By Rick Kern
“These are the times that try men’s souls,” proclaimed Thomas Paine in the opening line of his first incendiary pamphlet from the series, “The American Crisis.” His insightful January, 1776 observation, captured the imagination of our soon-to-be fledging nation, and quickly grew into the watchword of the independence movement. Additionally, its 16 pamphlets helped ignite the hearts of the colonists and set alight the fires of the American Revolution. And while it is centuries old, the piercing sentiment of that inaugural first line seems to grow increasingly relevant in today’s America — resonating through the nation’s psyche. Many would agree that we live in times when much in our collective attitude, many of our cultural institutions, and the country’s widespread absence of moral absolutes explicitly try the soul of the nation and disorient the spirit of our people.
And in the struggle to express or interpret our constitutionally mandated freedoms, the “idea” which became America seems to have led its people to grow infatuated with its rights at the expense of its responsibilities. Consequently, she has slipped from her foundational moorings and drifted into the deadly shallows of moral relativism, the worship of freedom above the God who makes us free, and the inevitably resulting spiritual anarchy.
Grappling with this edgy reality begs the question, how can our emergent generations discover who we as America — and who they as Americans, really are? What can families do to grasp the meaning of their patriotic identity and spiritual mandate, or even decide whether patriotism is an outdated relic or yet endures as a timeless value that remains relevant?
One compelling response to the understated heart-cry of countless Americans is a somewhat new kid on the patriotic block known as “Camp Constitution” (CC). Co-founded by Harold “Hal” Shurtleff, Camp Constitution’s flagship program is a week-long family camping venture that enhances the understanding of our Judeo-Christian moral legacy and our American heritage of courage and ingenuity. CC hopes to motivate, inspire, and activate both this present and the rising generations of patriots.
Shurtleff and his team also stress the genius of the United States Constitution along with the economic advantages of free enterprise, which together have brought our nation the unparalleled sweep of growth and prosperity that makes the United States the envy of the world.
“They should leave camp having a much better handle on the Constitution,” explains Shurtleff, “the proper role of government, the Christian role in government — and also, the various problems that are facing our nation.” He adds, “And they’ll understand that they have an obligation to do something about it, to take a stand in their local communities to influence other people.”
Continuing he reflects, “We tell people, if you learn nothing at all, you’re going to leave camp knowing that we’re a democratic republic and you’re going to know the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution because we recite it every morning after the morning devotions. Those are the two things you’ll take away if nothing else. We’ve had people tell us that they’ve learned more in a week than they’ve learned in their history classes.”
Located in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Camp Constitution features an age-sensitive, yet thought-provoking program that doesn’t stop with the document considered the supreme law of the United States. It also examines and exposes some of the abuses and distortions that have adulterated our national identity and compromised our economy. In addition, CC includes meaningful discussion to counter the negative influences faced by contemporary Americans and also encourages intelligent conversation between parents and children.
Showcasing a balanced program that is chuck-full of well-rounded pursuits, taps its participant’s gifts and talents and puts them to good use. “We will publish a daily newspaper documenting, and sometimes spoofing, our activities while featuring the diverse talents and creative skills of our campers,” Shurtleff observes. “Thus through participation, we will foster all-around growth in teamwork and individual leadership skills — both academic and creative.”
And though there is plenty of valuable teaching, the program is built for fun as well! CC strives to balance their camper’s intellectual calisthenics with relevant field trips and a litany of traditional recreational activities. “Every night, we have campfire and we have all kinds of game activities,” says Shurtleff. “We have hiking, swimming, canoeing, and fishing. You can bring a fishing rod and get a fishing license in town before camp begins. There is also a confidence course.”
He adds, “We’re using the Lakeside Christian Conference Center, a camp that has been around since the 50’s or late 40’s — it’s a real nice camp experience. We have cabins and a lodge with a dormitory-like complex, like six to a room and it’s a beautiful place right on the lake.”
It is an environment CC is quick to take advantage of as they cultivate an appreciation for God’s handiwork in creation. “We have ample opportunity to enjoy our natural surroundings and celebrate our American cultural heritage,” Shurtleff explains, “especially through our evening campfire programs which inspire our participation in melodic music, good humor and camaraderie, as well as inspiring respect for and appreciation of, God, home, and country.”
