Church camp

At Placerville camp they have a simple ring toss game. The ring is attached with a string to an arm extending out from a pole. On the pole there is a hook and you swing the ring on the string. If you get the angle and the speed just right, the ring will go over the hook and stay there. It takes a bit of practice, but if you are persistent, you can get fairly adept at hooking the ring. The ring games have been at the camp for a long time. When I visited camp in 1973, the manager, Bill Pogany gave me a ring, a hook and a length of string. He also gave me the dimensions of the crossarm. At that time the ring games at Placerville were mounted on trees instead of poles set by camp workers. I intended to copy the game and make some for our camp in Montana. Somehow, I never got around to making the game at our camp, but I’ve played the game nearly every time I’ve visited Placerville, which, as it turns out, has been a lot of times because I now live very close to the camp.

Yesterday our grandson got the hang of the game. He reported having hooked the ring 7 times and kept playing. Soon it was 12 and then 15 and 20. I was there when he hooked it the 23rd time. It made me think of Bill and his joy at having campers come to camp so many years ago. So many things have changed since those days, and yet there are many things that are just the same.

Spending the weekend at camp with our grandchildren was a special treat for us. It seemed to be a way of passing down an important family tradition of church camp. It was also a visible link between generations of faithful people who have gone before and the youngest generation of our family. Our faith has always been a process of living in community and understanding our links to the generations who preceded us.

The manager’s cabin at Placerville has the name Pogany on a sign. All of the buildings at Placerville have names. Some bear the names of Congregational Pilgrims of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Our family stayed in Bradford cabin. We didn’t get around to telling our grandchildren about William Bradfaord. It was just a name for them. It is quite possible for children and teens to go to camp and the name Pogany wouldn’t mean anything to them. After all, the Poganys have been gone for many years. And Kerry Steever, the current manager of the camp has been a wonderful leader for longer than many of the current campers have been coming to camp. Going to camp doesn’t invoke the same memories for today’s campers as it did for those who went decades ago. There are new people, new experiences, new games and new relationships to be built. But for some of us oldsters, the name Pogany brings back a lot of fond memories.

My wife’s mother grew up during hard times in Isabel, South Dakota. In that country, trees are few and far between. Life can be harsh on the prairies, and her family was thrust into poverty when her father died. Her mother took in laundry and did what she could to survive and Susan’s mom didn’t have the advantages or luxuries that some others had. She did, however, get to go to church camp at Placerville once. She hung onto a postcard received from a missionary who attended the camp and later wrote her for the rest of her life. She was able to return to Placerville several times. Her sister became Mrs. Pogany and the Poganys became managers at Placerville in 1960.

We don’t know all of the stories, but we know some of them. And we know that the experience of Church camp is one that has been passed down from generation to generation in our family. I grew up in a family with a long camp tradition and married into another family with such a tradition. I met my wife at church camp - at family camp to be precise. It is a good match.

The decline in participation in religious institutions is well documented. It isn’t just local congregations that have experienced decline amidst an increasingly secularized society. Church camps have experienced declining numbers as well. It can be a real challenge to raise the funds required to keep a camp going. We know the stories of many church camps that are struggling. The camp where my wife and I met faced a major crisis this summer when the Montana-Northern Wyoming Conference of the United Church of Christ decided that it could no longer afford the expense of large subsidies each year to keep the camp open. There was talk of selling the property. A new non-profit corporation has been formed to take over the operation of the camp, but its future is uncertain as it faces huge economic hurdles just to get the camp into operation for next summer.

People, however, still are experiencing spiritual hunger and wanting to make connections with that which is beyond. I can sense this spiritual hunger when I scan the lists and lists of podcasts on spiritual themes that have become popular across the world. I know a number of people who don’t attend church, but who speak regularly of their hunger for community. One of the best ways to learn about community is to live in community. Church camp gives that opportunity. It may only be a weekend or a week-long camp, but the experience can be life-transforming. Church camp has as much to offer to the current generation as it had to offer to generations past.

I’m not able to predict the future, but I am confident that the children who attend camp this weekend, including our grandchildren, have learned life lessons that will serve them well as they grow up and become leaders. I’m confident that church camp is still an enterprise worthy of our support. And I suspect that will be true long after my time on this earth has reached its conclusion.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!