Moral And Religious Camp Life

Moral And Religious Camp Life


Novel Bonfire

The author experienced something very unusual one Sunday afternoon in a camp where he was invited to speak. The talk was on “Trees or Growth, ” one of the studies of the course described. During the talk a number of things were referred to that enter into the growth of a tree which either mar or hinder it from becoming a symmetrical, beautiful tree and a similar comparison was made regarding a boy’s growth.

The question was asked of the boys, “What are some of the things which interfere with a boy’s growth physically, mentally and morally?” A number of things, such as smoking, swearing, impurity, etc., were given, and finally one of the small boys piped up “reading dime novels.” His answer was received with howls of derision, especially from the older boys.  “Hold on,” I said, “let’s discuss the matter; if dime novels are good for a boy’s growth mentally, we want to know about it, but if they are detrimental to this particular kind of desired growth, of course, we want to cut it out.”

The discussion brought out the fact that a number of the boys had smuggled a lot of this kind of literature into camp and were just loafing through their time in the woods, gloating over the wonderful and daring escapades of Wild West heroes. The boys finally decided that their mental growth was retarded by such reading. Then came the question, “What are you going to do about it?” “We don’t usually have a bonfire on Sunday,” I said. “I am inclined, however, to ask your leader for a special dispensation and we will have one.


You are to furnish the fuel, your leader the kerosene oil and I will provide the match. The fuel is to consist of all the dime novels in the camp.” “Whew!” “I know it will take grit to do this, but it is a test of your sincerity and determination to progress along right lines.” “We’re game?” yelled the boys, “and we mean business.”
The start was made for the place where the bonfires were usually held. By the time I reached the spot, the boys were coming from their tents with bundles of novels.

Every boy was requested to tear each novel in half and throw it upon the heap. When everything was ready, the boys uncovered and in the silence that came upon the group, the match was struck and the flames began to leap upward, until finally, all that remained was the small piles of ashes. For the majority of the boys it meant the burning up of the dross and the beginning of better and nobler thinking. I shall always remember this novel bonfire. This is what I mean by making Bible study and camp talks effective.


Sunday afternoon is the time for reading good, wholesome stories. Take the boys out into the woods where they can squat under a big tree, or if the day is warm seek the cool shelter of the tent and while the boys are lying down read a short story or several chapters of a story like “Dr. Grenfell’s Parish,” by Norman Duncan, “Just Boys,” by Mary Buell Wood, “Some Boys I Know,” “Chapel Talks,” or “The Story of Good Will Farm,” by George W. Hinckley.

If the group is made up of older boys who like to discuss life problems, read a chapter or two from Robert Speer’s excellent books, “A Young Man’s Questions” and “Young Men Who Overcame.” Make sure that whatever you read has the uplift note. The real purpose of the afternoon’s reading should be that of instilling in the boys’ minds some of the cardinal virtues of Christian character.


Don’t moralize; let the story do its own moralizing. Boys are hero worshippers. If the hero or the heroic appeal of the story is of a sane type and not abnormal there will be created naturally within the boy a desire to emulate the good deeds of the hero in the everyday life of the camp, which is much better than the parrot-like vocalization unfortunately many times encouraged by well-meaning men.


A pile of stones made to serve as an altar or pulpit, a chapel having the branches of a friendly pine as its roof and under which are built a reading desk and seats of white birch, a cathedral with towering columns of pine and cushions of pine needles, a rocky shore along the ocean–all are places where boys have heard the appeal for right living and responded with an earnest decision that marked an advance step in their moral and religious growth.
Make much of the music at these outdoor services on Sunday.

A choir of men and boys responding in the distance to the hymns of the camp boys, in antiphonal manner, a cornetist playing a hymn in the distance, make an impression never to be forgotten.
The great test of camp life is not the fun the boy had, or his gain in weight, height or lung capacity, or the friendships formed, or his increased knowledge in woodcraft, but his advancement in character-making and gain in spiritual vigor.



Lessons from Life (Animal and Human)–Thomas Whittaker. Macmillan,  $2.50.
Sermons in Stones–Amos R. Wells. Doubleday, Page & Company, $1.00.
Parables from Nature–Mrs. Gatty.  Colportage Library, 15 cents.
A Good Bible Dictionary and Concordance.


The Boy and the Church–Eugene C. Foster. The Sunday School Times Co., 75 cents net.
Starting to Teach–Eugene C. Foster. Association Pres., 40 cents.
The Child and His Religion–George E. Dawson.  University of Chicago, 75 cents net.
Religion in Boyhood–Ernest B. Layard.  E. P. Dutton and Company, 75 cents net.

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