5 things Lutheran camps can teach the church


5 things Lutheran camps can teach the church

Adventure camp at Crossways camps, one of approximately 145 ELCA outdoor ministry programs in the United States and Puerto Rico.

I love camp. I truly do. I spent five summers in the midst of college and seminary on the summer staff at Crossways -- Pine Lake Camp in Waupaca, Wis., (under the tutelage of Penny Christensen, the current executive director of Lutheran Outdoor Ministries in Ohio) and a year in between college and seminary on year-round staff at Lutherdale Bible Camp in Elkhorn, Wis.

I haven’t worked at a camp in a dozen years now, yet every summer I crave that intentional Christian community. Last week my family spent two nights among friends at Camp Calumet in Freedom, N.H. In August both of our kids will go for a session of youth camp at Crossways (where my wife and I spent those five summers and got married in the chapel).

For years we’ve gone to family camp with friends at Luther Crest in Alexandria, Minn., where one of those friends, Dave Holtz, is the executive director. This year those friends are meeting as a group elsewhere. It will be great. It will be fun. But it won’t be camp.

Whether you are a camp person or not is not really the point -- though I think outdoor ministries offer something for everybody and continue to expand those opportunities. I think that camps have a lot to teach the church as a whole. Here are my top five things I think we can learn:

1. Purposeful hospitality. Camps are about welcoming others to participate. Whether it is the friendly and well-trained staff, goofy games, well-maintained facilities, participatory worship, study or service, newcomers are quickly brought into the community and valued. Every camp activity, program or initiative is built around those who are not yet there. What if our congregations did that too?

2. Serving as an oasis. There is a certain amount of unplugging that happens at camp that is rejuvenating. We are busy people leading busy lives and are getting more and more connected with every new gadget and gizmo. I’ve often wondered about the church being an oasis in the desert heat and frantic pace of our lives. Camps are great at keeping people relaxed yet in the moment. Congregations could be like that cool water by a lake too.

3. Child-centered. Many if not most of our camps now offer year-round programing for people of all ages, individuals and families -- not just kids in the summer. Yet the focus is clearly on young people -- helping them feel part of the community, grow within their faith, and explore their gifts and talents to share with others. Church can get a little cerebral and adult-centered sometimes. I’m not suggesting we dumb things down -- I’m advocating that if we include kids, invest in kids, build up relationships with kids and their families, all of us will be stronger as a community. We’ve been doing more and more child-centered planning at the congregation I serve in Connecticut, and on behalf of the whole church and those families -- I give thanks.

4. Discovery focused. Much of my own faith formation as a camp staff person came through conversations with peers, pastors, other caring adults, and yes, lots of kids too. Worship, study, prayer, service and community building explored our questions rather than making sure we had all the right answers. Informed doctrine and Bible study are important and helpful tools for understanding our relationship with God in a deeper way than we can without them, but beating people over the head with them or letting them stand alone without conversation tends to send people away more than gathering them together. Exploring inquiry, doubt, uncertainty and challenging topics with Scripture and our confessional witness alongside conversation with one another communicates that, "Your questions are valued here, and so are you." Camps do this well. Congregations could learn to do this better.

5. Pious irreverence. There is a time to be serious. Some congregations are always serious. Camps seem to find a balance between silliness and remaining respectful. We could use more good and godly play in our congregations. Camps can teach us how. If we can play together, we can better care for one another when it is time to be serious.

Maybe I’m just an old camp counselor at heart, but I think the church is stronger for having camps in it. As the summer continues on I invite you to pray for our church camps. The ELCA has about 145 outdoor ministry sites across the country. I invite you to pray for campers that they may be strengthened, nurtured and kept safe; for the partner congregations that support our camps; and for those young adults serving, exploring and discerning where God is leading them next. Who knows, your next pastor might be a former camper or a former member of a camp staff.

I also invite you to participate.


If you haven’t been to camp before -- take a look at what upcoming opportunities your local camp has for your congregation or groups within your congregation. Talk to your pastor. There is a lot to do, and great ways to connect and reconnect.


If you have participated in a camp experience, tell others about it. Tell people in your congregation. Tell people who are not at church. Think about why that experience is meaningful and what you might share about it that can help connect people.


Ask the staff at your camp or your pastor how you might help with your time, efforts and dollars. Most camps offer scholarships for people who would not be able to participate otherwise.

Yea camp!


Originally published July 20, 2012, at sinibaldo.wordpress.com. Republished with the permission of the author. Find a link to Geoff Sinibaldo’s entry at sinibaldo.wordpress.com at Lutheran Blogs.

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