The Archdiocese currently operates two camps under its Office of Youth Evangelization: Our Lady of Victory Camp at Gull Lake, northwest of Red Deer; and Camp Encounter at Lac La Nonne, northwest of Edmonton.

Help wanted in review of archdiocesan youth camps ministry

Summer camp is a place where games are played, skills learned, and friendships forged, all against the backdrop of a natural outdoor setting. For hundreds of young people in the Archdiocese of Edmonton, a week at camp is also an opportunity to grow in their Catholic faith and in their appreciation of God’s creation.

But how effective is the camp experience as a ministry of the Church? How might it be improved? Those are the kinds of questions the Archdiocese is asking as it embarks on a review of youth camps ministry, beginning with a call to stakeholders for their input. In a letter dated Jan. 25, Archbishop Richard Smith announced that its two youth camps will not operate after the 2018 camping season, while consultations take place and the results are analyzed.

The Archdiocese currently operates two camps under its Office of Youth Evangelization: Our Lady of Victory Camp at Gull Lake, northwest of Red Deer, established in 1946; and Camp Encounter at Lac La Nonne, about 110 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, established in 1980. In 2016, the most recent year for which figures are available, they attracted nearly 700 campers.

But there are problems. The camps continue to record budget deficits, and their facilities are in need of repair.

“Both (camps) have played important roles in the Church’s ministry to our precious young people,” Archbishop Smith wrote in his letter to parishes, schools, parents and other stakeholders.

“A recent assessment has revealed that facilities at the camps have so deteriorated over the years that the need for upgrades has become urgent. It is incumbent upon us to ensure that any investment of resources by the Archdiocese in response to this needs be done carefully, deliberately, and responsibly.”

“Therefore, we are beginning an extensive consultation of stakeholders associated with our camps ministry. The summer camping season for 2018 will continue as usual. However, we shall not operate the camps after October 5, 2018, or in 2019 while the consultations take place.”

Lisa Macquarrie, coordinator of the Youth Evangelization office

Lisa Macquarrie, coordinator of the Youth Evangelization office, is encouraging anyone who is connected to the camps or interested in youth ministry to participate in the first stage of stakeholder consultations, a short online survey that can be found at  https://caedm.ca/CampsSurvey.

The survey will remain open to the end of February.

“I’m excited to see the results of the surveys, and I hope lots of people will take the time to engage in them, because it really does help us in planning everything from what we need in facilities to what we need to offer in programming,” Macquarrie said. “I’m especially eager to hear from people who either are not aware that we have camps in the diocese or who have been using other camps because they meet a unique need.”

In the meantime, the full summer camping schedule will go ahead this year, and online registration is open at www.olvc.ab.ca and campencounter.com.

A couple of new features are also planned. Camp Encounter is adding a seventh week this summer because of heavy demand last year.

“We opened registrations only a week ago, and we already have registrations flooding in; I think people learned from last year at Camp Encounter, to act quickly!” Macquarrie said. “We’re hoping that extra week will accommodate the people who may not have gotten an opportunity to come last year.”

At Our Lady of Victory Camp, there will still be six weeks of summer programming, but this year it will include one week as a family camp. Families will be able to stay either in serviced cabins or come with their own recreational vehicles and use all the camp facilities. In addition to summer camping, both facilities offer programming in the spring and fall for school and other groups who come for a day or two.

Macquarrie is passionate when she talks about the camps, and no wonder. She started going as a nine-year-old herself and has attended in different roles ever since then. She was appointed camp director in  2001, and took overall responsibility when she was appointed to the youth office in 2015.

“I met my husband there, and really great friends that I’ve had the privilege of working with as staff members there. It’s very much a ministry that’s had a huge impact on my life.”

According to the archdiocesan Finance Office, spending on the camps in 2016 totalled almost $567,000. After accounting for revenue from camp registrations, facility rentals and $95,509 in donations, the camps recorded net expenses of $101,053.

