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Campers connect with people, nature

With transitions among a few  directors of area camps of denominations, it’s clear that camp is more than a few weeks in the summer building community and leadership in the midst of nature and fun activities.

N-Sid-Sen T-Shirt
Themed T-Shirts have been an N-Sid-Sen Tradition

Roles of the directors vary.  Some are executive directors, and others are managing directors responsible for maintenance, administration and ministry.  Some are also their denomination’s youth and young adult program leaders.

As Randy Crowe retired after 22 years as managing director of N-Sid-Sen, the United Church of Christ Camp and Conference Center on the eastern shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene, there were opportunities to review the scope of what it takes to keep a camp going.

The Rev. Linda Crowe, Randy’s wife and a pastor who has been active in outdoor ministries, summed up the camp ministry as one of maintenance, management, interruptions, relationships and hospitality.

She listed tasks of installing light fixtures, changing light bulbs, and hammering nails for building and roofing projects.  She also told of the need to be open to interruptions for crises and to take time with campers and camp staff.

Each element is part of a camp’s overall ministry as a welcoming place for people coming to be nurtured in faith, life and recreation.

Randy also shared an overview of his camp ministry as he passed on tools to the new managing director Mark Boyd.  Mark was on staff at the Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ’s Western Washington camp, Pilgrim Firs.  He was also youth minister at Olympia United Churches.

Those tools include a songbook, a Bible and a book of prayers, because “people will expect you to be a theologian.”  Then came the tools for physical work—a drill, light bulb, hammer and full tool bucket for the camp handyman side of his role.

Ryan Lambert of Seattle said he was part of the first junior high aqua camp Randy and Linda led when they were members of Kirkland United Church of Christ.

“As you explored your sense of call, you inspired our sense of call,” Ryan said.  “That summer shaped the rest of my life—from relationships formed at meals, on porches and decks, in boats and on the beach, we have stories to share with our children and grandchildren.”

John Hubbe of Richland praised Randy for his ability to build community and for being a visionary to renovate some buildings, build new ones and renew the camp to serve people.

As Mark steps into the legacy of hospitality, he is not only meeting people at the camp but also visiting congregations so people in the pews know who he is.

 “I recognized early in my work with children, youth and adults, that camp gives them a place to be who they are away from their usual social barriers.  It is a safe space and a sacred space where they can relax,” Mark said.

For it to be such a space, he prefers campers not “do technology” at camp.

“Once children and youth are here and go beyond their first hesitation about not having technology, camp goes easily,” he said.

The issue of using cell phones and texting is resolved because cell phones do not work in many places at camp.  Freedom from cell phones frees campers from social pressures they face elsewhere, Mark explained.

For information, call 208-689-3489, email or visit

Camps instill leadership skills for churches

Colin Haffner, who is now camp director and youth/young adult leader for the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane, typifies the leadership skills camping and youth programs instill. 

Growing up in the Tri Cities, he was a camper 10 years at Camp Cross and served 10 years on the staff, three as program director.

Camp Cross Ropes Course
Camp Cross campers prepare to do the ropes course.

He also worked at camps in Maine and Maryland.  In 2004, he earned a degree in literary studies at Eastern Washington University and began work on a master’s degree in broadcast journalism at the University of Maryland.  From 2005 to 2009, he worked in a restaurant in Maryland, but he kept an eye on Camp Cross.

Wanting to teach, he realized in two years on staff that he wanted to work with youth.

“I am called to this ministry,” he said, “to do formation of diocesan youth and welcome youth of all or no religious backgrounds.”

The 20 on summer staff are from Seattle, California, Texas, Ohio and Kansas.  Their 10 weeks at camp also includes leadership formation.  Nearly 30 are in volunteer leadership roles at different camps. 

Camp Cross, which is secluded on 100 acres on the western shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene and accessible only by boat, is open from late May through the first weekend of October.  Then it closes for the winter. 

Off-season, Colin works with the Episcopal Diocese as youth and young adult leader, planning events, involved with campus ministry and visiting the 40 congregations to share information about camp.

He is working to establish a peer-led ministry for youth and young adults to keep them connected with church and to equip them to be church leaders.

“Often middle and high school youth lose interest and do not feel they have a place in the church,” said Colin, who encourages churches to have youth be the church leaders of today, to integrate them into their church’s existing leadership.

“Youth events and camp are places where young people can restore and rejuvenate their faith without feeling judged, where they can be who they are,” Colin said.

For information, call 644-5780, email or visit


Electronics can detract from camp community

Tyler Wagner, who has been director for one year at the United Methodist Twinlow Camp and Retreat Center on Lower Twin Lake near Rathdrum, was in a tree with a chain saw when he answered his cell phone for The Fig Tree interview.

Twinlow water sports
Campers in a water sports camp take time for prayer.

His goal is to bring as many young people as possible outside their normal world—in which they are often lost in busyness and electronics—to experience God and “see how amazing God is in something as small as a blade of grass or as big as a tree,” he said.

“Away from TV, computer, tablet and cell phone screens they connect face-to-face with campers and counselors,” said Tyler, who has observed that separation from internet and cell phone access is often more difficult for adults.

“People know that our camp is a non-electronic realm,” he said.  “It’s important for people to set aside time where they are not distracted from God’s purposes for our lives.”

For information, call 208-352-2671, email or visit


Camps help nurture commitment to service

Paint Girls
Teens at summer service camp at Shoshone Base Camp help paint Silver Valley houses.

Lauren Baker, who is responsible for marketing Lutherhaven Ministries, at Camp Lutherhaven on the western shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene and at the Shoshone Base Camp, said summer camps continue to “nurture Christian values and faith that last a lifetime.”

Positive role models of counselors, drawing people out of their comfort zones into nature and new life skills, and the opportunity to make new friends help campers build self esteem and learn to live Christian values.

Campers come back year after year and then go on the staff to help teach the next generation of children and youth, said Lauren, who grew up going to a Lutheran camp in Texas.  During four years of studying psychology at Texas A & M University, she was on the summer staff at Lutherhaven four years and has been on the year-round staff another four years.

“We are an open and welcoming camp for all generations and groups, including children who do not have a home church.  Invited by their friends, many keep coming back and grow in their love for Jesus,” she said.

At the Shoshone Base Camp near Pritchard, Idaho, the Servant Adventures Camp draws youth groups from around the nation to serve residents in the Silver Valley.  They help build fences, paint houses, do yard work, cut fire wood and run a day camp at Pinehurst.

For the second year, the Shoshone Creek Ranch offers horse camp weeks for fifth through 12th graders, plus four weekend camps for families.

A new leadership camp for seventh to ninth graders will focus on team building and leadership skills.

Lutherhaven also offers new mini-camps, three-day family experiences to introduce elementary-school children to camp.

For information, call 208-667-3459, email or visit


Camp markets to reach the wider community

In 2011, Camp Spalding started intentional outreach to the general community, rather than just marketing the summer camp program to churches in the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest. 

Camp Spalding swimmers
Camp Spalding swimmers take a leap into the lake.

While the presbytery is a key constituency, executive director Andy Sonneland said its member churches do not have a “critical mass” of campers.

So he has used billboards, postcards, public radio and messages in public schools to reach the larger community.

“Our numbers were up eight percent over the previous year,” he said, adding that the online registration includes a drop-down menu to let the camp know how they learned about the program.

“Our purpose remains the same:  We are a Christian camp, and our mission is clear on the online registration,” Andy said.  “Our camps are accessible, without a strong sub-culture, so any camper feels welcome.”

“Twenty-two years ago when I started, the culture was different from today.  There is a cultural bias against Christians,” Andy said.  “There’s a hurdle to cross to gain a hearing among those who don’t consider themselves Christian.”

The arts camp draws the highest percentage of non-church youth.

“Early in the week, they often tend to be uninterested in spending time learning about Jesus,” Andy said.  “A few don’t engage, but many begin to consider what their lives would look like if Jesus were part of it.”

Even if the seventh to 12th graders have a bias against Christians, they spend their day with fun people who are Christian role models and see Jesus lived out in people who care for them.

“Some begin to open up and think there may be something to faith,” Andy said.  “About 70 percent of campers are returnees.”

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


Resources help campers understand parables

Like many other camps in the area, Ross Point Camp will use “The Secrets of the Kingdom:  The Parables of Jesus” curriculum, prepared for ecumenical use by the National Council of Churches.

Ross Point slider
Ross Point camper tries out sliding across wet plastic.

Volunteer session directors and counselors use the resource to help campers understand what the parables may mean in their lives.

John Batchelder, executive director of Ross Point, the camp and conference center for the American Baptist Churches of the Inland Northwest, said that the decline of children and youth in denominational churches is reflected in a one to two percent decline in campers each year.

Nonetheless, about 200 come for three weeks of camps for elementary, junior high and senior high ages.

He attributes the decline to more use of electronics in homes and schools.

“With that, there is less interest in being in the natural world,” he said, adding that even youth at camp are less inclined to participate in outdoor activities during daily free time.

“Campers can swim, canoe, hike or do the ropes course, but some sit and use their cell phones during free time,” said John.  “We do not permit them to use cell phones any other time, because they discourage building community.

“I’ve recently heard the term ‘together alone,’ and I think that describes what is happening,” he said.  “We invest as a society more in social networking than in human networking.  It has an impact on church life, too.”

That shift in society calls for innovation, John said.  Last year, Ross Point’s senior high camp had a “campers in charge day,” when campers made decisions, led sessions and chose what to do.

As has long been a tradition, young people bring friends to share their experience of learning about faith and learning to live it.

Use of Ross Point facilities year-round is 70 percent by rental groups, common for area camps and retreat centers, John pointed out.

For information, call 208-773-1655. email or visit