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Fig Tree section gives taste of 2011 summer church camps

Outdoor adventures, water sports, music and reflection await campers

Rock climbing, mission aviation, house painting, high ropes, yard work, waterskiing, performing music, rebuilding burned homes, horseback riding, teaching children and white-water rafting draw youth at church camps away from screens, and into nature and neighborhoods for summer adventures.

Bob Watrous at Camp
Bob Watrous of Shalom United Church of Christ in Richland, a volunteer leader for older elementary-age campers at N-Sid-Sen, connects biblical stories with life issues today through drama.

These are among the activities Inland Northwest camps and retreat centers offer amid usual activities of swimming, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, arts and crafts, campfires, and discussions on faith and life.

Managers and directors of church camps and centers recently shared their preparations and expectations for the upcoming summer church camping season.

As every year, camps have been doing renovations and maintenance to improve their facilities for campers and year-round retreats.  For example, Zephyr Christian Conference Center is raising money to reroof and repaint its historic 109-year-old historic lodge on Liberty Lake.

Directors and administrative staff recently told how the economy and fewer children in their churches have an impact on camps and how they are adjusting to the changes.

This section provides a sampling of activities and news from several of the Inland Northwest’s church-related camps.  A comprehensive list of the camps is included in the upcoming 2011-12 Resource Directory:  Guide to Congregations and Community Resources in the region.  The directory will be published and distributed in July.

Camp schedules and registration information is available at camp websites.

Camp tries billboard ads to draw children and youth from community

Camp Spalding race
Boys at Camp Spalding enjoy a race.

For the first time, Camp Spalding, the Inland Northwest Presbytery’s camp near Newport, is marketing to the community with billboards and other media to draw children, youth and adults who are not in churches.

“In the past, we focused on our constituency and their friends,” said Andy Sonneland, executive director of Camp Spalding.  “We are still doing that, but we have a great experience for any child or youth, even those who have no church background.

Since record attendance in 2008, “we have taken a hit with the economy,” said Andy.  “Marketing is more than a business imperative.  It’s a ministry opportunity to engage with families in the community.”

While theology informs camp life, the Presbyterian theology is invitational, he said.

With membership in the presbytery down 50 percent over the last 45 years,  “there is not the critical mass to sustain a camp based on denominational participation alone,” he said.

Andy notes that last summer 40 percent of campers were from Presbyterian families and the rest from other churches or no church.  Until five years ago, there were more Presbyterian than non-Presbyterian campers. 

Most campers come because their families send them, and about 75 percent of campers return, he said. 

Role models spark interest

“Outdoors with older role models who are enthusiastic about their faith and perceived as cool, campers are receptive to talk about life’s big questions and even to consider Jesus,” Andy said. 

The 40 college-age staff, who bring confidence and awareness of the world from mission trips, do not fit cultural caricatures of Christians.

Youth today are harder to reach because many are “more jaded” than when he started as executive director of Camp Spalding 20 years ago.  Because the culture in general is more hostile because of stereotypes of Christians, he said defenses of high school youth are greater now. 

“To present Jesus as compelling, we focus on Gospel stories that tell how Jesus interacted with people and how God wants to interact with us,” he said.  “We talk about how the stories relate to, make a difference in and can be real in their lives.”

For information, call 509-447-4388, email or visit

Lutherhaven adds horses

To hold the interest of returning campers, camps provide new activities.

For example, part of Lutherhaven’s Shoshone Base Camp has become a 1920s-era western dude ranch, the Shoshone Creek Ranch, with corrals, barns, riding arenas and 15 horses.  Each week, 14 fifth grade through high school students will come to the ranch.

Bob Baker, executive director of Lutherhaven, which runs both the Shoshone Base camp and Camp Lutherhaven on the western shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene, said the camp has a permit with the U.S. Forest Service to do trail rides into nearby national forests.

The ranch camp is separate from the Shoshone Base Camp, where about 100 youth come from around the United States each week to do community service in the Silver Valley.

Campers paint houses, patch roofs, clean basements and do repairs on homes of low-income elderly or disabled people.  They also work with children at city parks. In the last four years, campers have put in 30,000 volunteer hours.

Churches give camperships

Bob, who has been at Lutherhaven for 18 years, said that instead of traditional camperships for church members’ children, churches are offering camperships for neighborhood children.

One Spokane church, Holy Cross Lutheran, is sending 96 children—more than the number of children in their church.

He estimates that a third of Lutherhaven campers are Lutheran, a third from other denominations and a third attend no church.

Camps foster community

“Camp counters the trend for children and youth to spend more than seven hours a day in front of screens,” Bob said. 

“At camp, they are outdoors away from screens, building relationships with Christian mentors who present the gospel of Jesus,” he said.  “The camp allows no cell phone use, so there is no contact with family or friends at home, so the campers can really be present.”

Many campers return for the leadership program to be camp leaders, and many of them become campus ministry group leaders, pastors, and leaders in their communities and churches.

Camps always seek new ideas, partnerships to strengthen programs

Lutherhaven is partnering with the U.S. Army National Guard to offer Operation Teen Camp for 250 children of parents who are deployed.  It is also partnering with the Church of the Nazarene, which is selling its Pinelow Camp, to host a Nazarene teen camp.

A youth Chorale Camp will be held this summer in conjunction with and at Camp Cross, led by Mary Carlson, who was on Lutherhaven’s staff in the 1970s and now teaches choir in Reno.  The camp will introduce youth to sacred music and dance across religious boundaries.

For information, call 208-667-1713, email or visit


Joint Chorale Camp set

Maureen Cosgrove, director of Camp Cross, the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane’s camp, also on the western shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene, said the collaborative Chorale Camp will invite young people of Lutheran and Episcopal churches in the region to learn about the liturgical and new music of their traditions.

Overall, she said, the summer camps’ theme, “Create Your Faith Print,” will help campers consider how their lives together and individually have impact on their communities, the environment and the world.  They will supplement that theme with a curriculum by the Department of Environmental Quality.

Camp Cross is again hosting Camp No Limits, which is for children without limbs.  It will be held the same weekend as a women’s retreat from St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Bonners Ferry.

“Since the 1920s, we have blended the traditional and new,” Maureen said.  “We look to grow in relationship with our diocesan mission of welcoming everyone.”  

Registration for the  2011 camps for youth is about the same as recent years.  As at other camps, campers include friends of church youth and youth sent by parents seeking spiritual content that is open-minded.

Maureen said that offering campers “spiritual safety” is key.  By that she means having camp leaders aware that campers come from Episcopal, other denominations and no faith traditions, and that they should respect those different backgrounds.

For information, call 624-5780, email or visit