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Photo by Courtney Aldrich/First UMC, Chelsea, MI

Children from First United Methodist Church in Chelsea, Michigan, enjoy both the water and the sand.

Photo by Courtney Aldrich/First UMC, Chelsea, MI

Dennis, Jane and Michele relax and enjoy conversation during Chelsea First United Methodist Church's Family Camp on a Lake Michigan beach.

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Family camping builds relationships

 

By Cindy Solomon
July-August 2017

What better way to bust the "I'm-bored-and-I-don't-have-anything-to-do" summer mantra of children everywhere than with a family camping trip?

According to Kevin Witt, director of Camp and Retreat Ministries for Discipleship Ministries, camp and retreat experiences enable families to leave behind normal routines, responsibilities and environments for an intentional, temporary journey to a new place together.

"Fresh environments heighten the senses," Witt said, "allowing opportunities to grow together as a family to happen more readily. There is more time for building relationships and growing closer to God and each other because other distractions are minimalized."

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Research reveals that Christian camp experiences can be one major avenue for parents to teach and model to their children the importance of a connection with God.

"Search Institute's study on effective Christian education identified parents and family faith experiences as the number one factor in a lasting faith among children and youth," said Witt. In addition, new research by Jake Sorenson, an outdoor ministry researcher with Sacred Playgrounds, notes that youth who attend a faith-based camp are three times more likely to continue a communal faith practice throughout their lives than those who never participate.

It's a family thing

Each August, families from First United Methodist Church in Chelsea, Michigan, attend a family camp at an area campground. "Camp runs from Thursday through Sunday," said Courtney Aldrich, director of Children and Family Ministries at First Church, "and families arrive and depart as their schedules permit.

"The campgrounds we use have many onsite family-friendly activities," said Aldrich. "One camp offers a dedicated time just for our families to try a high ropes course. Off-site, but nearby, are opportunities for fellowship at a beach at Lake Michigan or at Michigan's Adventure, an amusement and water park."

Campers also enjoy group bonfires in the evenings and potluck meals on Saturday night and Sunday morning. "The kids love riding their bikes around the camp and traveling from campsite to campsite to visit other church families," she said.

Out of these experiences, the family camp becomes a tight little community. "Whether it's looking out for each other's children, sharing food, learning new things about one another in conversation around a campfire or commiserating over sandy sleeping bags or flooded tents, these shared moments carry over into our church family relationships back at home."

While how and when they happen may differ, finding Christ and drawing closer to God's creation inevitably make a positive impact on each camper. Sharing what family camping trips have meant to her and her family, Chelsea First member Kelly Stoker said, "We had to be pushed into going to family camp the first year. I had camped often as a child and still camped frequently with both Girl and Boy Scouts. But I would not call myself a camper.

"The first year it rained — for three straight days and nights. The first night we woke floating on our blow-up mattress. My son slept through it; we left him floating in the water. The three awake people stayed up and prayed for the tree above not to fall during the storm.

"The next morning multiple families headed home. We stayed. By the last morning, there were far fewer families at the campground. We pooled our breakfast fixings and took a picture of ‘the survivors.' We were hooked. We've continued to arrange our schedule every summer since so that we can once again spend four days in the woods — sleeping on the ground and usually in the rain — with our friends and church family."

‘Family' spans many generations

Ranging in age from newborn to 101 years old, campers at the California-Nevada Conference-sponsored Family Camp enjoy a carefree week together each June at the Silver Spur Conference Center in Tuolumne, California. "Family Camp offers sports teams that include all ages so young children and teens can play softball, for example, with their parents and grandparents," said the Rev. Marylee Sheffer, Family Camp co-director. "We gather as a community at the beginning and end of each day for prayer and singing.

"The interesting thing about Family Camp is that everyone who comes is broken — whether it be by illness, poverty or other hardships in life," she said. "Some of us hide it well, but we are all woven of the same fragile, imperfect cloth. We intentionally care for all people and place a high value on each person as a child of God," said Sheffer. "Something wonderful happens when families are away from the stress of work and school demands and in a safe and loving place in nature where Christ is lifted up."

Each year brings new campers, but there are also families who've been part of the Family Camp for more than 50 years — a testimony to the power of camping as a family. "Weddings and births are celebrated by this extended family," said Sheffer, "and deaths are observed and grieved together. Some people have found their spouses at Family Camp and two of our saints' ashes are buried there. Families regularly discover forgiveness and a new love for each other."

Camping for single-parent families

Between working, caring for the family and trying to have a life, single parents have their hands full. Today many camps offer programs and activities for single parents and their children to get away and spend time together — and apart — at camp. Each July, Camp Pecometh in Centreville, Maryland, offers a three-day retreat providing single parents with spiritual support, encouragement and the opportunity to relax while the kids are busy with camp activities. The retreat also includes family and big-group activities.

Oklahoma Conference Camp and Retreat Ministries offers a three-day Single Parents Family Gathering where single-parent households of any size or style — including, but not limited to, non-custodial parents, grandparents and military households — come together for fun and fellowship. Their goal is to help single parents face life's challenges while creating wonderful memories as campers swim, hike and fellowship together.

Cindy Solomon is a marketing consultant and content writer living in Franklin, Tennessee.