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Campers gain a connection to the wider church

Two youth in Ferndale UCC who had been to camps at Pilgrim Firs made and sold chocolate-covered pretzels and popcorn at the Christmas bazaar to raise funds for camperships for next year.

Bobbi Virta, pastor at Ferndale, said her participation as co-director of Intermediate Camp for two years with Stephen Haddan of Tolt Carnation raised the number of campers in her congregation from one to six.

camp singing

Intermediate campers often sang in free time outside the lodge.
Photo courtesy of Bobbi Virta

Because she has already announced the dates for 2013 camps, several families whose children were not there last summer have put the camp dates on their vacation calendars, because of excitement generated by returning campers telling stories of their experiences.

“Campers’ involvement has deepened their understanding of church and faith beyond the local church,” said Bobbi, who also presented a slide show for the whole congregation about the camp she directed.

For children and youth in local churches, going to camp helps them see the church in “a bigger way,” she said.  They make friends at camp with peers in other churches.

“Some only know church through their local church, but we live in covenant with other churches across the conference, nation and world,” Bobbi said.

She believes the “bigger” idea of church helps retain young people.

2013 Pilgrim Firs
camp &
retreat season

Junior High Midwinter Retreat Jan. 11-13
Senior High Midwinter Retreat Jan 18-20 
Tara Barber and Kristen Almgren
co-direct both.
Men’s Retreat
Jan. 31 to Feb. 3.

GLBT Spiritual
Renewal Retreat

May 31 to June 2
Work Camp
June 12-16

Senior High Camp
June 30 to July 6
Junior High Camp
July 7 to 13
Intermediate Camp
July 14 to 20
Kids Camp
July 21 to 24
Family Camp
Aug. 18-21

Fall Enviornmental Justice retreats drew 13 pastors
Oct. 16-18 and
13 young adults
Nov. 16-18

For information,
call 360-876-2031
or visit

Campers who do not attend local churches have, as everyone at camp, a time to reflect on what faith means to them, a chance to know that they are beloved children of God and an experience of what it means to be in community.

“At camp, we serve meals family style.  Many young people have no idea of what it means to sit down to eat a meal together as a family.  Many eat in front of TV or in a car going somewhere,” Bobbi said. 

At camp tables, we sit together.  Campers ask for food to be passed rather than physically getting up to grab what they want from across the table.  They work on how to have a conversation at mealtime.

“That seems basic, but it’s not,” she said.

The 2012 Intermediate Camp had a team of young adult counselors who had grown up in camp and knew each other well.  Bobbi and Stephen told them that their role was to create a safe, sacred space for the campers.  They were to be there for the campers.  Being a counselor was not about them experiencing camp for themselves but to create an experience for the campers.

Bobbi found that the cohesiveness of these young adult leaders made it possible to weather two experiences—one guiding one camper to apologize to and receive forgiveness and grace from another camper, and the second to address as a camp that it was not appropriate to make homophobic remarks.

“By calling people out in these instances, I pray that we helped people walk away from camp changed,” she said.

During free time, one counselor often sat outside the lodge, played her guitar and began singing.  A group gathered and sang with her.  That singing, plus all-camp singing drew the community together.

Bobbi said that each year she and Stephen, who will be on sabbatical next summer, have set up a communion table in a different secret location on the last day. 

Before they led the group back to the lodge to meet their parents, one camper suggested that they sing to their parents.

“That was powerful for them to come in and sing before running to hug their parents,” she said.

Another unifying experience was that one day every camper, counselor and director went swimming. 

One day when a thunder storm curbed planned outdoor activities, one counselor taught the campers line dances in the lodge.  Weather also impeded the usual night hike, replaced with a movie night.

Campers took home art pieces they made to express the theme of finding the “treasures” within themselves. 

One piece was tie-dyed cloth with a unique tree campers painted on it.  They glued four buttons on it to hold affirmation messages: joy, peace, faith and love. 

They made “treasure chests” they decorated inside and out. Each had a mirror inside to speak of discovering “the gift of who we are inside.” 

Campers also painted tiles with one layer added each day.  Then they scratched images in them, discovering the layers of color. 

Each also made a sculpture using natural materials.

While doing crafts, Bobbi and Stephen developed an idea to involve small churches to help provide craft supplies.  They suggest one or two churches adopt a camp, and camp directors send them their supply list, so the churches provide the supplies as a way to connect with the camp.

For information, call 360-384-3302 or email



Copyright © December 2012 - Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ Conference News


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