The theological anthropology modeled in the Christian camp environment demands that humans take seriously their part in creation. From its very beginnings, the Christian camping movement has recognized the power of the natural world to facilitate faith formation when combined with theological reflection.(1) Numerous studies connect spiritual or faith growth to outdoor recreation experiences,(2) and there is evidence that participants view religious outdoor recreational experiences as “significant life experiences” decades later.(3) The unique environment of community living and outdoor recreation have great potential to facilitate spiritual development.(4) Transcending the studies demonstrating camp’s effectiveness is the Christian proclamation that God took on flesh (John 1:14), the very carbon-based matter of the created world that comes from the ground and returns to the ground (Genesis 3:19). The union of the human and the divine in Jesus Christ proclaims simultaneously God’s immanence and transcendence. God is here immanently with humanity in the midst of human relationships and yet this God remains holy, transcendent, and Other. Experiences in God’s creation can help recover a sense of awe and majesty in the presence of God. With the writer of Psalm 8, the young person is invited to consider the works of God’s fingers in the wonder of the starry night sky, the rugged mountains, or the powerful stream and realize in the depth of her being that the God who created all of that cares for her and crowns her “with glory and honor.” Recognizing one’s situatedness within creation moves the camp participant away from individualism and toward recognition of the other, to the “someone” who is calling through the neighbor and creation itself, as the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1).
1) Abigail A. Van Slyck, A Manufactured Wilderness: Summer Camps and the Shaping of American Youth, 1890-1960 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), 52-57.
2) Paul Heintzman surveys and incorporates a variety of these studies. Paul Heintzman, “Nature-Based Recreation and Spirituality: A Complex Relationship,” Leisure Sciences 32 (2010), 72-89.
3) Brad Daniel, “The Life Significance of a Spiritually Oriented, Outward Bound-Type Wilderness Expedition,” Journal of Experiential Education 29 (2007): 286-389.
4) Two of the researchers from ACA’s 2005 “Directions” study make this connection explicitly with data from the study. Karla A. Henderson and M. Deborah Bialeschki, “Spiritual Development and Camp Experiences.” New Directions for Youth Development 118 (Summer 2008): 107-110.