It’s not much of a stretch to think that Christian camps would want to be eco-friendly. We see Earth as the art of God, which deepens its value beyond that of a dwelling place and into a revered work of the divine. Our work primarily occurs in and relies on nature. For the most part, camp is outside – so we need the outside to stick around! To be a camp that practices creation care just makes sense.
But, it’s not easy to get ideas from the Tuesday meeting into our daily practices, let alone our mission statements. When we saw how well Ferncliff has integrated creation care into all aspects of their ministry, we had to know how they do it. These are some of the programs and practices Ferncliff has put in place to ensure they are caring while they camp.
Something Ferncliff does really well is balance eco-friendly practices with education. It’s one thing to care about the Earth – it’s another to teach others to care even more. These teaching opportunities are built in to their camper experience. Kids get the chance to see, touch, and help with an onsite farm and garden – complete with goats (!), sheep, ducks, rabbits, and chickens. Chris “the farm guy,” a Young Adult Volunteer, lives on camp to care for and operate the farm though the year. In the summer, he teaches campers about growing food, caring for animals, and living in cooperation with nature. The garden is also functional creation care, serving as a compost center and food source for the camp.
We are all pretty familiar with daily Bible study, but the Ferncliff camper schedule includes daily nature study. As campers learn more about nature, they grow to care for and consider it in a new way. Campers also get a chance to visit adventure camp – stackwood cabins, treehouses, the shower barn and Ferncliff’s almost famous Eco Center. This place blew our minds. It is a 5,600 square foot straw bale building (one of the largest in the country), insulated with rice hulls and powered by solar. Through the Solar Under the Sun program, teams come to the Eco Center to learn how to install clean water and solar energy systems, then go out and provide that service as a mission project. It’s an awesome, practical ministry that is truly changing lives.
Ferncliff’s latest effort in creation care education is their new nature preschool. One day with these kids and you will be so ready for nap time. Nature preschool students spend their days exploring outside, playing and hiking, but also learning through experience about things like fire safety, composting, solar energy, plants, and animals. They are careful and caring, and interact gently with nature… at three years old! The students also gain kindergarten readiness in their classroom, which looks like most preschools, except for the giant aluminum canoe “reading nook” in the middle of the room.
On the “practice” end, Ferncliff integrates creation care throughout their operations. The buildings on camp use geothermal heating and cooling systems, using the consistent temperature of the lake to keep guests comfortable (it works). Solar power is used in buildings, light fixtures, and even a “stretch limo” golf cart named Sunny. Recycling bins are well-marked and available throughout the camp. Things are rarely thrown away at Ferncliff; even some of the floors are made from “trash.”
Good stewardship in food service is always a challenge, but we were impressed with Ferncliff’s efforts. Food from the garden is used to supplement meals in the dining hall (which is exciting for the campers who just helped to plant, pick, and tend their own food.) One day out of the week campers "enjoy a lunch of rice and beans to understand the imbalance of global resources." Food waste from camp meals is gathered in buckets and used for compost at the garden. Campers learn about their own food waste in fun ways. We love this idea: hold a contest at dinner that weighs the leftovers of each table and declares one the least wasteful!
One of our favorite ethical practices at Ferncliff is the fair trade coffee, which is as delicious as it is thought-provoking. It matches the fair trade chocolates left for guests in conference center rooms. In both the small touches and massive undertakings, Ferncliff proves that it is in fact a “camp with a conscience.”
Creation care is Ferncliff’s thing. It’s what they do. It’s very clear that they are committed to it in all aspects of their operation. This is certainly not the best option, nor even possible, for every camp. But visiting Ferncliff has given us some very tangible ideas for how camps (and everyone!) can do better. It starts with a willing heart and a conversation. Feel free to reach out to us or visit Ferncliff's site for more ideas on how you can make creation care an active value at your camp.
The journey has officially begun. Camp to Camp is real and alive. In the beginning, this isn't a day we thought would actually come to be. It still feels a little "out of body" to be living in our camper, traveling full time, and fully devoting our lives to seeing this through.
I don't think Sam and I are timid people, but I can't deny that we are cautious. We stick our toes in the water. We like to know. So the certainty with which we made the decision to pack up and go was a little shocking at first. The idea for Camp to Camp developed out of a joke at a county fair - not exactly a strategic planning meeting. We laughed and moved on, but God whispered - "Go."
A few weeks passed. We thought about other things. But God whispered a little louder - "Go."
I'm not sure when the whisper turned into a roar, but the longing grew. It became a plan and a vision for a new way we could serve camping ministry.
Through all of the planning and officially hitting the road, we heard the word why pretty frequently. We answered that question a lot of different ways and asked it of each other a lot too.
Why do we want this? Why are we leaving what we already love? Why has this captured our hearts?
It took a lot of prayer and hashing out to finally come up with definitive answers.
We are overjoyed and blown away by the kingdom work that is being done every day at camps around the country.
We have so many hopes for this project. First, we want to be vessels. Each trip to another camp is an opportunity to be filled with insight and practical ideas that we can take down the road and share. We are physically creating connections between camps to draw attention to the astonishing power of shared ministry. Camps are already epicenters of working together; how can we do it even more?
We believe that camping ministry deserves to be at the forefront of church planning. It is a viable mission field hidden in the woods right outside. I don't think it could ever be said enough: CAMP IS AWESOME. We think churches and Christians should rally behind it. Our hope is to start a conversation that encourages Christians to support camping - not just financially - but with their prayers, time, and mouths.
Because we are "camp people," we tend to get a little excited. We get jump-up-and-down, bang-on-the-table excited because people meet Jesus at camp. People find out what love is really like at camp. The most honest forms of confidence, peace, leadership, friendship, and purpose are discovered and built at camp. Disciples are made at camp. We are overjoyed and blown away by the kingdom work that is being done every day at camps around the country.
So, we decided it was our job to get other people excited about it too. The words "summer camp" don't always carry the same authority as "international mission trip," but camping ministry is transforming lives and we want people to see how diverse and relevant it is. We want churches to take mission trips to their local camps. We want parents to see the matchless opportunity there is for their kids at camp. We want kids to think camp is the coolest thing ever. As we build this project and our audience, we hope to find more ways to make camping ministry something everyone is excited about.
Even after a year of planning for this trip and a few months to get our bearings in Nashville, I feel like we are unprepared. I know that we are ready. We have the plans. We've filled the planner and sent the emails and written the vision statements. But I don't think we could possibly be prepared for the year that is ahead of us. I hope that we will be faithful servants, do good work, and be humbled by this experience. Beyond that, I can't be sure. Nothing about this is steady. But we know it will be okay. God told us - "Go."