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.