Not an overnight camp, CC’s structure resembles something of an expanded day camp format that welcomes all ages and places an emphasis on family participation. Its primary curriculum is designed for junior high and high school aged youth, but they strongly encourage the parents to sit in. Additionally, their horizon is broadened by programs for other age groups. “We also have a camp for the youngsters too, it’s called Patriot Camp,” Hal offers. “It’s modeled after a Vacation Bible School and was started by a couple of ladies from the Midwest.”
Camp Constitution has attracted an impressive body of brilliance which can be found in a roster of instructors that you would expect to be teaching graduate school rather than a youth camp. It spans the gamut from college professors to a constitutional attorney to a local pastor, giving participants a rare but insightful perspective on God and country… “We have some incredible instructors — every evening here, we try to bring at least one guest instructor,” Shurtleff says. “This year, we have a British Lord, Lord Christopher Lunkton and Professor Willie Soon, Dr. Duke Testa and Mrs. Chrisanne Hall.” He continues, “Also, we have a pastor from the Sudan, who, as a teenager, was tortured by the Muslims, so, he’s speaking into life under Sharia law. His angle isn’t Jihad against the Muslims, but its conversion. He said, ‘These people need the Lord Jesus Christ.’ The Bible, not the sword, is his motivation. It is a ministry in the Sudan called, “Operation Nehemiah.”
And should financial constraints present a problem, there’s no need to scramble to plug the holes, CC offers assistance. “We do provide tuition help; we never turn down any camper for lack of money,” stresses Shurtleff, “and we hope that we never have to.” As the father of four (three camp counselors and one camper), he is familiar with the challenging economic realities family life can bring to bear on the bankbook. “I know family vacations can be kind of expensive. We have some families that will say that they can afford X-amount-of-dollars and I’ll say, ‘You’re there! Sign up!’”
Though Camp Constitution is presently just one week of the year, Hal has plenty to keep him in motion throughout the off-season. “The rest of the year, I do interviews,” he explains. “I’ll be up in Maine in September, visiting people and going to churches, trying to get people interested in the camp. I’ll work information tables and visit them as well.” He adds, “I host a Website and a YouTube channel, and I do a half-hour radio show. I attend events and I cover the events…”
As if that wasn’t enough, his PR activities continue to pile up and build momentum, “We also have various meetings throughout the year,” he says. “I have a meeting in my home once a month and we have a luncheon there. I’m invited to groups on a regular basis, speaking at groups — in fact, I’m heading down to a Christian conference in Pennsylvania in October where I will work our information table.” Continuing he notes, “I’ve traveled as far as Virginia and I’m heading up to northern Maine. In Maine, I’ll be doing four-or-five presentations in Worcester County.”
Camp Constitution has a comprehensive Website that includes a blog, downloads, relevant links, a speaker’s bureau, and online camp registration — to name a few associated webpages. Among the more enriching resources their Website offers, is access the Sam Blumenfeld archive. The late Dr. Blumenfeld was a pioneer in the homeschool movement and as a result of Mr. Shurtleff inheriting his books and papers when he passed away; the archive bearing his name was created as a compelling free resource.
“You have access to hundreds of hours of his audio and video presentations,” Hal explains, “his newsletters, most of his books, the various speeches he made and his Alphaphonics, which, I believe, was his most important work. This was a simple way to teach people how to read, children, especially, but people of all ages.” He adds, “Sam used to teach children with Down Syndrome how to read, using his Alphaphoncs. We have all 128 lessons on audio and video, available for free download.”
Camp Constitution’s program is a patriotic distinctive that eclipses the traditional camp role and resembles more of a rising movement to restore the American spirit. “I just encourage people to look us over,” says Shurtleff. “Go to our Website and look at our camp program. I guess it’s a challenge to Christians to be more involved or to learn about our rich history. Christians have a duty to do this.”
And believers everywhere seem to want to do it. Interest is mounting to establish satellite programs and facilities in other states. Shurtleff reveals, “Our plan is to have other camps. We just started a weekend camp in coastal Maine. I’m going up there for a few days to get some interest.” He goes on, “We’d love to start another camp and it’s just a question of people locally that want to make it happen. I traveled to Michigan and Ohio this past fall and we have interest out there. I spoke to people and most were very successful visits so we’ll see. It’s one thing to want something; it’s another thing to say, ‘Assembly is required.’ We need to put shoe leather on what we want to make it happen. Hopefully, God will bless us and we’ll be able to expand.”
For more information visit their website located at www.campconstitution.net or call them at (704) 288-7270.