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Pilgrim Firs filled with groups in summe and fall

Mark Boyd, managing director of Pilgrim Firs Camp and Retreat Center at Port Orchard, took advantage of a rare quiet moment at Pilgrim Firs to take a week of vacation. He is also taking time in November for the first month of a three-month sabbatical.

Pilgrim Firs work camp, top, and rainbow over labyrinth, below. Top photo courtesy of Pilgrim Firs. Bottom photo by Casey Lewis

He will use time in November to take time away to breathe, relax and write, plus attend some poetry workshops.

Through July and August, Pilgrim Firs was filled every day with Warrior Pathh, Guitar Camp, Banjo Camp, Women 2 Women, Bellevue Choir, 12-step camps, a L’Arche staff retreat, Planned Parenthood Teen Council and other groups that have kept the camp and retreat center filled each week with 100 to 140 people.

Mark said when the Planned Parenthood Teen Council came, they were first hesitant to learn Pilgrim Firs was a church camp.

Then they began reading signs around the camp about who the UCC is as a church.

“I love watching how camp changes lives as so many folks discover that this too is church. My heart swells with pride to know this is my church doing what we do best, sharing God’s love,” said Mark.

The same happens when LGBTQIA groups come and discover the Pride Garden at Pilgrim Firs.

“It’s another opportunity for conversations about the UCC,” he said.

The conference and PNC churches have also been using Pilgrim Firs, said Mark, noting that there is effort to expand that usage.

The Taiwanese UCC came again in June for a church camp and a week of teaching Taiwanese children and youth Taiwanese language.

There have also been several weekend church retreats.

“While churches may oncehave come for their own weekend retreats, now we are encouraging multiple churches to share weekends so we make better use of the space,” said Mark, noting that Eastern Washington churches like Richland and Pullman, and Westminster, Colville and Chewelah shared weekend retreats at N-Sid-Sen.

“We are looking at doing that here,” he said.

In August, United Churches of Olympia and St. Paul’s UCC shared Pilgrim Firs one weekend. Fox Island and Suquamish UCC plan to come next May.

The University Congregational UCC men’s group and the Samoan UCC women will share Pilgrim Firs another weekend with separate programs. Bellevue Women plan a November retreat.

“We want to help churches not only come back to camp but to use the space well. Sharing Pilgrim First for weekend retreats fills the camp and also connects people in churches with each other and strengthen relationships within the Conference,” he said.

October brings the PNC-UCC Women’s retreat from 5 p.m., Friday, Oct. 6 to 1 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 8. The theme is “Cultivating Cozy” led by Marcia Mclaughlin, Beth Secord, Kaila Russell, Eva Tanis-Likkel and Emily Tanis-Likkel.

The weekend will include crafts, small group conversation, board games and “comforting” meals. The gathering includes all women, trans and cis, as well as gender non-conforming and non-binary people comfortable in a space that centers the experience of women.

The PNC Board of Directors will hold a retreat at Pilgrim Firs the weekend of Nov. 3 to 5.

Fall will include more UCC church groups, PTSD groups, 12 Step groups, songwriting groups continuing and other visitors continuing into January with rarely a free weekend, Mark said.

The annual PNC-UCC Men’s Retreat will be the weekend of Feb. 1 to 3.

The Midwinter Youth Retreat returns to Pilgrim Firs the weekend of Feb. 9 to 11, under the leadership of Margaret Swanson, Leah Bilinski and Mark.

“This will be a joint junior-senior high weekend of fun and community as we take a deep dive into our faith,” said Mark.

In addition, on the weekend of June 14 to 16, Pilgrim Firs will restart a Kids Camp on the West Side.

To help strengthen the camp and retreat ministries of the conference, Mark said, the Outdoor Ministries Committee has recruited additional members and will begin determining what is needed for the camps.

They will begin recruiting directors and making plans for the summer camping program at N-Sid-Sen.

In recent years, with the intervention of COVID, it was hard to recruit people to serve on the conference committees, Mark said.  Now there is a full Outdoor Ministries Committee to look at the camping ministries.

“We transitioned the youth and family camps to N-Sid-Sen. This is the second year of doing that. COVID cut into attendance, but we now have opportunity to grow again,” Mark said. “I think more will go once they know about transportation from the West Side.”

Mark invites members of the conference to call to learn how they can participate in the camps.

For information, call 360-876-2031 or visit


Pacific NW United Church of Christ Conference News © October 2023


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