By: Christa Meland
The first time Hope Miller went to Family Camp at Koronis Ministries, she was 3 years old. Now, she’s 31—and she still carves out a week of each summer to attend camp and reconnect with both God and dear friends.
Miller, a member of Hope United Methodist Church in Faribault, is one of at least 20 people who have been attending Family Camp every year for three or four decades—and she’s the third generation of her family to attend the weeklong event that occurs each August.
Family Camp is one of many summer opportunities offered through Camp Minnesota, and its three primary campsites, Northern Pines in Park Rapids, Camp Kowakan near Ely, and Koronis Ministries in Paynesville. All of them provide opportunities to share and learn about Christ and creation. But Family Camp is unique in part because of the close relationships that returning campers have maintained and cherished for 30 or 40 years.
“The friends become family,” Miller said. “They take me up as though I am their own daughter…even after camp, I’ll get text messages, e-mails, whatever. They are still part of my life. I think that is God providing and being…my protector.”
‘A big family reunion’
This year’s Family Camp, taking place from August 4-10, welcomed more than 70 people of all ages, many of whom, like Miller, have been coming for as long as they can remember.
“It’s more or less a big family reunion,” said Craig Johnson. He and his wife, Terri, are members of Nerstrand United Methodist Church. They have been coming to Family Camp for a few decades and look forward each year to seeing their friends.
“Being here is growing up with all these families even though we don’t live in the same town,” said Terri. “It doesn’t matter how much money you make or what job you have. We’re all just people.”
The Johnsons will never forget how much it meant when their friends from Family Camp were there for them when their son was killed in a drunk driving accident 10 years ago.
“Everybody from Family Camp either showed up at the wake or the funeral to support us,” said Craig. “They were there for just mental, moral support…and a shoulder to cry on when we needed it.”
Because Family Camp has played such an important role in the lives of the whole Johnson family, Craig and Terri used part of their son’s memorial fund to purchase three benches at Koronis that now look out over the lake. “Every one I see makes me think of him,” said Terri.
Family Camp is structured in that everyone comes together for meals, devotions, and worship each day. But it’s laid-back in that participants spend most of the day engaged in the activities of their own choosing—everything from fishing and swimming to crafts and games. But what they all say they love most is just spending time together and in communion with God.
Reconnecting with God
Miller has two full-time jobs and, because she works in retail, she doesn’t get to go to church every Sunday. For her, a week at Family Camp is an opportunity to grow in her faith.
“This family and this week is number one,” she said. “I know my relationship with God gets weak during the…year when I’m working. I have to strengthen it back up so I’m more positive and more ready to go back. This week reenergizes me.”
The same is true for Les and Monna Cochran, members of River Hills United Methodist Church in Burnsville. They have been coming to Family Camp for 47 years, longer than almost anyone else. In the early years, their four boys were young children. Three of the four continued coming into their adulthood—and they now bring their own children. This year, Les and Monna were thrilled to be able to share Family Camp with their first great-grandchild.
Les says faith was always important to his family, and church was part of his children’s lives while they were growing up. But camp provided a different experience.
“I think they’ve seen religion from a different viewpoint when we’re up at camp. You feel closer to God with the surroundings that you have and beautiful water … and friends. All of our boys have made friends up here who they’re still friends with.”
Rev. Richard Harper, a retired pastor in the Minnesota Conference, was one of the people who started Koronis Family Camp in 1960—a couple decades after he attended camp at Koronis during his own childhood.
“Faith is a family affair,” he said—and the camp was based on that notion. “It’s important for a family to live together in Christian community. That community has been realized” at Family Camp.
Harper is now much older than he was when he started Family Camp. It takes him longer than it once did to walk between the buildings. And he misses being able to share the experience with his wife, who died in 2011. But earlier this month, he was relishing the opportunity to sing camp songs, sit around the camp fire, and reconnect with old friends. As a bonus, his son, daughter-in-law, and 4-year-old granddaughter came from Texas to share the Family Camp experience.
“Coming here is almost like Christmas,” Harper said. “Here I am, and loving every minute of it.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church