Focus on Camps

2021 was a milestone year for Silver Lake

Fifth-year staff members Elora Neufeld, left, Saskia Snyder-Penner, Kathyana Carvajal, Katie Goerzen Sheard and Benjamin Schwartzentruber lead their closing campfire at Silver Lake in expectation for a bright 2022 camp experience. (Silver Lake Mennonite Camp photo)

Francis, a camper at Silver Lake Mennonite Camp, gets some exercise in God’s great outdoors. (Photo: Silver Lake Mennonite Camp)

As with so many organizations, the pandemic was a challenge for Silver Lake Mennonite Camp in 2021. However, we were blessed last summer to have the ability to run camp programs such as the Camper in Leadership Training (CILT) program; overnight camps in August; and day camps in Toronto, Hanover, Hamilton, Kitchener, Leamington, Ottawa and Waterloo.

Modernized amenities, same old camp feel

Camp Elim campers take a leisurely paddle around Lac Pelletier. (Camp Elim photo)

Running and jumping off the raft at Camp Elim is a popular pastime every year. (Camp Elim photo)

Everyone making behind-the-scenes plans for Camp Elim has all their fingers crossed that this year we will get back to running the summer camp programs that we love. After two years on hiatus, we are ready to rally an amazing staff and host campers for what we hope will be the best week of their summer.

Camp prepares for post-pandemic opportunities

Canoers Patrick Quail and Rhona Gearty take part in a wilderness out-tripping event at Youth Farm Bible Camp on the Paull River in Saskatchewan. (AHA! Adventures photo)

The last two years have been an adventure at the Youth Farm Bible Camp. The summer camp program was on hold for 2020 and at low numbers last year. However, we were able to see other programs grow and impact the constituency we serve. During times of crisis and chaos, we have opportunities to take risks and use our creative juices.

The essential gift of hope

The sun sets in Hope, B.C., facing west towards the Fraser Valley that was deluged with rain last November. Camp Squeah provided hope and care for more than 150 stranded motorists who were trapped in the area by the flooding. (Camp Squeah photo)

Hope. It’s a command, a gift, a noun, a verb. Of all that matters in life, the Apostle Paul states that hope is one of a trinity of essentials alongside faith and love. When we are loved, faith blooms in our hearts, and when the path darkens, hope keeps us remembering the love we’ve received and the presence of God.

Music camp is back this summer

As a response to the pandemic, 2021 Ontario Mennonite Music Campers created videos of new and favourite hymns for churches to use in virtual worship services. (Ontario Mennonite Music Camp photo)

This summer, Ontario Mennonite Music Camp is once again happening at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, from Aug. 14 to 26. The camp provides an exciting adventure for 12- to 17-year-olds that helps to build friendships, strengthen leadership skills, celebrate their love of music and explore their faith.

Embracing the ‘mystery of God’

The Tiessen family is at home at Camp Squeah. Pictured from left to right are Josiah, Rob, Eli, Nyah and Kim. (Photo courtesy of Rob Tiessen)

Mention “church camp” and many people might think of camping or volunteering there a summer or two. But for Rob Tiessen, executive director of Mennonite Church B.C.’s Camp Squeah, camp has meant a decades-long experience.

Growing up in Vancouver’s Sherbrooke Mennonite Church, Tiessen faithfully attended summer camp at Squeah throughout his childhood and youth.

The power of music

Camps with Meaning staff sing together in worship at Camp Assiniboia. (Mennonite Church Manitoba photo)

Singing is an integral part of life at Camps with Meaning (CwM), Mennonite Church Manitoba’s camping ministry. This is the case at many summer camps, but unique to CwM is this: their staff have been writing their own music for more than 20 years.

‘A marathon of uncertainty’

A forest class at Willowgrove. (Photo by Willowgrove)

A Harvest Fest wagon ride at Willowgrove. (Photo by Willowgrove)

Young Willowgrove visitors with a ‘pumpkin person.’ (Photo by Willowgrove)

If you pivot enough times, it becomes dancing. And over this past year, Willowgrove found that, despite its Mennonite roots, it has taken to dancing quite naturally.

Johnny Wideman, Willowgrove’s executive director, only took the helm this past February, having just three weeks in the office before the COVID-19 lockdown.

Grief and loss

Thinking of our remarkable trees, never in my 14 years at Squeah have we had such losses to life and limb—trees, that is. Buildings damaged, activities crushed and some truly magnificent softwood giants have fallen. (Photo by Tim Larson)

(Photo by Tim Larson)

In the late hours of a wintry night, a cold wind blew hard up the valley. It howled from an unusual direction, bending tree and limb. Under the unaccustomed pressure, seemingly sturdy trees gave way to the unyielding force, grasping desperately to the earth as their mass was moved inexorably to the ground.

Keeping the excitement of camping alive

Campers enjoy a bonfire at Camp Elim. (Camp Elim photo)

Last year marked Camp Elim’s 75th anniversary, but it was a challenging year for us. Our plans for running camp as normal were quickly thwarted with the looming pandemic. By mid-May, it became apparent that we would not be able to operate our camper program due to government restrictions forcing the closure of overnight summer-camp programs across Saskatchewan.

