6 July 2010
When I was growing up, going to summer Family Bible Camp at the Pine Grove Free Methodist camp grounds in Winfield, BC, the first week of July, was as much a part of our family traditions as stockings on Christmas morning and colored eggs at Easter. After I grew up and moved away, I did not attend camp for many years. Finally, my husband, children and I moved back to the Okanagan Valley, and for the next few summers, I again attended family camp.
It was called Family Camp because families attended together, as opposed to children’s and teen’s camps, and men’s and women’s retreats. But it was more than just a place for families to go for summer vacation. It was a gathering of a part of the family of Jesus. Most, but not all, attended Free Methodist churches in British Columbia and Washington State, as well as some from other provinces and states. Others were from different church groups, and some who came didn’t know Jesus, but had been invited by friends who were part of His family. And over the years, many of the same families attended again and again. There were some who attended for 50 years or more, generation upon generation. Children met Jesus at the altar in the old tabernacle building; and then their children; and their children, too. Sometimes young people met, and eventually fell in love, and married, and brought their children to camp. Even if we didn’t see each other for 51 weeks at a time, on that 52nd week each year, we would join together joyfully, and spend a happy week together with our Father. We were family. It was truly Family Camp.
But things began to change. Some folks wanted to go on “real vacations.” Others preferred to go to other camps that had fancier facilities and lots of staff to wait on them. At Pine Grove Camp, fees were kept as low as possible, and everyone pitched in to do their share with cooking, washing dishes, cleaning, repairing, grounds upkeep. Those who could afford extra would donate so those who couldn’t pay the already low fees could come anyway. But we didn’t have an on-site swimming pool, or air-conditioning or climbing towers, or canoes or speed boats. We went down to the lake to swim, and hiked in the hills or played volleyball for recreation. We didn’t have cable for TV; nor internet access. Life was simple and relaxing, and a bit rustic. But most of all, we gathered to meet together with our Lord. And that didn’t seem, in those final years, to be a big attraction to a lot of folks. The elders passed away, and many young folks moved far away. And so, five years ago, the camp closed down.
But families naturally long to gather together. And so this week, as former Pine Grove Family Camp folks think back to those annual summer family gatherings, some of us have started a conversation on-line. We’ve started a facebook group, Friends of Pine Grove Camp – Winfield BC, where we’ve posted pictures and memories. And we’ve started talking about getting together again.
The Pine Grove Camp grounds are still intact, more or less, leased by another group. Theoretically, we could perhaps rent them from those who are renting them from the Free Methodist Conference. But more likely, we are thinking of just getting together at a campground somewhere, or maybe in someone’s property out in the countryside, and spending a weekend or maybe even a week together. With our Lord and each other.
From what I hear, those “luxury” camps, with classy accommodations, high-end meals served by paid staff, swimming pools and all manner of recreational facilities (and high costs), are still doing pretty well. People (who can afford it) get their vacation, and they get to hear well-known speakers and professional worship bands.
On the other hand, maybe there is room also for those who just really want to gather with Father’s family, with His church. More and more, there are those whose heart is to be the church, to live church, every day of their lives. Almost as if camp happens all year round, as they meet together in many different ways, day by day, learning together, helping each other, reaching out together, coming to know God together, living in His love as His family.
Maybe Pine Grove Camp, as an institution, as a ritual even, has had its day. And yet I know the family that grew together in that place, lives on, and the family members still long to see each other, though they have been scattered by time and location. I think that Pine Grove Family camp still lives on in the hearts of its family, and its memories inspire many to continue to follow Jesus and live His family life every day. And maybe even get together one time soon. For old times sake. And because we are family.
And that is awesome, don’t you think?