Cascades Camp and Conference Center: A Century of Covenant Camps in the Pacific Northwest
Cascades Camp and Conference Center: A Century of Covenant Camps in the Pacific Northwest, Bryce Nelson and Bonnie Nelson, 2018, cascades.org/about-cascades/history-book.
The Covenant camps of the Pacific Northwest nurtured my faith. Week after week, summer after summer, the counselors at Sambica encouraged me to accept Jesus into my heart, even though I already believed. The Gospel warmed my heart at Covenant Beach. First Covenant Church in Seattle had great winter retreats at Circle C Ranch. I felt a call into ministry while serving as a counselor at Cascades Camp. I knew I was a part of a larger story. I just didn’t know all the essential plot points.
Bryce and Bonnie Nelson faithfully tell the whole story in their book, Cascades Camp and Conference Center: A Century of Covenant Camps in the Pacific Northwest. This is a wonderful book for anyone who ever went to church camp. It is a particular treat for people with fond memories of Lake Sammamish, the Beach, Circle C, Driftwood Point, and, of course, Cascades. You might just find some old camp friends in the many colorful photos.
The book is primarily about the three decades of Cascades Camp and Conference Center. The story of Cascades is inseparable from the camps that preceded it. In the words of Jim Sundholm, “We are all standing on someone else’s shoulders.” Bryce and Bonnie Nelson help us pay attention to the broad shoulders that support the ongoing mission at Cascades Camp.
The Nelsons helpfully answered my childhood question: “What happened with Sambica?” Even as a kid, I had a vague awareness that Sambica was once affiliated with my home congregation, First Covenant Church in Seattle. I was surprised to learn that camp on Lake Sammamish was the first Mission Friends camp in the United States. Bryce and Bonnie explain that the Swedish revivalists in Seattle literally split into two camps. The fundamentalists preferred the camp at Lake Sammamish. The Mission Friends preferred Covenant Beach. Sambica chose independence while Covenant Beach became the meeting ground for Covenanters. As I reflect on my time at both camps in the 1970s and ‘80s, it seems clear that the legacies of fundamentalism and warm-hearted Pietism continued to shape the cultures of Sambica and Covenant Beach.
Bryce and Bonnie also explain the complicated story of how the Pacific Northwest Conference ended up with three camps. Covenant Beach came first, but the city of Des Moines and SeaTac Airport grew up around it. Circle C Ranch came next, but it always struggled accessing water and money. Driftwood Point seemed like a potential successor to both camps, but the cost of the project actually accelerated the need to sell all three properties. Covenant Beach felt like my spiritual home. I was heartbroken when my favorite camp closed. The Nelsons helpfully remind us why it was necessary to get a fresh start.
The history of Cascades is ultimately a spiritual story. It’s a miracle they found the property. It’s a miracle that the Roman Catholic diocese had previously talked the Weyerhaeuser Company into cutting the price of the property in half. It’s a miracle that city and state leaders were able to quickly purchase Covenant Beach and then turn it into a lovely park. In those first few years, it
was a miracle that everyone got fed three times a day. As Camp Director Tom Moline put it in the 1990s, “Greetings from the Cascades Miracle Zone. God continues to bless and lead us in extraordinary ways. We rejoice in his goodness.”
As I write this book review, two of my three kids are at Cascades Camp for the annual junior high Thunder Retreat. Camp Director Rob Mohrweis just posted on Facebook that there are 475 middle school students at camp for the weekend. Someone else posted that this is the biggest Thunder Retreat in camp history. These children are standing on someone else’s shoulders. A few have family history with the old camps. Most have never heard of the old camps. They all get to hear the same Good News of Jesus Christ that warms hearts in a strange and powerful way.
Buy the book. It is more than just a sentimental glance backwards. The history of the camps in the Pacific Northwest Conference should remind many of us of how important camp was in our own spiritual development. It should also motivate us to pray for camp, to send kids to camp, to attend family camp, and even give money to camp. May God bless the second century of Covenant camps in the Pacific Northwest.