Suttle Lake Teaches Creation Care from its Roots

August 22, 2018

Reflections on the Seven Foundations for Camp & Retreat Ministries

Foundation 5: Teaching Creation Care and Appreciation

by Jane Petke, Director of Suttle Lake Camp

Nestled on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains, Suttle Lake Camp is a special place where the vivid green of Western Oregon mingles with the sunny beauty of the eastern part of the state.  Located in the Deschutes National Forest, it is cradled between three wilderness areas in the heart of the Metolius Recreation Area.  Suttle Lake is a natural place to explore God’s creation and experience Christ’s love in a caring community.  This has been true for many years.

The camp has its roots with the Epworth League Institute.   In the winter of 1921 a group of young people of the Prineville, Redmond, Bend, and Madras Methodist churches met for a business meeting in Redmond to consider the possibility of starting an Institute (a summer Christian educational program for youth).  In the summer of 1922 the first Institute was held at Suttle Lake.  The group camped by the lake shore at the point where Lake Creek flows from Suttle Lake.  They clearly had chosen this place for its natural beauty, as stated in early advertising for this event:

Suttle Lake is situated in the heart of the Cascade Mountains, just east of the crest of the range, mid-way between the North Sister Peak and the head of the Metolius River.  Here is a charming spot, surrounded by forests of pine and fir, guarded by towering, snow-clad mountain peaks, in the neighborhood of many other beautiful lakes and of rivers that spring full grown from the earth.  Here is an ideal place indeed for a week of inspiration, recreation, and vacation. 

The registration fee was one dollar.  This first Institute boasted opportunities to fish, climb mountains, hike, and bathe in the pleasant waters of Suttle Lake.  The brochure also promised “a delightful combination of earnest, interesting study and jolly healthful play”.  As it continues to describe the program for this event, it becomes clear that not only were the recreational opportunities connected with nature, but also the theological lessons.  The theme for the event was It Will Be Moonlight and campfires were described in this way, “as the stars come out over the quiet of the mountains, listen to an earnest message from the lips of one who visions God in life and in nature …

This vision of God in nature has continued to be an important part of the experience here at Suttle Lake.  During an interview with two sisters that camped at Suttle Lake in the early nineteen twenties, Helen Larson Hofhines and Ethel Larson Jones, they described to Rev. Tim Stover some of the elements of camp that they remembered:

Three crosses were erected by the campers from Astoria at the summit of one of the surrounding hills.  This place was called the Chapel of the Crosses and it became the site of communion services as well as morning watch and individual meditation.  Campers decorated the area with mosses from the surrounding woods, some of which were phosphorescent.

Hortense Foster wrote memories of being a camper in the forties and then a counselor in the sixties.  He described this enduring tradition:

The most inspirational event in my mind of these two camps was the trek up the hill of the camp to take communion.  The campers prepared the path and the communion area with music from a quartette en route.  The beauty of the stars, the smell of the trees, the campfire glowing in the area, and the quietness of returning from the sacred moment in silence was most impressive for me and the campers.

The camp area was well loved and well trodden.  Pictures of the camp from the fifties and sixties show well packed dirt in the majority of the main camp.  In the late seventies Bob Cagle, camp director, established the use of split rail fencing to limit footpaths and vehicles on-site and involve participants in reestablishing natural re-vegetation areas.  While no longer viewed as re-vegetation areas, these natural islands of trees and plants grace the camp and guide foot traffic to minimize further impact in the forest.

Suttle Lake Camp continues to provide sacred space where campers can commune with nature, and God the creator.  A space apart is provided for exploration and discovery.  And through the change of setting, and entry into Christian community campers also learn about relationships: with God, each other, and all of creation.  They are given an opportunity to experience creation within a community that respects the holiness found in nature.  Together campers learn about and care for God’s creation as they explore these relationships.  Campers are invited into stewardship practices like recycling, composting, and mindful use of lights and heat.  Along hikes campers learn about the plants and animals that call the Cascades home, and simple ways they can help respect the natural environment like picking up trash and staying on trails. Through experience and scripture, campers experience the divine in nature and our inter-relationship with God’s creation.

Thank YOU for being a part of it with us!



© 2014 Camp and Retreat Ministries:

A partnership between The Oregon-Idaho Conference of The United Methodist Church
and The Episcopal Diocese of Oregon