camping: "church" at its finest?

as you all know by now, i have a lot of issues with “church.”  i love love love people gathered together in all kinds of ways to learn and practice loving God, our neighbors, ourselves.  it’s the programs, the inauthenticity,  the power b.s., the unnaturalness of it all that i can do without.   i believe wholeheartedly, in every fabric of my being, that without community and deep connection with other people (whatever that may look like) we will never be able to live out the ways of Jesus and experience the fullness of relationship with God. i am fairly convinced typical church systems that feed inspiration addiction provide a false sense of spiritual maturity where learning “about” certain things becomes enough and we are never forced to actually be in meaningful intimate connection with the people we sit next to week after week.  lives need to be rubbed up against other lives.  that’s where the real action happens and we learn what it means to really love & be loved.

after spending last weekend at the 3rd annual refuge camping trip at jackson lake i walked away with this thought: church should probably be a lot more like camping!  really, it has all of the elements that i love & value about “church” the way i dreamed it could be:

all the cover-ups are stripped away – camping is a great equalizer.  a tent’s a tent.  no one cares about what you wear or what you look like.  every person trying to pull themselves up on a tube in the middle of the lake looks awkward, no matter how much money they make or what job they have.  in a good way, camping (especially when there’s water because that means bathing suits!) exposes us in a safe container because everyone else is equally exposed, too.

everyone shares – that is one of my favorite things, when we are camping there’s an incredible sharing of “stuff” with each other.  we had 14 sites all to ourselves and there was zigzagging all over the place… “need an extra tent? want some eggs? i’ve got some bacon! come over to our place and we’ll cook up the food.”  needs get met.  openhandedness abounds.

conversations flow – fire, time and space creates a container for relaxed & meaningful conversation. no one’s rushed, hurried, has an agenda, or always has the floor.

playing & more playing – little kids playing with big kids, big kids making new friends, games around the picnic table, balls getting tossed, splashing in the water, silly songs around the campfire, people trying things they don’t normally try, laughter everywhere.   that’s worship.

the little ones are a part – kids & grownups together is really important to me.  we’re supposed to know each other’s kids & look after them & help them & love them instead of keeping them safely put away while we “do our thing”.  when we’re camping, we’re all together, eyes and hearts and hands all over the place making sure everyone’s known & taken care of.

relaxed instead of rushed – hurriedness is what messes with community. rushing in, rushing out, going from one thing to the next and never being able to be present in the moment.  the stress of time and responsibilities and pressures really rob us of peace & connection.  when we’re camping, we’re chill.  we’re present.  we’re unwound instead of wound up.  we’re glad to be here instead of thinking where else we have to go next.

i could go on and on about all the cool parallels and i am sure i missed some other big ones, but you get the point.  yeah, to me, camping really is “church” at its finest. 

ps: below is a photo collage from my camera only.  i missed a bunch because i was on the boat most of the time & so i didn’t get any pix from karl & april’s.  yeah, we are a water family & our boat is called ohana! which means family in hawaiian (if you watched lilo and stitch “ohana means family & family means no one gets left behind”. that sort of sums up what i think the church should be).  the only bummer from this year’s camping trip is i didn’t have jose there. he had to coach jamison’s (that’s my 12 year old) basketball team for a tournament.  i did have an amazing ohana crew (all girls, yeah!) who helped pull tubers, run ropes, and manage tons of kids & grownups in and out and all around.  we saved a few lives here and there (not really but it felt like it) and really had a blast!

pps:  happy july 4th! i am thankful for our freedom. let us never forget that many many others have none and keep fighting for theirs, too, with the same passion we fought for ours.  

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Oh sure. ;-P It helps when you have a cool boat to throw in the mix…and a lake…and people who are willing to let their guard down.

  • This is good stuff – camping we find too is a great time to invite friends where they get to see us warts and all!! A cold can and staring into a fire brings out a lot of deep reflection. I find not only is our guard down but so is the guard of those we bring and we have had some really deep conversations around a flame.

  • The part that struck me the most on this post is where you said: “conversations flow – fire, time and space creates a container for relaxed & meaningful conversation. no one’s rushed, hurried, has an agenda, or always has the floor.”

    I realize how it always seems like there is never enough time to have the deep, flowing, slow conversations that have such rich depth to them. Guess I’ll just have to go camping, but man, I do love my own bed and shower! :-).

  • So true! I would add that when it rains, it rains on everyone…and everyone’s got to work together to keep dry and get through the storm.

    Great post.

  • mark – yeah, there’s definitely something about fire that draws everyone together & guards are let down

    tracy – the rush rush rush is what really does make real connection hard. ps: we bought these great fold up mats at costco and they changed our camping lives!!!

    rachel – love your additions!

    brian – absolutely! the only bummer is you’ve got to come out to colorado…

  • Kathy,
    I was a ‘camping virgin’ until this memorial day! Talk about exposing! I went with a community of friends (outside) the church…an eclectic bunch. Kids. Sharing. 2 tent sites. 5 families. Single parents. Orphans. Vetrans. All smooged together just like a smore! Messy and sweet. We’re planning another trip in August only this time there will be more families joining us because it’s all we talked about for weeks afterwards. I love this expression of what church should be….it’s right on!! Hugs.

  • tara – that is so fun! on our weekend we did fun awards on saturday evening and gave the “virgin campers award” to a mommy & her two kiddos who camped for their very first time ever. here’s one for you, too! welcome to the fun! i loved what you said: “it’s messy & sweet” and “we were all smooged together just like a smore.” so good…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *