Our first two years at BelPres, my husband and I crossed paths with people often, but there was little time to connect with anyone. Week after week, we saw the same parents waiting to pick up kids, but we didn’t know their names. In the midst of our busy lives, Sunday mornings seemed like another commitment to complete before we rushed home for baby’s nap, preparation for the week, or the next event.
For us, this was not how we wanted to engage with our church. We have a vision for our family to be in a close community of other families at BelPres. We want to share our lives with a circle of friends who share our values. Friends to confide in, laugh with, discuss life – good and bad. We want friends who will speak into our kids’ lives, and trust us to be a part of their kids’ lives. Who will help us to create the kind of community found in 1 Thessalonians 2:8 where we share our lives together. As we look to the future, we hope that this community will be where our kids build relationships, ask questions, and grow into healthy adults. Developing these kinds of relationships takes time and intentionality.
Three years ago, at the BelPres Women’s Retreat, I connected with Denise Kuyper, who shared this vision of community, and we decided to make it happen. We put together an informal family retreat, with the goal of creating space for families to spend quality time together, get to know other families, and set aside work, activities, electronics and the other noise of our daily lives. There would be very little programming and lots of time shared together, a jump-start on our goal of community. The first year, about 10 families joined us for the retreat. We talked, we laughed, we chased the kids around, hiked, boated, and played games indoors while it rained. We encountered Jesus’ love in quality and quantity time with our families and friends. Everyone agreed it was a fabulous weekend, and we all got to know some new friends while enjoying time with our families. Back at BelPres the following week, I felt the change immediately. We were at the family ministries annual ice cream social where I looked around the playground and realized I now knew at least half the families there. My kids were running around chasing and being chased by other kids, and they knew each other’s names. I thought, “Wow, this is exactly what we were hoping for.”
Last year, with support from the BelPres family ministries team, we decided to join the Cascades Family Camp weekend. This offered more structure for those who wanted it, with some worship times and lots of activities available. The BelPres families stayed together in the same lodge, so we could find and connect with each other. We ate our meals together, we learned each other’s names, and we enjoyed activities together. Everyone was entertained when my husband fell into the lake trying to race backwards in a rowboat! The camp offered just what we needed to continue building our BelPres community; a place to be together, get to know each other, and worship God together. My kids have been talking about family camp all year and they are already anticipating the new friends they are going to meet next time.
Sunday mornings often still feel a bit rushed. However, now when we see friends, we can dive right into conversation instead of hanging back because we can’t remember their names. We have found ourselves identifying new families and reaching out to them, since we know the value of connecting. Beyond Sunday mornings, we now engage in family small groups, our kids have made friends that they look forward to seeing regularly, and we continue to spend time with the families that we’ve gotten to know. These families have become an important part of our support system as well. Last summer, we welcomed a new baby and lost a parent within a period of a few weeks. It was a chaotic time in our home and several of our BelPres friends reached out to support us by taking our older kids to play, bringing meals, and even helping with small household chores. We felt so blessed and incredibly grateful to these dear friends and we look forward to the opportunity to pass on that love and care when someone else is in need.
This year, we are going back to Cascades Camp over Labor Day weekend, September 2-5. We have plans for BelPres families to connect even more throughout the weekend. We believe that faith, raising kids, quality of life and work, are all made better in community with others who love Jesus. The Family Camp Weekend is a wonderful place to build your community. Join us this year. We are looking forward to seeing you!