I never went on a church campout as a kid. I went to camp—private camp, YMCA camp, church camp. Adding the “ing” to go camping meant hiking or paddling into the forest and sleeping in a tent or under the stars for several nights. I certainly knew about pop-up campers and RVs. I grew up the daughter of the Chamber of Commerce director in a tourist town. I could have told you not only the five reasons you should stay in Custer instead of any other town in the Black Hills, but which campgrounds around Custer were the best for your family’s particular needs. But I had never been on a campout until I came to Idaho. Trinity Lutheran Church in Nampa has a steady history of church campouts and Southwest Idaho has some beautiful state parks, so last weekend I joined 40 people of all ages on the annual campout, sleeping in a tent.
S’mores: This is a perfect first course for a church campout. There is no favoritism, no keeping track of whose pan or crock-pot is or is not getting scraped clean. You do not need to be an expert to add to the conversation. Do you like jumbo marshmallows or the regular sized ones? Do you prefer dark and milk chocolate? One kid likes the fancy metal roasters while another uses the pointy stick he found in the woods. Most important, all ages experience humility. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been making S’mores, they are always messy and if you take on the task of roasting a marshmallow then there is a high chance that you will burn it or drop it in the fire, either of which will endear you to the people beside you.
Breakfast: Even if you did not sit around the campfire the night before, there is a written expectation that you come to Saturday breakfast and supper. The morning buffet table was covered with a variety of egg dishes. Someone had wrapped breakfast burritos in tinfoil. I picked up berries at the grocery store and was pleasantly surprised to see that another camper had made oatmeal. Around the breakfast tables people began making plans for this beautiful day–a scavenger hunt for the kids, a visit to the Oregon Trail museum, a walk to the local winery, a nap.
Ice Cream: In mid-afternoon, after walks and lunch and resting, two ice cream balls were brought out and packed with ingredients. Kids and a few adults formed a circle on the ground and started rolling the balls/churning the ice cream. I entered the circle a little late and learned that we had two flavors–blueberry and Girl Scout Thin Mints. Interest levels waned but a few participants helped finish the job and no one pinched a finger. The ice cream was delicious but the preparation was clearly more fun.
Supper: I have very low confidence when it comes to church potluck suppers. I brought cheese and crackers to the campout but ended up leaving them in my car. The whole potluck ritual carries uncomfortable memories. My mother is an excellent cook, a chef, but she had a hard time conforming. In the section on church potlucks in The Lutheran Handbook, there is this word of warning, “Use caution when preparing a dish. Adding local ingredients to any meat, salad, or dessert can increase the fellowship factor of your potluck exponentially. It also raises the risk of a ‘flop.'” A flop is not something that tastes bad but it is something that tastes, or sometimes simply looks, too different so that only a fourth of the dish gets eaten and your eight-year-old daughter is embarrassed and begs you to just make something with pasta or rice, something gooey with crunchy stuff on top. The church campout at Three Island State Park did in fact have many pasta dishes but it also included salads, barbeque, and desserts. My cheese and crackers would have done well, I think.
Eucharist: This is the one meal for which I was responsible. It followed immediately after our potluck supper. This holy meal has many names but on that evening it was a Eucharist, from the Greek word for “thanksgiving.” It was a meal of thanksgiving for Christ’s presence among us that weekend and thanksgiving for nourishing us with relationships, potlucks, bread and wine, forgiveness and new life.