Church of True Light: “Church Camp” or “Church Retreat”

Where did the term “church camp” originate? In USA in the 1880’s where summer camps were organised for boys who grew up in the cities and parents wanted them to toughen up and reconnect them with nature. The camps ran for a few months.  The first camp to introduce spiritual growth was done by the YMCA with outdoor religious services on Sundays for the boys. In the 1930s the American Bible Society funded church camps. In the 1940s and 1950s church camps began to spring up in all the denominational churches, becoming shorter and packed with spiritual input and more organised. It impacted many youths with the gospel and revived the church members. The Singapore Church is very much influenced by the US church, so we too use the term “church camp”, to describe the few days of programmed spiritual input usually in a hotel or conference grounds, with the intention of reviving and strengthening the faith of believers, young and old.

In my recent engagement with the Church of True Light as the guest preacher in a “church camp” I had an interesting chat with their Vicar, Canon Barry Leong. The interesting thing was that Barry was insistent on eradicating the use of the term “church camp” among members. “Its “church retreat” not “church camp””! The schedule reflected his strong views about changing terms to reflect a change in purpose, spirit and schedule that he advocated. He advocated a schedule with a better balance of bonding among members, Bible teachings, and time for leisure and rest (see below).

This was what the schedule was like: on the first day, everyone got to the hotel, settled in, and at 8 pm attended a short briefing and prayer. No Bible teaching. On the second and third days, they could sleep in if they wished, because the spiritual input of worship and teaching was from 10am to 12noon. They could have a leisurely breakfast and catch up with church friends or get to know other church members. After the morning spiritual input, they had a leisurely lunch and a free and easy afternoon, followed by a leisurely dinner. The night spiritual input was from 8pm to 10pm. On the last morning, the same time schedule was followed but the spiritual input was worship, thanksgiving, holy communion, and a final lunch before everyone goes back.

I had preached in their “church camps” before and I have seen an evolution of their camp programmes. The first time I preached in their church camp: two Bible teaching sessions in the morning, one workshop in the afternoon, one Bible teaching session in the night. This was the programme each day. I almost died. They too almost died from listening to me. The second time I took the “church camp” it got better: there were no afternoon workshops. The third time I spoke for them in a church camp it was already better: one session in the morning and one at night. I thought it would not get any better. This time round, I felt it had a very good balance. Good at getting the best out of the invited preacher, even better for stressed Singaporean church members who came to the “church camp” to “come away to a desolate place by yourselves to rest”. 

If the name was changed from “church camp” to “church retreat” without any change in purpose, spirit and schedule, it would be mere cosmetic spin, words without action, and futile change for projecting a new image that meant nothing.

Anyway, enough about this. I enjoyed teaching in this recent church retreat because the theme is dear to my heart, one that I believe the Singapore church badly needs. It was also a joy because the people were responsive and I have gotten to know this congregation over a few decades of on and off teaching ministry to them. The anointing was present in all the meetings.

I noticed that the pastoral team had a good gift mix and oneness about them. I was happy to meet up with former WRPF church member, Jude, and his wife, Kaining, both of whom now are in the pastoral team. I believe they are in a place where they can develop, thrive and blossom. I met them over a breakfast and was very happy for them.

I was also blessed by the helpfulness of Rev Aaron and Jennifer Cheng (above) and Pastor Matthew and Susan (below) and Gasper for transportation arrangements. The church retreat is certainly a June ministry highlight for me personally. Not to forget, one of the members sponsored a truckload of durians for the members to enjoy during one of the afternoons at the outdoor hotel carpark.

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