Lutherans in Minnesota

The ARC retreat center changes with the times

Photos provided by ARC

The traditional image of church camps with kids and canoes has been changing over the years. While many people may picture in their minds their own experience of spending a week of their summer break singing around a campfire and jumping off a floating platform into beautiful clear water, camps themselves have needed to expand their offerings in order to survive.

Sure, those summer experiences of reading the Bible and walking in the woods still happen. But the camps themselves are more complex now. And, a good marketing plan for year-round usage is important to the survival of some of the camps.

“The economy has obviously had an effect on us,” explained Jim Fisk, director of development and marketing at the Association Retreat Center (ARC), in Osceola , Wisconsin. “But it has actually been a mixed bag.

“While some groups have cut down their size or the number of retreats for their organization,” explained Fisk, “we have picked up some groups that have mentioned that the price of gas causes them to stay closer to home than their traditional sites further north.”

The ARC Bible Camp and Retreat Center, an AFLC- related camping ministry in Osceola, Wisconsin, is a four-season camp, with activities like snow-tubing (upper left; going clockwise), volleyball courts, a year-round gymnasium, and a water slide. The camp is available for retreats by church and other groups throughout the year.

Lutheran camps — they’re not just for Lutherans anymore

Fisk noted other changes in the camp scene at ARC, a camp related to the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations (AFLC), with headquarters in Plymouth, Minnesota. “The AFLC purchased the grounds in 1979 with the goal of establishing a Bible camp and retreat center.”

The camp had served as a radar base for the Air Force from 1950 to 1975, when it was closed.

The ARC hosts a variety of faith-based and nonfaith-based groups. Churches, schools, recovery groups, cross-cultural organizations, and craft circles use the ARC as a safe, nurturing environment. More than 200 groups, amounting to nearly 12,000 people, retreat at the ARC each year.

Most groups are not Lutheran. “If you consider all of our business now,” Fisk explained, “only about 10 percent are Lutheran. The rest are a variety of church and secular groups.

“The range of participating faith-based organizations is from a Reformed Mormon group to a Coptic Christian church to charismatic congregations,” said Fisk. “We also have encounter groups that have led a number of participants to making a new decision for Christ.

“In fact, there was a Korean Presbyterian congregation that brought 37 people to a retreat here, and the pastor said he felt a special presence of the [Holy] Spirit. Seventeen of them accepted Christ as their savior, and there were five healings,” said Fisk. “And the pastor told me that they aren’t even a charismatic church.”

Fisk also noted that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of multicultural groups at the ARC, including Hmong and Latino communities.

Fisk believes the ARC’s proximity to the Twin Cities — only 45 minutes away — and the St. Croix River Valley attractions add to the ARC’s allure.

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