They currently employ five year-round staff, and another 30 seasonal workers, including cooks, first aid attendants, and camp counsellors. About 150 volunteers provide additional support in roles such as dishwashers, junior counsellors, nurses, and kitchen helpers. Several priests from the Archdiocese attend camp as well, providing mass, adoration, reconciliation and friendship with the campers.

Archbishop Smith said he hopes to develop a clear vision of the camps ministry before making any financial decisions, and he looks forward to hearing from stakeholders.

“I am grateful to all who support the ministry of our camps in any way,” his letter states. “Let us pray together for the light of the Holy Spirit to guide our discernment.”

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28 thoughts on “Help wanted in review of archdiocesan youth camps ministry

  1. Plain and simple, if it weren’t for camp, I wouldn’t be going to church anymore. It had the right environment to convey values and faith in a way that stuck with me to this day. In addition, it’s where I learnt to listen to others. To trust. To love one an other despite our differences. I would not be who I am today without it and have met many friends there that are still close friends today.

  2. The investment in the camps for our children will pay back the church a thousand fold. The relationships these children, councillors and parents make with each other and God are worth the investment by the church.

  3. I attended OLVC for two years, once as a camper and once as a counselor. I learned the Angelus there and a lot of great songs. It was perhaps the first time I realized that ‘the Church’ was bigger than my parish. When I worked on the Archdiocesan Youth Retreat Team as a university student, I had wonderful experiences at Camp Encounter. As I look at Catholic adults in leadership positions, in our Catholic schools among other places. I see many who attended OLVC or Camp Encounter as children or youth. These camps are the training ground for tomorrow’s leaders – lay, religious, and ordained – and a precious resource.

  4. OLVC had a dramatic evangelical effect on my children and now my grandchildren. It led one of my children to enter youth ministry as a career and another of my children found his spouse through the camp. Kids don’t come home raving about all the activities (like in an expensive camp); they come home raving about the friends they’ve gained and about their spiritual experiences. Evangelism comes at a financial cost. My sense is that this a relatively economical way to form the Alberta Catholic community of the future. Even in the most crass economic terms one could probably make the case that the lifetime giving of the committed Catholics these camps develop far outweighs the cost of these programs.

  5. Without any doubt the value to the archdiocese and the person is invaluable and will never be replaced. Being involved in the church, giving of themselves for others and kindness to those they meet. Denzle & I know of that kindness with present and past staff visiting Denzle prior to Surgery, offering food, drives and offering anything we might need and so many prayers. Please no matter your concerns never let funds be the decision makers. Too many wonderful young people are spreading their love that they received and learned to share while at Camp Encounter.

  6. The survey is open until the end of February, but the camps are going to be closed from Oct 5 2018 until 2020? How much consulting needs to take place for two camps?

    Are we really setting these camps up to succeed or are we setting them up to fail? By losing an entire year you will loose all momentum you have with the current campers enrolled. What other choice will parents have but to seek out alternate options. Which will lead there children to develop differnet relationships and in 2020 when asked do you want to go back to that camp you went to 2years ago or do you want to go back to the one last summer what do you think those children will say?

    These camps are active for 2 months a year, shutting them down for 2 years to review a survey that’s up for one month does not pass the smell test. If you are serious about saving these camps for the future of our catholic children, it should take no more than 6 months to review the survey, the finances, and come up with a plan.

  7. I’ve been in and around youth ministry in the diocese since the late 1990s and would say that the camps have always been an essential piece of the puzzle for evangelization, formation, and for vocations work.

    For the sake of the young people we serve who need this camp (and my kids who are just coming of age to go to camp), please make your voice heard by filling out the survey.

  8. Camp Encounter is the only reason I still believe in God. My summers as a camper and counselor made me into who I am today. If the camp is not reopened, it will be a great loss to the youth of today.

  9. These two comments should be all that is ne see to make a decision to keep camp open. We want our faith to engage youth and deepen relationships with Christ. The decision should be how do we fund this and not just do we keep it open or not.

