The Labour Day long weekend is traditionally a time for Uniting Church families to come together for the social justice family camp.
More than 80 participants gathered at Pallotti College country retreat last month as young people aged from four to 21 enjoyed a weekend of worship, interactive games and marshmallows with their families.
Cath James, one of the organisers, said there is always a strong sense of fellowship at the camp.
“It’s great to just talk to other families in similar positions and support each other in trying to live in a faithful way that is conscious of the world we live in, and trying to be just and ethical in doing that,” Cath said.
“My kids are like so many of the participants – they have friends at family camp they don’t have in a normal church context, so it’s a way of them feeling a sense of belonging in the church.
“The kids really look forward to being and worshipping together.”
The social justice family camp was initiated in 2011 by a group of Uniting Church parents. Many of them attended the youth ministry unit camps 20 years ago and wanted their children to experience the same sense of community they enjoyed growing up.
In previous years, the camps focused on a specific social justice issue such as the environment, peace or refugees. This year’s camp had a broader focus on how families can pursue social justice together.
Two special guests from America – Mark and Lisa Scandrette – joined the families to guide them on their reflection.
Mark and Lisa are co-founders of ReIMAGINE: A Center for Integral Christian Practice. The couple host retreats, workshops and projects to help people apply spiritual wisdom to their everyday life.
During the weekend, Mark and Lisa led group exercises on creating a thriving family culture that reflects the way of Jesus.
The children also reflected on the stories that shaped their lives. One example was The Hero’s Journey, a narrative framework popularised by Joseph Campbell.
In The Hero’s Journey, the protagonist embarks on an adventure and after overcoming adversity, returns home transformed. It forms the backbone of many iconic pop culture stories, including Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter books.
“All of them follow this basic pattern of storytelling and so we analysed that in our own lives and our faith journey,” Cath said.
In what has become an annual tradition, a group of budding filmmakers created a video that captured the camp’s theme.
This year, their video imagined what a family meeting would be like in the Trump household.
Cath said the US President has become something of an in-joke amongst the social justice family camp group ever since his election victory in 2016.
“Before Donald Trump became president, they made a film predicting that he would get in, so they thought it was kind of prophetic!” she explained.
“So there’s been a Donald Trump theme through each of the video stories since.”
For Cath, the most rewarding part of family camp is watching the children mature over the years.
“We’ve watched these kids grow up from when they were just entering high schools to now doing year 12,” she said.
“I had a really strong sense at this year’s camp of having watched the kids grow and thinking that I have had a part in a person’s life and in their development, which is lovely.”