifelong friends. I enjoyed working with the campers, but I loved my LT family.”
He fondly remembers late night talks on the porch of the leadership cabin, Monday morning pre-camp breakfast runs to Sweet Mama’s, Friday night dinners, and lots of laughter.
Rev. Haygood also recalls times of deep spiritual growth and of helping nurture campers in their relationships with Christ.
“I remember incredible worship experiences and spending time listening to kids pour their hearts out,” he said. “I remember feeling like a hero because the campers idolized us just like I had idolized the LT members of the 1980s.
“My summers on the LT were magical.”
Not only were the summers magical, they helped shape and confirm his calling into vocational ministry. It was while serving on the Leadership Team that Rev. Haygood sensed God calling him to be a pastor.
“As a camper, I experienced Christ through the great worship times and the witness of the LT members who were my counselors,” he said. “As an LT member, I was touched and challenged by the faith and commitment of my fellow counselors. Being a camper and then a counselor made it ‘cool’ to be a Christian and showed me that being a Christian can be so much fun and that there is no other fellowship like it on earth.”
Rev. Haygood would not be who he is today without the Conference’s camping ministry, he says. The time he spent there was critical to his development.
“It showed me what ministry is all about. It gave me an opportunity to learn and to practice ministry. Ultimately, it gave me confidence to know that I am continuing to make a difference in the world by leading others to the altar of Christ. It taught me that in order to be like Christ, we must first build relationships. It all begins with getting to know someone and letting them get to know you.”
Rev. Haygood’s oldest daughter, Gentry, is already following in her father’s footsteps and has attended the Conference’s summer camps for two years.
“She is head over heels in love with Epworth and the Leadership Team, just like I was at her age,” Rev. Haygood said.
His younger daughter, Ruthie, is looking forward to attending camp for the first time next summer.
Rev. Haygood, who is married to Laura, currently serves as senior pastor of Dublin First United Methodist Church, but still dreams of his days on LT.
“I am 41 years old and still have a recurring dream that I am back on the LT for one more summer. I don’t know what that means, but it is true!”