The Seven Foundations of Camp and Retreat Ministry began with a prayerful discernment centered on two specific questions: 1) What must camp and retreat centers do in order to be truly effective now and into the future? and 2) What is absolutely vital for us to focus on in fulfilling the church’s mission within the unique camp and retreat setting? These questions sparked two national summits attended by many United Methodist camp and retreat leaders who gathered to listen and come to a shared vision.
At Camp Tanako, for the last few years, we have been working diligently to align our values with the Seven Foundations in order to nurture Christian faith and discipleship and create a place set apart to allow God to work and transform lives. One foundation in particular, “Teach Creation Care and Appreciation” has been the subject of recent thought and discussion in our office.
During the camping season, we are constantly playing, communing, and worshipping outside. We expanded our program offerings to include Outpost: a one night, rustic camping experience. Campers who sign up learn safe fire-building techniques, cook a gourmet meal such as chicken fajitas with flame roasted vegetables, fried potatoes, and cobbler for dessert, and spend time in close community singing and worshipping around a small campfire before retiring to their hammocks. When they leave the campsite to rejoin main camp activities, campers are taught basic Leave No Trace ethics and thoroughly clean the campsite (even scattering unused firewood) so that future campers may walk into a pristine environment and experience creation.
However, outside of the camping season there is more room for growth. We realized that recycling is a highly visible and important aspect of creation care, and we recognized the need to be better stewards of our resources. Recently, Camp Tanako received a very generous donation from members of Christ of the Hills United Methodist Church in Hot Springs Village to establish a solid recycling plan and infrastructure. Our hope is to lessen our impact on the local landfill while educating guests so they may begin recycling at home, if they do not already.
The importance of nature in faith development cannot be overstated. John Wesley’s decision to move preaching and faith formation into the “open air” allowed new access and opportunities to hear and respond to the Good News and contributed to the expansion of the Methodist movement. Although, he initially wrestled with the appropriateness of this decision. He wrote in his journal on March 31, 1731, “I could scarce reconcile myself at first to this strange way of preaching in the fields, of which he set me an example on Sunday; having been all my life (till very lately) so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order, that I should have thought the savings of souls almost a sin, if it had not been done in a church.” One day, during a reading of “The Sermon on the Mount,” a realization eased Wesley’s heart and mind. If Jesus often taught outdoors and trained his disciples there, then how could it be wrong? Christ himself, set the example of regular retreats into nature for prayer, discernment, and renewal.
The natural world speaks of the Creator. Faith communities have discovered time and time again that the natural world is a powerful avenue of God’s self-revelation. Nature renews, stirs a sense of awe, and reveals insights into the meaning of life. As Christians, we are among those who recognize that the natural world, in all its variety, is beloved. In a time when the world is steadily becoming urbanized and human impact on creation is more destructive than ever, opportunities to appreciate nature don’t just happen on their own. We must remain in touch with, and be good stewards of, God’s wider community of creation – plants and animals, mountains and plains, rivers and oceans. These, too, are parts of the holy family of God.