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2023 Summer Camps Series

Camps energize, inspire all ages

Spending extensive time outdoors, campers experience the wonders of creation. Photo courtesy of Camp Cross

By Mary Stamp

The June/Summer issue is The Fig Tree's annual camp issue, exploring how the region's faith communities use time in nature and intensive community experiences to strengthen faith commitments.

Camp Cross celebrates its 100th year of operations since Bishop Herman Page bought property at Loff's Bay on Lake Coeur d'Alene in 1923 for a summer school and a retreat and training center for clergy and lay persons in what was then the Missionary District of Spokane.

He sold the property to his successor, Bishop Edward Cross, who sold it to the district (diocese) for $1. It continued the focus on clergy renewal until Bishop Russell Hubbard changed the mission to be a summer camp for youth and adults and named it Camp Cross for Bishop Cross.

A capital campaign in the 1980s brought upgrades in the 1990s, improving meeting spaces and cabins for year-round use. The camp, however, is used from May to September because the pipes are not winterized, the access road is poor and people go by boat to the main camp.

Sara Gunter, canon for youth and family ministries for the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane and director of Camp Cross, said a 100th anniversary celebration June 30 to July 2 will include time for people to share stories, play games, sing songs and worship. By mid-May, 50 were registered and she expects up to 85.

"We Are Branches on God's Vine Rooted in Jesus" is the 2023 theme for all the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane's programs and camps, said Sara.

"We focus on the Gospel, stories of Jesus' miracles and parables, leading people through Good Friday to the Resurrection," she said, adding that they are also using the Examen, a prayer practice attributed to St. Ignatius, inviting people to pray regularly through the day.

At camp, as they start a day, they will pray about what they look forward to or dread. They pray during the day and then reflect on the day and how they saw God and loved their neighbors.

"The goal is to recognize God and Jesus in their daily lives," said Sara, aware how much time most kids spend in screen time.

"We ask campers not to bring phones. If they do, they are to leave them in the cabins and spend the day to converse, eat, play, pray and dance," she said.

Sara, who grew up in Stockton, Calif., Alexandria, Va., and Chicago, Ill., studied oral rhetoric and minored in gender studies in college but, along the way, did part-time and full-time youth and camp ministry before coming to work with the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane three years ago.

Like other camps, it has been a hard year recruiting staff, said Sara in late May, noting she had 12 other staff, most of whom are long-time Camp Cross folks.

The first camp was for adult volunteers who came for the Labor of Love work camp to do deep cleaning, fix plumbing and electricity, and set up the canoes and waterfront. The next weekend was a Youth Labor of Love, when young people helped with more preparations for the summer.

A women's weekend June 16 to 18 is followed by training college-age and young adult staff the week of June 21 and then high schooler leaders training.

The regular camps are Intermediate Camp for fourth to sixth graders overlapping with a three-day Mini Camp for grades two and three July 2 to 7. The next week is an Arts Camp for grades four to nine, followed by another Labor of Love Camp to work on facilities, expand the shop and create a labyrinth.

Mid-High, Senior High, a Men's Weekend and Labor Day Family Camp will complete the eight-week summer season.

Activities at Camp Cross include hiking, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, boating, games, arts and field games.

The camp is also available for family reunions, staff reunions and use by faith and nonprofit groups. Weekends are full.

"The impact of camps on lives is evident in Bishop Gretchen Rehberg, who came to camp as a child and kept coming, serving on camp staff as she aged out of youth camps," said Sara.

The diocesan budget has a line item supporting the camp, along with contributions from an annual appeal, donors, user groups, camp fees and scholarships.

"The camp is mostly used by Episcopal churches, but many church kids bring friends and neighbors," Sara said, aware that COVID has had an impact on attendance.

"We will always be a smaller operation, but that means our campers get to know each other well," she said.

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, June, 2023