Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
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Everyday Grace: Summer camp for the whole family?
by Mary Cronk Farrell
(From the May 2, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)
My three-year-old goddaughter Natalie surprises people when she breaks into one of her favorite songs. Not a nursery rhyme, but "Jublite Deo Omnes Terra. Ooh, ooh, ooh. Alleluia."
I'd like to take credit for Natalie's precocious spirituality, but even as her godmother, I can't. She picked up the Taizé chant at a family retreat last summer. If you're calling up an image of the solitude of a monastery, a heavy schedule of prayer and hours on your knees, erase it.
A family retreat is more like summer camp.
Kids describe it as, simply, fun, games, good food, nice people. Parents would agree, but have a deeper motivation for attending.
"We want our children to know that Catholic spiritual life is more than church on Sunday," says Maria Roach of Pasco. "A retreat gives them the chance to be around families centered on God and see they are happy, creative, athletic, normal people."
Summer retreats for families come in varied shapes and sizes, and are a tradition in many Protestant churches. Catholics are discovering the benefits and adding to the mix. They include simple parish campouts, weekends with activities and reflection time for adults, teens and children, and weeklong camps with speakers, prayer time, study, and fun.
Locations vary from rustic mountain or beach church camps to comfortable retreat centers. Most offer a mix of scheduled activities and free time, and usually allow people to choose their own level of participation.
Families who regularly attend some type of faith-based summer camp see it as an important part of forming a solid spiritual basis for their children.
"I like my kids to see older kids praying, talking about their faith and having fun doing it," says Ginny Kane, Seattle. "They put on skits, sing, celebrate Mass. Also our kids have watched the older kids care for the younger ones over the years, and now they are getting older and taking their turn." After nine years at the same retreat, the Kanes also look forward to reconnecting each year with families they don't otherwise see.
For the Akins family, considering camp for the first time this year, it's just the opposite. They're hoping to strengthen relationships with other families they worship with each week.
“It's a way we can get to know people on a more personal level," says Jennifer Akins of Spokane. "Eating meals with them, boating, swimming, interacting with their kids in a way we wouldn't at church."
While nourishing friendships, time away together also reinforces bonds within families.
"It's just fun family time. Nobody's going to baseball practice or anything else. We're sort of forced to be there together," says Ginny.
"No cell phones, no TV, video or computers. My husband is not bringing work," says Sarah Bain, who is organizing families at her church to go for six days to Flathead Lake, Montana, this summer. “I remember as a child going to family camp," she says. "Being together, singing songs around the campfire, just hanging out."
For mothers, the best part may be no cooking or cleaning. At church camps a staff prepares three meals a day and does the dishes. Programs provided for toddlers and pre-schoolers can also offer parents a chance to relax and take time for their own spiritual enrichment. Or take a nap.
The cost of family camps and retreats varies. Though most will be more expensive than camping and cooking your own food, they're usually cheaper than staying at a comparable, but for-profit resort. Financial assistance is often available.
You may not have aspirations for your preschooler to be chanting Latin prayers on the playground, and even if you did, I can't promise you a summer family retreat would do the trick. But hearing Natalie repeat that little chant is a good reminder of how faith soaks into our children. Getting together with other Christian families at summer camp is just one more way we can give God the opportunity to work in our lives.
(Mary Farrell is a Spokane free-lance journalist and children's writer.)
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