Sunset at Camp Encounter on the shores of Lac La Nonne, 100 km northwest of Edmonton.

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Sunset at Camp Encounter on the shores of Lac La Nonne, 100 km northwest of Edmonton.

July 2, 2012
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Camp Encounter, a 100-acre property set on the eastern shores of Lac la Nonne, has been part of the Catholic scene for more than a century. The Church has been using it in various forms since 1901.

The area was mainly used for catechism classes and family camping up until the early 1960's. Through the 1960's and 70's the site deteriorated and was somewhat forgotten by the archdiocese.

However, a renewed interest in the site emerged with the formation in 1980 of the Camp Encounter Society, whose members decided that they were going to use the camp to offer young people a unique Christian experience in a natural setting.

Since then the camp has being offering outdoor, environmental and adventure experiences in a Catholic-Christian setting for children, youth and adults alike.

Program Director Daniel Filiatreault said most of those who spent time at the camp end up being transformed. As they grow into adults a lot of them join the helping professions. Even a couple of priests have been produced at the camp.

Daniel Filiatreault

Daniel Filiatreault

Now camp officials are organizing a ceremony July 3 to honour those who for the last 32 years have helped build Camp Encounter and given it leadership.

"We are trying to pay homage to the people who have been the hands and feet of Christ out here," says Filiatreault.

"We want to bring attention to the people who have built this camp up to what it is today and gave it its energy and life going forward for youth evangelization and catechesis."

Among those being honoured are two priests and four laypeople, including the family of the late Henry Kieser, who died recently. For more than 20 years Kieser was involved at the board of directors' level and as a volunteer.

"He was a really helpful guy," Filiatreault said. "He ended up doing a lot of things like building buildings and fixing things."

Kieser's two sons - David and Brent Kieser - also did a lot of volunteer work. Both served as camp directors at different points.

Filiatreault said the plan is to dedicate one of the camp buildings in Kieser's name. The building will be called Kieser's Family Cabin and it will be "a permanent kind of spiritual teaching place."

Activities at Camp Encounter range from the sublime to the silly.

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Activities at Camp Encounter range from the sublime to the silly.

Past director Doug Kramer will be honoured for having taken the camp in a positive direction during his eight-year tenure. He was instrumental in bringing the relational ministry model to the camp.

"He took it in a concrete direction and made some tough changes at the time; eight years later he was producing young people coming into adulthood that were just on fire and in love with God and wanted to make the world a better place," Filiatreault said.

"So he kind of really took it to the next level in terms of providing a Christ-like leadership out here."

Archbishop Richard Smith will also be present at the ceremony.

"He is basically going to be speaking to the kids that the camp serves and the people that have served the camp on his new youth evangelization and catechesis vision for the archdiocese," Filiatreault explained.

"It is a unique group of people that he can tap into and let them know what the vision is going forward into the future."

Filiatreault, 28, has been involved with Camp Encounter since he was eight years old. He started volunteering as soon as he was 14 and started working at the camp when he was 18. He was on the board of directors when he took time off to serve as program director for one season.

YEAR-ROUND

"We run year-round programs for kids ages eight to 18," he explained. "A lot of the year we spend time with different groups like schools. We put on retreats and programming for schools from Grades 5 to 12. There is something going on the whole year."

Camp Encounter offers facility rentals for groups and organizations, from Boy Scouts to scrapbooking clubs. During the school year, the camp caters to schoolchildren from about 45 schools.

SIX-DAY CAMPS

Parents bring their kids, ages eight to 15, to the camp in July and August for six-day camps.

The camp has served an estimated 90,000 people over the past three decades, primarily Catholic school students. It currently serves about 2,800 to 3,000 people a year.

During their stay, the youth go kayaking, play games, sing songs, go on treasure hunts and camp overnight in tepees on a 30-acre island. They swim in the lake, play capture the flag and celebrate Mass.

"One of our mottos is 'Christ, community and creation' and so a lot of what we do is we come out here and we live the Gospel on a daily basis," Filiatreault said.

"We are very mindful of the way we talk to each other, our habits, the way we lift each other up; we don't put anybody down, there are no negative attitudes."

RELATIONAL MINISTRY

At Camp Encounter, "we do things like Jesus did with his 12 disciples," the program director continued.

"It's a very relational ministry so we spend time with people, we get to know them, we hear where they are at in life and we lead them by example to Christ through our actions, though stories, through reflections."