“God lives at Camp Hardtner.”
Episcopal Chaplain Father Kirkland “Skully” Knight spent his first summer at Camp Hardtner in 1985. Father Skully arrived as an unsuspecting teen who was simply tagging along with friends for summer fun. Over the next few years, what he found there totally changed him. In the end he had a new name, the love of his life and an inspiration to serve the Lord as an Episcopal priest.
Camp Hardtner is a 160-acre campground outside of Pollock, Louisiana. It is the only Episcopal summer camp in Louisiana and serves students from all across the state. Campers participate in traditional activities such as swimming, campfires, songs and summer games and they also become part of a close-knit community. “It’s a place where you get to go and just be yourself,” says Father Skully. “It’s just this sort of community and tradition and sense of God’s presence. It’s hard to put your finger on it.”
Father Skully remembers arriving at Camp Hardtner for the first time with limited expectations for what was ahead. He participated in the activities and took part in the daily worship services. At Camp Hardtner, services may take place in the Chapel of the Holy Family or they may take place in more unusual settings, such as the arts and crafts shack with string lights and bright colored drawings all around. Father Skully also became quite familiar with the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer as campers said morning, meal and evening prayers. He interacted with a Church in ways he had not experienced before and truly felt like a valued participant. Just as he was falling in love with Camp Hardtner, he was falling in love with the Episcopal Church.
That first summer at Camp, Kirkland Knight also became Skully Knight. Not long after arriving, a counselor said Kirkland reminded him of a movie character named Skully. The nickname stuck and Father Skully is still known by that name today even though it turned out that the movie character was not named Skully. As much as he had already gained from his Camp Hardtner experience in just one summer, there was still more in store for him at this isolated place in the piney woods.
The second summer, Father Skully again became immersed in the Camp Hardtner experience. His enthusiasm for the Camp atmosphere and the community he encountered had not diminished. He also met a young woman from north Louisiana named Mary Sue and the two quickly became good friends. They would remain friends for years before they finally realized that there was more between them. Now, many summers later the Knights will celebrate 25 years of marriage and two daughters (Emily ’18 and Katie ’21) this year.
Those closely involved with Camp Hardtner say that you either get the Camp spark or you don’t. There is no question that Father Skully certainly has the Camp spark. After attending Camp as a participant, he became a counselor-in-training, a counselor and then a head counselor in subsequent years. Even though he worked as a teacher and a coach for ten years before becoming a priest, he says it was his Camp experience and that spark that allowed him to listen to the voice that was calling him to the priesthood. “I would have never become a priest without meeting priests at Camp Hardtner,” he says. He says seeing the priests as regular people in shorts and t-shirts and playing games with the campers allowed him to imagine himself in that role. Father Skully took on the role of priest when he graduated from The School of Theology at the University of the South - Sewanee in May of 2004. After his ordination to the priesthood a year later at St. Mark’s in Shreveport, Father Skully and Mary Sue left for Camp Hardtner. Fittingly, he celebrated his first Eucharist as an Episcopal priest in Camp Hardtner’s Chapel of the Holy Family.
counselors will have a Camp experience as profound as his own. “It’s an incredible place and it’s changed a lot of people’s lives,” he says. As he reflects on the friends he’s made through his connection to Camp he realizes that many of them have gone on to lead lives in service to others. “Our lives do impact other people’s lives,” he says. “Camp Hardtner helps us become purposeful about that and it’s hard to think of only yourself.”
According to the Camp website, “Camp Hardtner has been the launch pad for a multitude of future priests and active laypersons.” As Father Skully says it can be hard to put your finger on what makes the place so special. He says the facilities are simple and basic. However, the feeling of acceptance and love shared by the counselors and campers is anything but average. Online Camp testimonials describe the experience as “life-transforming” and “some of the happiest moments of my life.” Others call Camp Hardtner their “second home” and their “second family.” Similar to the way a family provides love and support to each other, it seems that the Camp Hardtner community cares for and celebrates each other and their shared connection. These feelings are expressed in daily worship and discussions. They are felt in the campfire songs and the quiet prayers next to a lake.
Camp Hardtner offers a variety of options for campers to experience the joy and connection of unplugging and unwinding as they connect with a supportive community and celebrate the love of God, surrounded by the peace and calm of nature. To learn more about Camp Hardtner, click here.
The summer camp experience can be a meaningful and beneficial experience for campers for numerous reasons. You never know the impact or inspiration your child may discover and how that will transform their entire life.
Happy summer 2019!