A sea of exuberant children with outstretched hands praised God recently during a vacation Bible school sponsored by First Evangelical Lutheran and St. John's Episcopal churches in Ellicott City.
"Give Him Everything! Jesus loves the gifts we bring!" the children sang while clapping as instructors led them.
A record 163 campers - children from preschool through middle school - participated this year, most likely because the organizers advertised early and participants from previous years spread the word, said Melinda Becker, a co-director of the camp.
"We advertised in February, and our enrollment is not exclusive to the churches," Becker said. "We have neighbors, cousins and friends here, too."
The theme of the camp, which began Monday and ends today, is "Davey and Goliath's Camp Creation Vacation Bible School." The theme is drawn a children's television program, Davey and Goliath, which the Lutheran Church produced in the 1950s and 1960s. The animated show was about a boy whose dog serves as his conscience.
About three years ago, the two churches decided to unite for camp because St. John's was involved in a building project, said Lisa Beckers, director of Christian education at First Lutheran and a co-director of the camp. The congregations clicked and have been working on the camp together since, she added.
"We go back and forth hosting the camp, and everything has worked out really well," Beckers said.
The Rev. Mary Jayne Ledgerwood, associate rector at St. John's, said the camp has united the denominations.
"I think it's just a wonderful opportunity ... for understanding of our broader community," she said.
The Rev. Glenn E. Ludwig, senior pastor at First Evangelical Lutheran, said the camp has helped the children "learn Bible stories and meet new friends."
Campers began each day with upbeat prayer, music and song, then enjoyed arts and crafts, games and nature experiments.
On Wednesday, they celebrated the theme of the day, "Gifts From God," with a biblically based skit about how three different people gave gifts to God inside a temple.
Using children as volunteers, Ledgerwood demonstrated how a man with a big bag of money and a woman with many jewels gave some of their money and jewels to God while a poor woman gave all she had - just two coins.
"And so, who is giving more to God?" she asked the children.
"The lonely lady," some shouted.
"That's right," Ledgerwood replied. "God fills us up with all of our treasures, and everything we have belongs to Him."
Another skit involved teaching children about caring.
Using a big gift box with a bright red ribbon tied around it, Beckers, two camp volunteers and a golden retriever - the dog being a nod to Goliath in the TV show - acted out the moral of the story.
"God wants us to share our gifts with others," Beckers told the campers.
At the end of the chapel meeting, Beckers told the campers to love their neighbors, which generated hugs and laughter.
Outside the church, kindergartners played games. They jumped through hoops and climbed through small tunnels.
Several commented about what they had learned at the camp.
"God's love is what is important," Regan Hammond said.
Added Reece Brondolo: "God gave us everything."
To which Carson Wiley added, "He made us."
Laura Balcom, a volunteer kindergarten teacher, listened, glowing as the children answered.
"They're really on top their game," she said.