Dear HCMC, 

As you read this, our biennial church camp would probably be underway. As such, I thought to devote this column to exploring the spiritual value of church camps, and how we can also apply these lessons to our daily living. 

Christian activities called “camps” were popularised in nineteenth-century America, owing to revival “camp meetings” and outdoor summer camps organised for youth. But such activities date back to biblical times, well before they came to be known as “camps”. For instance, Moses’ initial proposal to Pharaoh, for the Hebrews take a three-day journey into the wilderness to worship the Lord, reflects some of the features of a church camp journey. Jesus’ model of ministry in the outdoors with a small group of disciples also shares some similarities with our modern camps and retreats. Subsequent “camps” in the history of the church have followed these biblical templates. 

What is a church camp? Jacob Sorenson, an American church camp researcher and trainer, offers the following definition: “Camp is a set apart space that facilitates relational encounter between the self, the other, and God.” Indeed, camps are great opportunities for physical interactions with others, for getting in touch with ourselves, and crucially, for a heightened awareness of God’s presence and deeper encounter with Him in a set-apart, sacred space. 

Sorenson and his team have conducted extensive surveys of church camps across North America, and identified five fundamental characteristics of effective Christian camping: 

1. Faith-centred: teachings and practices of the Christian faith are core to the camp experience and intertwined in all other characteristics. 

2. Relational: the camp is a relational environment that includes living together, meeting new people, and face-to-face interactions. 

3. Participatory: the camp environment allows participants to learn and grow through activities that employ body, mind, and soul. 

4. Safe Space: the camp provides a safe physical and emotional space for people to be themselves without fear of judgment. 

5. Unplugged from Home: the set apart location provides physical and emotional distance from participants’ normal environments, freeing them to see things differently. 

For more details, see: 

The descriptions above resonate with my own church camp experiences, which have been integral to my spiritual and relational growth. I trust this church camp will similarly be a blessing to all who participate. May we renew our lives before God and reconnect with others. 

If you are not at the current camp, or when the camp is over, it is still possible to enjoy “camp-like” experiences in our daily lives. For example, we have a taste of this in our fellowships and small groups. These are faith-centred, relational, and participatory settings which hopefully serve as a safe space for us to share and grow together. To unplug from the hustle and bustle of our lives, we can also take personal or group “timeouts”, such as going hiking outdoors, or spending some quiet hours before God in a park or retreat centre, sans electronic devices. These can become set-apart spaces for relational encounter with God, others, and self. But of course, for such purposes, they are still second best to camps. So, if you have missed this camp, be sure to sign up for the next one! 

Rev Timothy