  10. As a parent, I have seen spiritual growth in my children as a result of camp, and I (and they as well) are beyond devastated that our Church is even contemplated not investing in these camps. I have also taught in the Catholic school system for 20 years. The number of times I have read essays and responses from my middle school students who have commented on the positive influence of OLVC in their life, is incalculable. This includes several students who have told me that camp literally saved their life. I struggle with understanding why our faith tradition does not seem to see the value of, or invest in, our young people as many of our Protestant brothers and sisters consistently do. Our youth are the future of our faith. Closing these camps will certainly hasten the lessening of people in our pews.

    Camp is a critical component of faith formation, not only for young people, but for their parents who are often re-evangelized due to the excitement and joy their children share with them after a camp experience. I sincerely pray that our Church flourishes in the next decades, but in order for that to happen, we need to ensure opportunities for peer-evangelization and peer-accepted faith experiences, are available.

  11. If the archdiocese of Edmonton has a better ministry tool that Our Lady of Victory Camp, I do not know what it is. It is short sighted for the diocese to make these moves without discussing the issues with the stake-holders. It was a huge mistake to dissolve the board of directors. Archbishop Smith needs to look beyond his office for answers.

  12. Youth ministry initiatives like this may not be profitable and they may run deficits, but when I think of the people, from my generation, that are still connected to their faith, it’s because of programming like this. The lack of youth programming in our faith community is a direct reason we’ve been facing a vocations crisis (both religious and marriage) for so long. It’s something we have to invest in – not just money, but effort, intention, strategy, etc. No business analysis will provide the insights that should be considered in making a decision like this. When camps like Arcatheos and Captivenia are making a huge impact on the lives of youth in this province, by volunteer effort alone, there should be no reason why something with this kind of institutional support should have to be shut down.

  13. I attended this camp in my youth, and many of my siblings did as well. I can’t stress enough the positive impact this camp had on my faith formation as a youth. Today youth are constantly bombarded with so much false messaging, and it does not help that technology plays a role in this. Camps such as OLVC are an oasis of calm. I can tell you what is not needed, a flashy, over the top and trendy camp where faith is sprinkled in just for kicks. OLVC is not and never was this. It put faith formation first. That is its purpose, and God willing should it continue this is what it should remain.

  14. I have been attending camp for 7 summers. Camp not only brings you closer to God it allows you to engage with peers your own age that share the same beliefs as you. I attended the counsellors reunion/retreat in the fall of 2017, the pure joy that was radiating from Tony’s Place while participating in the mass and adoration was incredible. Camp has affected so many peoples lives and formed their faith. Losing the ability to go to camp for 2 summers would be absolutely heartbreaking.

  15. Though I’m not much of a camper nor was I as a young person, I can appreciate that this is a vehicle to connecting young people with the Sacred. Having served in Youth Ministry in the province of Alberta, I remember clearly the impact that these camps had on the faith formation of young people, many of whom continue to enrich and support our Church today. If it’s about cost and finances – perhaps we need to be more comprehensive in our assessment and truly see where we are spending money. It seems that financial scandals and legal fees tend to usurp more of our church dollars than camps. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will truly guide this discernment. I can’t help but think of Fr. Mike Mireault at this time – I’m sure he is pulling whatever heavenly strings he can right now to ensure they continue to exist for generations to come. Praying for all involved

  16. As a parent who sent his children to Camp Encounter for many years, and the positive impact it had, I would easily make a donation to help the camp both cover it’s costs and do some needed upgrades. I agree with those who point out that the camp should not close if possible. Perhaps there is a safety issue that hasn’t been stated?

  17. My kids attended OLVC last year. They returned home excited about their faith. I attribute this to having a place where it is safe and encouraged to express your faith. My kids are mini-evangelizers now. They are better equipped to defend and promote their faith to their friends. While I am pleased the CAEDM has chosen to continue operating the camps for 2018, I worry about the long term sustainability of the camps. While efforts have been made to keep OLVC updated, the camp starting to show its age. Without a significant capital investment, the camps will eventually have to close due to aging infrastructure, building code issues, and safety.