A chance to try new ideas

Hidden Acres 2020 summer staff cabin, pictured from left to right: Chris Pot, Brittany Ratelband, Cassie Zehr, Julia Lantz, and Sam Bielby, (hanging upside down). (Photo by Chris Pot)

The Hidden Acres 2020 summer staff team at the pond; pictured from left to right: Cassie Zehr, Julia Lantz, Brittany Ratelband and Sam Bielby. (Photo by Chris Pot)

A group of 2019 Hidden Acres summer staff take a hike. (Photo by Aaron Lantz)

As I reflect on a year of “being camp” during COVID-19, I hear Psalm 32: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”

‘Love thy neighbour’

Youth Farm Bible Camp’s corn maze theme last year was ‘Love thy neighbour,’ honouring its neighbour, the Mennonite Nursing Home, and its dedicated staff. (Photo by Mark Wurtz)

Last April, Youth Farm Bible Camp created a seven-metre snowman and sign to bless the Mennonite Nursing Home staff as they drove by. (Photo by Mark Wurtz)

Innovation, creativity and pivoting were key strengths that non-profit organizations used in 2020, especially if their main revenue streams involved gathering people together in large groups.

Two-week music camp being planned

Ontario Mennonite Music Campers participate in daily master classes with their instrument of choice, as part of two action-packed weeks of music, games, faith, concerts and friendship, in 2018. (2018 Ontario Mennonite Music Camp photo)

Ontario Mennonite Music Camp (OMMC) is a two-week camp hosted at Conrad Grebel University College, offering teenagers aged 12 to 16 an opportunity to explore both music and faith.

Silver Lake marks 60th anniversary in 2021

2020 Silver Lake Mennonite Camp Camp@Home T-shirt logo. (Silver Lake Mennonite Camp photo)

First day of Camp@Home Zoom events in 2020 for Silver Lake Mennonite Camp participants. (Silver Lake Mennonite Camp screenshot)

Sunlight-splashed trees at Silver Lake Mennonite Camp. (Photo by Jennie Wiebe)

Camp can make such a difference in the life of a camper, even over Zoom. That was the great discovery of the summer of 2020. We were very happy to see so many faces in this online experience!

Camping with a purpose

Jemma Cotrone is dressed as RBG for a costume dance party at Fraser Lake Camp. (Photo by Karie Cotrone)

Last year, Fraser Lake Camp’s cabins, which magically turn groups of kids into little families each summer, went empty. There were no echoes of rambunctious camp songs to rattle across the lake. No one reached the top of the climbing wall to the cheers of their counsellors and fellow campers below.

Many hands make the work doable

Volunteers carry out building supplies on Shekinah’s Ravine Trail. (Shekinah Retreat Centre photo)

At Shekinah we struggle to sit still. When we decided to shut our doors in March 2020, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, it not only felt foreign, it also felt wrong. It is much easier to work harder to try to solve a problem than it is to wait, watch and be still. What we have found as a staff is that slowing down and letting go has opened up new opportunities. 

Churches helping camps helping churches

Springstein congregants join others to help place sand bags at Camp Assiniboia during the flooding of 2011. (Photo courtesy of David Hogue)

After a week of non-stop activities soundtracked by endless cheering and screaming kids, you might think the staff of Camp Koinonia would sleep in. Instead, every Sunday morning they put on their Birkenstocks and cleanest clothes and head to Whitewater Mennonite Church in nearby Boissevain.

Lighting a fire in children’s faith

Huxley Phillips, left, Mason Avery and De’Sean Burnette enjoy a campfire at Hidden Acres Mennonite Camp, New Hamburg, Ont. (Photo: Aaron Lantz / Hidden Acres Mennonite Camp)

Advanced Camper Experience (ACE) campers Seth Bowman, left, Adam Roth, Carter Cochrane, Philip Cressman, I.J. Bellamy, ‘Speegon’ and Gabriel VanDyk learn about leadership through canoeing. (Photo by Aaron Lantz)

Sitting around the campfire after saying goodbye to our final group of campers on the last night of the summer, the staff spent the evening reflecting on the summer and all that happened.

We told stories and laughed about all of the hilarity that ensued over the previous 10 weeks. Sometimes we cried as we reminisced about the impact that our experiences had on us.

Living sanctuaries

Leaders-in-Training Isabelle Netherton and Micah Peters-Unrau, standing left and right, are pictured with LiT leader Joanna Loepp Thiessen. (Ontario Mennonite Music Camp photo)

Every night at Ontario Mennonite Music Camp we sing a closing song around the campfire to send campers off to bed.

A path towards reconciliation

Willowgrove added the blanket exercise to its program in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, more specifically the call to educate Canadians. (Willowgrove photo)

“Now I know what I should have been teaching.”

These are the words of a retired history teacher after participating in a Kairos blanket exercise. As a blanket exercise facilitator, I am often struck by the insights of participants, adults and children alike. 

Jeremy Wiens goes to Snow Camp

Jeremy Wiens.

Mikka Kostanecki and Katrina Janssen roast hot dogs at the final campfire at MC Alberta’s Snow Camp 2020, held at Camp Valaqua. (Photo by Jon Olfert)

There are extreme weather warnings throughout the province as the wind chill dips to -40C. Yes, it’s cold, but nothing is going to stop Jeremy Wiens from going to Mennonite Church Alberta’s Snow Camp, held this year from Jan. 10 to 12 at Camp Valaqua in Water Valley.

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