Building off the success of their inaugural year, Pride Camp is preparing for its second annual retreat at Camp Mimanagish on July 10 through July 14.
Located 40 miles south of Big Timber along the Boulder River, the camp is a ministry of the Montana-Northern Wyoming Conference of the United Church of Christ.
The camp’s goal is to bring together individuals, families, children, couples, or any combination of those who identify as LGBTQ+, through a camp experience that is accepting and supported by local churches and groups.
Like last year’s camp, the retreat is expected to feature a variety of activities such as hiking, music, group discussions and prayers, arts, crafts, and games.
New additions to the camp will include access for youth and family of the attendees along with reducing the duration of the camp from five days to three. This was done to make the camp more accessible for people’s summer schedules. The camp is also looking to feature a rabbi and Native spirit healer to speak with attendees.
As the first and only LGBTQ+ camp in Montana, Pride Camp was started by youths involved in local UCC programs who believed the church should work to help LGBTQ+ individuals form their own community. Pride Camp Chaplain and United Congregation of Christ Missoula Minister Laura Folkwein noted that, despite the camp’s ties with a Christian church, the camp is focused on being welcoming and inclusive to everyone.
“The main goal is to provide affirmation and support to the LGBTQ+ community so that they can develop a stronger sense of confidence, ownership in identity, and spirituality,” Folkwein said.
Most attendees ultimately came away from last year’s camp with a new attitude about the churches and themselves. Program Director Bobbie Zenker explained that many campers had trust issues towards local religious institutions that had only marginalized them previously.
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“Being told that you’re an abomination or that God doesn’t love you for your entire life can leave some deep wounds and build up walls,” Zenker said. “And it hurts to break down those walls. There were a lot of tears last year.”
The experience was ultimately a positive one that resulted in new friendships forged through sharing stories and experiences in the spiritual atmosphere of Camp Mimanagish, itself a new community.
“I was really moved by the bonds and relationships that were formed through last year’s camp,” Folkwein said. “Most of us were strangers when we first got there. But a lot of us have kept in touch since then and are returning this year.”
In addition to Billings UCC churches First Congregational Church and Mayflower Congregational Church being involved with the camp like last year, the churches have reached out for support and involvement to other Montana LGBTQ+ groups, such as Missoula’s The Center, Rainbow Coffeehouse of Billings, and the Great Falls LGBTQ+ Center.
The camp includes dorm-style sleeping cabins along with bathhouses and a dining hall. People can register at Camp Mimanagish’s website, https://www.mimanagish.org/. The cost is $300 for each individual, and scholarships available to those who qualify.
Due to the expenses required for camp upkeep, this year’s camp may be the last one at Camp Mimanagish. A vote will be held at the camp to decide if it will remain there or move to a new location.
The camp's leaders are certain that the camp will continue, one way or another.
“We feel like we just figured out how to do it last year,” Zenker said of running the camp. “We hope that we can continue it in the future.”