In Praise of Church Camps
We’re spending this week at Outlaw Ranch Lutheran Camp, located in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota. I’ve been fortunate that over the years I’ve been invited to teach at a number of our summer church camps and always look forward to spending time with family and with friends old and new learning about and worshiping God in the beauty of God’s creation.
In fact, let me say that a little more forcefully. I don’t just look forward to this time, I long for it, as I’ve come to have a tremendous appreciation for what our summer camps do for our youth and families and, indeed, for the whole church.
The Lutheran Church of which I’m a part is blessed with a number of fantastic camps. Each is distinct, with their own histories and traditions and with plenty of folks who would swear that their camp is the best place on earth. And yet each of them also bears some common characteristics, and I wanted to share just a few of the ones that have made an impression on me:
1) There is a profound emphasis on gratitude. Perhaps it’s that most of our camps are located in beautiful parts of nature, a reminder – especially for those who live in urban and suburban environments – of just how beautiful God’s creation is. It’s hard not to give thanks for these kinds of environments, and giving thanks for creation helps us recognize the many other blessings we enjoy. I’ve often thought that gratitude is the noblest emotion because it draws us out of ourselves into a recognition of how much we have to be thankful for in and through others and God.
2) Camps create and celebrate community. Sometimes that community is family community, in that families who spend so much of their time rushing about getting to one activity or event or another are invited to slow down, reconnect with each other, relax and renew. Sometimes that community is related to age-groups, as kids and adults alike are thrown in with folks they hadn’t know through their age-grouped activities and Bible studies and enjoy the company of new friends. And sometimes – indeed, many times – that community is built around a shared faith, as worship around the campfire or singing prayers of thanksgiving before meal time reminds us of the larger family and community of God of which we are a part. We live during a time when community is hard to find, and perhaps for that reason the community many of us have found at summer camp is that much more precious.
3) Camps nurture vibrant faith. Part of this is because of the multiple opportunities for worship and Bible study. Part of this, though, is also because church camp provides opportunities to talk about your faith. You see this most clearly in the camp counselors, who are regularly invited to share some of their faith story as part of worship. But you see it in campers of all ages as well, as kids, teens, and adults are all not just invited, but also provided a safe space and encouraged, to share something about where they see God in their lives and in the world. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned at camp, it’s that there’s nothing that grows faith more than having a chance to share it. And this is why church camp is so important, not just to the folks who come, but to the whole church, as our church camps nurture a vital, vibrant faith that gets passed down from generation to generation, often at camp.
So there it is: my little testimony of praise to our church camps. If you’ve got moment, share a memory or story of yours from camp, how it shaped you and helped make you the Christian you are today. And, even more, take a moment to offer a word of thanks to God for all those women and men who lead and care for our camps. They are a gift to us all.
Quick note. In addition to Outlaw Ranch, my family and I have had great times at Rainbow Trail, Christikon, Holden Village, and Luther Academy of the Rockies. If you want more information about any of these camps, just click on their name. And if you want info. about Lutheran Church camps more generally, you’ll find it here.