    I attended St. Mary’s Camp as a boy. I would not say it strengthened my faith, so I was not too heartbroken to see it close. I feel the caliber and faith of the camp leaders today are greater than it once was. I would be willing to pay higher fees to have my kids attend camp, although I know this may not be true for everyone or families with a larger number of children. I feel OLVC is a tremendous value.

    I completed the survey, but it is quite obvious that the survey was not properly designed or tested. The questions appear quite random. Although I know this is the beginning of the consultation process, I am hopeful there will be more opportunities for engagement.

  18. If you want a camp to be financially viable it has to depend a lot on volunteers, government grants and donations. In the Lutheran Church, they place such a high value on their summer camp for children they have an annual Sunday appeal just for their camp. This is the church’s donation. If you want the camps to be humanly viable it has to depend on energetic, enthusiastic, and passionate volunteers on a board and beyond, who are empowered to move the system and facilities forward in their own fashion. This “bottom up” approach engenders an ownership, responsibility and pride at a grass roots level that creates community, camaraderie and resource base that cannot be replicated by a single person or small group of people overseeing them. May God Bless all of our work with youth and in this case especially Camp Encounter and Our Lady of Victory Camp as they search for a renewed commitment, passion, and Christ Like Vision.

  19. In order for the Catholic community to continue to stay strong you must invest in the future and that future is our children and grandchildren. There is not easy way to say it but just going to church is not going to bring children closer to God or into the Catholic Church. The camps are a way for youth to learn about God and what it is to be Catholic. They learn in an environment that is open with less restrictions, while singing, playing games, talking to their peers, and having fun.
    If not for these camps you would have not had a Priest like Father Michael ‘Catfish’ Mireau. His ability to reach young people was founded at Camp Encounter. His leadership began when he was offered the role of Spirit Director at the camp.
    The camps may need a reevaluation, maybe even an audited but closing there doors is not the solution. Let’s find a way to make it work!

  20. OLVC is the reason my kids not only have retained their faith but are committed to growing in faith and living their lives in a counter cultural way. When I compare their spiritual maturity to others of the same age who never had a chance to go to camp, they are much stronger and more aware of the issues facing them. I am willing to volunteer time, talent and treasure to ensure that OLVC does not close. I agree that closing it for 2 summers to perform surveys would be tantamount to closing it completely. This would be tragic for our province and our faith community.
    The investment needed to ensure the continuation of these camps will pay long term dividends spiritually and ensure a strong and healthy Catholic community in the future. I ask Our Lady of Victory to pray for us and to provide wisdom and guidance to those making these decisions.

  21. I have not been in touch with OLVC for close to 10 years. I spent many weeks during the summer cooking while my children attended camp. At the time, one of the drawbacks was that Team were not paid enough in order to continue on Team when the summer job determined how they would survive the following year in University even with student loans. When Brad took over as Director it was run well. I was looking into taking my grandson to OLVC last year, but was shocked to see how expensive the fee is. Also, from the comments above it sounds like cooks are now paid? Parent volunteers did the cooking. Also, why was the Board of Directors dissolved?
    The comments above are extremely valid— our youth need this camp to build their faith, form lasting relationships that continue into adulthood and gives them the knowledge and skills to evangelize and defend their faith. Perhaps the answer is in better administration.

  22. Of course summer camps for kids and youth are great things!!…but considering the actual economic reality of today and the cost of the camps….it makes it impossible for the majority of kids and youth of my parish to attend!

