Hillside Church Holds Alaska-Style Campout

November 13, 2014 | Doug Becker

For more than a decade, the Hillside Church in Anchorage has held weekend campouts in both summer and winter. The experience offers an opportunity for members, families and friends to gather in a relaxed outdoor setting. These campouts provide participants a unique forum to forge lifelong friendships. “Sabbath clothes” are traded for casual camping attire, worship songs are accompanied by guitars and harmonicas, and the structure of a traditional church service from the pulpit gives way to informal meetings around a fire pit.

Usually held in June or early July, the venue for 2014’s summer event could not be secured until the weekend after Labor Day. Being held so late in the year, some of the campers expressed apprehension about the weather and the potential for chilly nighttime temperatures. Organizers promised there would be plenty of firewood on hand to help keep everyone warm. 

As the day approached, weather forecasts predicted 70 percent chance of rain throughout the weekend. Worse than the prospect of camping in the cold is being cold and wet for three days. The call to bring extra poly-tarps and rain gear was sounded.

Despite the bleak weather predictions, more than 70 hardy campers ranging in age from toddlers to octogenarians, and almost as many pet dogs, were in attendance. In addition to a lively, spirit-renewing weekend of adventures in a peaceful outdoor environment, their presence was rewarded by clear, warm weather the entire time.

Always fun and eventful, this year was exceptional. Celebrating their 59th wedding anniversary, Clarence and Margret Merritt traveled from Tennessee for a third time to camp with this group.

Also in attendance was a young man named Aaron who had just been released the previous day from a local correctional facility after serving a two-year sentence. He gave a powerful and moving testimony about his contact with the church members while he was in prison and praised the positive influence they had in his life. He has since become the first resident of a six-bed halfway house sponsored exclusively by church members.

Whether afternoon Sabbath hikes or full weekend getaways, the addition of a nontraditional setting for members to meet outside a conventional system of worship is all but guaranteed to provide occasions for memories that will never be forgotten.