Camp Beckwith stands as a testament to a relationship built on trust
As our nation was crawling out of the depths of the Great Depression, a relationship formed between the Episcopal Church and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. In 1930, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama began a mission to the Tribe, bringing medical care, education and religion. The mission progressed slowly until the Episcopal missionaries formed a relationship with Chief Fred Walker. Within a couple of years, they had worked together to build St. John of the Wilderness and St. Anna’s churches as well as the Consolidated Indian School.
During the same period, the Diocese had been gifted 40 acres of land along the banks of Weeks Bay by the Beckwith family. Thirty years earlier, Bishop Charles Beckwith had purchased the land from Rev. Howard Walker, an Episcopal missionary priest. He built a cabin on the land and it became his personal retreat for more than twenty years. Six months before his death in 1928, the cabin burned to the ground. The land that his widow gifted to the church had long been contested by squatters.
The new bishop, Rev. William George McDowell, saw the potential to establish a youth camp on the property. In 1933, he asked a local minister to lead a group of 17 young men and five adults to establish Camp Beckwith. He asked the campers make basic improvements, including digging a well, clearing and marking the boundaries and building a small cabin to secure ownership.
Chief Fred Walker joined the effort, teaching the young men his logging skills and supervising the construction of what became Pioneer Lodge. They returned the next summer to build a second lodge. Before the church could ever hold a summer camp there, the cabins were burned in the winter of 1934. It was suspected that the squatters had burned these lodges as well as Bishop Beckwith’s cabin almost a decade earlier.
The land sat dormant until the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast was formed in 1970. They began development of Camp Beckwith and hosted the first summer camp in 1972. Since then, thousands have enjoyed the tranquil sunrises, moonlit reflections, and the rustle of live oaks inviting contemplation and connection with the divine. Whether youth summer camps, Cursillo weekends, or clergy conferences, Camp Beckwith became a cherished place that has created lifelong memories for thousands.
On its 50th anniversary, the Diocese launched a campaign called Go Forward to raise funds to affirm and expand its mission. The name was pulled from the scriptural text that was the basis for the sermon that led to their founding. Part of that campaign focuses on refurbishing and expanding the facilities at Camp Beckwith. One of those needs is a new adult lodge. In the long tradition of cooperation between the Episcopal Church and the Poarch Creek Indians, the Tribe stepped up and pledged its support to help build the new lodge.
It’s been ninety years since Chief Fred Walker helped build the first primitive lodge at Camp Beckwith. Today, the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Tribe endures. St. Anna’s Church still thrives on the Poarch Creek Reservation. The Consolidated Indian School stands as a reminder of the struggles the Tribe has had to overcome to achieve educational opportunities. And, Camp Beckwith stands ready to expand its mission for the next 50 years with the Tribe’s commitment to support their efforts.