July 7th, 2013

mene mene tekel upharsin, religion

One last thing about church camps

Having recently returned from a visit to church camp, and having seen earlier today my own church's middle school youth group and its leaders receive a blessing as they prepare to leave for their own church camp experience, perhaps it's a good time to write a bit about my own church camp experience.

The church in which I grew up sent its youth group to church camp for a week each summer at Stronghold Camp & Retreat Center, a Presbyterian Church (USA)-affiliated outdoor ministry located along the Rock River in Oregon, Illinois. It was pretty rustic; we slept in "hogans," which were named for the traditional Navajo dwelling but more closely resembled a canvas Quonset hut, and ate outside under a tarp. I don't know where the food came from; I know we, the campers, didn't have to make our own meals. We pretty much had the run of the camp, except for the swimming pool, the castle (except for prearranged tours), and the other buildings and activity areas. That was fine, though; it would've been nice to go swimming, but it was plenty fun going up to David's Tower or Inspiration Point and the other wilderness areas.

As I remember it, I spent a week at Stronghold for three consecutive summers. I was back there for weekend retreats from time to time after that, with Scouts and the high school youth group, but not to camp. So it felt a little weird when I attended Nawakwa last summer and met people who'd been coming there for a week or more for decades. That's not how church camp works! You go for a few years, and then you're done.

Except apparently not. What I've come to realize is that my church camp experience was the weird one. While other churches sent their kids off to Stronghold because of the organized activities and facilities provided by a professional staff, we went there and used the grounds and campsites to run our own camp. In retrospect, I have no idea why we did that. Probably because Stronghold's wilderness camping area had those hogans I mentioned earlier. Absent those, we would have had to rustle up our own tents, or slept in a cabin or something. And it's possible there were other things provided by the camp that I wasn't aware of.

Would I have as much fun at one of the organized summer camps? Possibly. It's certainly true that I have many fond memories of going to Freeland Leslie for Boy Scout camp every summer, and that probably has more in common with the professionally run Stronghold summer camps than the independently run ones my church put together. But I don't have any regrets about not going to Stronghold the "normal" way.