Singing is an integral part of life at Camps with Meaning (CwM), Mennonite Church Manitoba’s camping ministry. This is the case at many summer camps, but unique to CwM is this: their staff have been writing their own music for more than 20 years.
“The real goal of this was to connect the songs with the Bible lessons of the summer really directly,” says Darryl Neustaedter Barg, director of communications at MC Manitoba and an instigator of the camp’s songwriting tradition who continues to guide staff through the process. “There’s a million great songs out there . . . but they don’t do precisely what we can do when we write them for that summer.”
He and other camp-connected people started dabbling in songwriting in the mid-1990s and began discussing how this could be a regular practice of camp staff. But it took several years before it became official and the first songwriting retreat took place.
“Lord, You’ve Searched Me” was created at that first workshop in 2000. It’s now featured in the new Mennonite worship and song collection, Voices Together, along with “Be a Sower,” penned by camp staff in 2013 (nos. 609 and 789 in the new hymnal, respectively).
At annual songwriting sessions that have continued since then, current staff collaborate on lyrics and tunes based on the Scripture verses, themes and images of the approaching summer’s Bible curriculum.
“We’ve all seen the power of music to put words in people’s mouths and hearts in a unique way,” Neustaedter Barg says. “[We] realized we could really help embed these good things in people’s hearts with music.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has prevented staff from writing new songs for two years, but they are hoping to resume this spring.
CwM staff have written more than 50 songs over the years, many of which can be found at campswithmeaning.org/summer/music.
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