Mission of The Salvation Army’s camping ministry sole focus of award recipient
Each summer, The Salvation Army welcomes thousands of children across the U.S. at its camps. For many, it’s their first time away from home, in the great outdoors. It’s also where many first experience the love of Jesus.
Camp Redwood Glen Executive Director Ed Covert knows the power of camp. He’s served in The Salvation Army’s camping ministry for more than 30 years across the Western U.S. His efforts were recognized at the North America Camp Symposium, held Feb. 6-10 in Texas at The Salvation Army Camp Hoblitzelle. There, Covert received the Certificate of Exceptional Service for his leadership.
“It was just incredibly affirming to know that camp has a significant role to play within the Army’s scope of ministry and that camp is seen as not only being a great place to develop leaders and to give kids a wonderful experience on their faith journey, but camp is seen as being highly missional,” Covert said. “It was pretty cool for sure to stand there and receive that on behalf of everyone in the room.”
For Covert, the award is indicative not of personal success, but of the continued importance and impact of The Salvation Army’s camping ministry. But while he is quick to shift the focus from himself to the mission, his impact is felt throughout the West and the larger Salvation Army world.
When presenting the award, National Commander Commissioner Kenneth G. Hodder spoke directly to Covert in front of some 150 attendees—Camp Directors, Divisional Youth Secretaries and Youth Department staff—from across the country and Canada, saying: “Ed, at every step and in every word you speak you lift up Jesus Christ. You do so in every conversation. You do so in every letter that you write. You do so for everything you’re planning—all the camps you’ve worked, the camping committee and indeed this event.”
Covert chaired the symposium as part of his role as The Salvation Army’s National Camp Liaison, through which he represents The Salvation Army at the American Camp Association and the Christian Camp and Conference Association.
The North America Camp Symposium marked the first time representatives from The Salvation Army’s U.S. camping ministries have gathered since 2012, and it was also the first time delegates from Canada joined. Throughout the event, attendees spent time learning, worshiping, sharing and refining their craft.
“The opportunity for all of us to be together in one place and enjoy the richness of our camp community and fellowship was just incredible,” Covert said. “It was more than I even dared that I might ever dream God might do for us.”
Southern California Divisional Camp Director Marty Brown was a part of the National Ad-Hoc Camping Committee that put the symposium together, and considers Covert to be the GOAT—greatest of all time—in terms of camp directing. “To hold that title, you must do the position extremely well, direct for a long time and have the results that reflect success,” he said.
“Ed’s impact is beyond just his own camp in Santa Cruz,” Brown said. “Most camp directors, including myself, reach out to Ed to discuss strategy, ministry, business, finance, customer service, operations, program and sometimes just to vent. I truly value my conversations with Ed and the way I lead comes from the Ed coaching tree.”
Covert’s commitment to developing leaders through what he calls the “leadership pipeline” is something he considers to be a key component of camp ministry. The leadership pipeline is based on research Covert’s read, and contains the steps to go from camper to camp director, taking a child who loves to go to camp and helping them get excited about the next opportunity, Golden State Divisional Commander Major Darren Norton said.
“Underneath that is this desire to draw people in,” Norton said. “It’s about drawing people into camping ministry. It’s about connecting kids deeper to The Salvation Army’s mission.”
As a Divisional Commander, Norton said that while the leadership pipeline is primarily about camp, it also is connected to The Salvation Army’s corps (church) ministry.
“It also corresponds to people being committed to their local corps and growing and serving,” he said. “I love that it’s helping our youth say that in a world where people are being drawn away from church… we’ll help develop you and give you opportunities for ministry.”
In addition to the leadership pipeline, Norton noted two other areas he’s witnessed Covert’s passion for: creation care and the desire for kids to know Jesus and thrive at camp.
Norton said throughout camp, Covert has taken measures to remind staff, campers and visitors alike that they are to be stewards of the earth. Norton said this can look like taking the water remaining in the pitchers used at meal times to water plants around camp.
And when it comes to speaking on the importance of evangelism, Norton said, “He can’t do it without breaking down into tears because of his passion for kids and youth and for camp to be a place where kids could meet Jesus and it could be the start of a lifelong relationship with him.”
Territorial Director for Youth Ministries Jim Sparks has also experienced this quality in Covert, noting “Ed wants every person that steps on camp grounds to experience Jesus in a new way.” But despite the years Covert has accumulated in the field, Sparks said he shows no signs of slowing down.
“It’s common for many to lose steam as their years stack up in their arena. After one conversation with Ed you get the sense that he hasn’t even peaked yet,” he said. “Ed is the steady driver in the camp community. In many ways he is the glue that connects the nation’s camping community together and it’s not because he is the National Camping Liaison, it’s because his level of care for camp goes well beyond his own camp’s borders. Ed’s passion for camp is simply contagious.”
For Covert, he said it’s the drive to want to pour into others as they have for him along with his belief in the mission of camp that keep him going.
“Oftentimes we have defined camp as being a week of fun and respite for kids and their families— and it is all of those things—but it’s only those things at their very best when we get their mission right,” he said. “If we get the mission right, kids are going to have the time of their life at camp.”
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