  23. Last summer (2017) I sent 2 of my kids to Camp Encounter. This was their first experience at camp. I warned them before they went that the lake was gross, that the camp did not have all the bells and whistles of other camps (horse back riding etc.) and that the facilities would not be like the posh city life they were used too. They reassured me they did not care. My idea of camp was not their idea of camp. When they came home from camp they were so excited and happy. For them camp was not about the ‘stuff’ or the ‘facilities’. It was about the ‘PEOPLE’ and the ‘CONNECTIONS’ they made! To this day my daughter asks weekly ‘can I go back to camp this summer?’ and my son was exposed to ‘cooking’ at camp and helps all the time with cooking and baking at home now. It exposed them to experiences they never had before but most importantly they were able to connect with ‘God’, nature, and with ‘People’ who share the same beliefs. I hope the camp continues for years to come so that more ‘Connections’ can be made in real life and not through an electronic device.

  24. I have just completed the survey, which left me wanting more opportunity for input. As a retired educator with a broad experience in working with youth of all ages, I believe experiences like these summer camps are extremely worthwhile in nurturing the faith and social life of our youth of today. I believe the consulting, planning and building for these programs should be done throughout the year, so all is ready to begin when school is out and our youth are desirous of engaging in fun and learning with their peers, counselors and staff at these summer camps. With the right investors, these camps can be revitalized to begin again. Closing them for a summer is not going to build them. Community building happens when people come together to dialogue about a project seeking new and creative ways to enliven what seems to have been something that has worked well throughout many years. Blessings for Hope in this project.

  25. Many, many years ago, I was a Catholic Camp client, a number of times in my youth – childhood and adolescence. Along with other Catholic environments – especially family and school/college – Catholic summer camps gave me the opportunity to live and to learn faith in a wider context than church/family/school. It gave me a sense of universality in the Faith and the Church and an experience of an all-encompassing God. As a Church we seem to be able to find monies for all kinds of needs that we tend to fill by funding offices and other bureaucratic structures, why couldn’t we find the means and ways of accompanying the “hands and feet” of children and youth in their walk with brothers, sisters and God in faith, by providing them opportunities to building fraternity with youngsters their own age as members of Church, and maintaining environments for them to touch Christ’s presence in his creation and in group living. Experiences lived in Catholic summer camping experiences usually go a long way in building belonging to the Christian Faith and to the Church, and in creating meaning and unity in one’s life, relationships and faith. I pray that our Church seeks and finds ways of enlarging the possibilities of Catholic summer camping experiences, rather than eliminate them even for one year.

  26. It’s clear from the comments that have been made that camps are a definite benefit to young Catholics. No doubt we need to look at the operations to make the camps more viable. But I have two questions that need to be addressed.

    The first is how can mimic the camp experience for the young people who are not able to attend the camps?

    The second is how does the camp experience fit into the overall youth strategy for the archdiocese? The time that is allotted for the camp review could easily include looking at these two questions.

  27. I have been a camper at OLVC since I was 9 and this will be my second year of counselling. Camp has changed not only has helped me make friends that I still have today it helped my faith. I learned to pray at camp and I always felt physically closer to god there. It helped me through some tough times and gave me a reason to want to come back every year it made my faith stronger than ever. I was shocked when I heard about what the bishop decided and I can’t imagine not going to camp every summer. I’ve been to other camps before but OLVC is by far my favourite and going every year helps me get closer and closer to god all the time. It gives me a reason to look forward to the summer and it’s a good escape from daily life.

  28. As a practicing Catholic and a father of four young children I have no doubts that the camps should continue uninterrupted. There are many reasons already listed above which I also fully support. Another is being serious about vocations in the Archdiocese. Children and youth must have these kind of opportunities to grow in faith and consider religious life.
    Two of my boys attended the camp for the first time last summer and cannot wait to go back this summer. It breaks my heart to hear that this experience to get closer to God and reinvigorate faith through close interaction with other Catholics will not be there any longer for them and not at all for my younger children.
    Lets think and plan how to expand these camps, not how to close them!
    Apparently many are willing to volunteer to help out, many, including our family, are also very willing to make significant financial donations.

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