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Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp celebrates 75 years

July 14, 2018

Since 1943, Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp has offered solace, spiritual growth and summer camp excitement on 250 acres along the west shore of Flathead Lake.

The camp is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, from its humble beginnings where campers arrived all the way from the Hi-Line and stayed in tents, to breaking ground in June on a new $626,000 cabin complex. The complex, funded through donations, will feature two cabins that sleep eight, bathrooms, shower facilities and a meeting room that accommodates 25 people in accordance to the Americans with Disabilities Act. A wheelchair accessible pathway from the complex will lead to the dining hall.

One of the camp’s early founders was The Rev. Amon Johnson of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Kalispell, according to Margie Fiedler, executive director of Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp.

“He was a young, energetic pastor. The congregation gave him time to visit all the Lutheran churches and get them involved,” said Fiedler, who is working on compiling the history of the campgrounds located 15 miles south of Kalispell at 550 Lutheran Camp Road in Lakeside.

According to a June 2008 Daily Inter Lake article, 66 Evangelical Lutheran Church of America congregations around Western Montana were involved in founding and constructing the camp.

People do not have to be Lutheran or belong to a church to participate in events at the campgrounds.

“It’s open to all ages, all people, all year round. We just want everyone to experience the wonderful outdoors,” Fiedler said. “The main thing I love about this camp is that no on is turned away because of their inability to pay.”

A recent focus has been expanding multi-day educational camp opportunities to schools throughout the year by hiring an environmental education specialist in spring 2017.

Summer ministry camps, however, remain the main attraction to budding explorers, adventurers, basketball players, gymnasts, horseback riders, singers, artists, ecologists and geologists.

For the past 25 years, one week of the summer is dedicated to the arts, evolving from the Northwest Choir Camp, to include art and drama. The music, art and drama camp, now known as “MAD Camp” is open to third through 12th graders.

Campers choose one core area to focus on and participate in common camping activities like hiking, swimming and canoeing in addition to prayer, worship and bible study.

Fiedler said she expanded the program based on a similar camp she organized in a previous position.

“We brought in kids who maybe didn’t like to sing, but liked art, and it really helped the program grow,” she said.

At 10 a.m. on July 11, campers assembled for their core activities. At a building dubbed the “art barn,” campers leaned over slabs of gray clay, etching designs into the soft surface with pointed sculpting tools. In a back area, 13-year-old Jeffrey Fields stood near a picnic table where rows of kiln-fired bowls that campers had thrown on pottery wheels waited to be glazed. Fields has been coming to Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp for about five years and MAD Camp for a few years.

“I’m really into art. It’s one of the things that keeps me going,” Fields said, adding that the feeling of community is what keeps him returning. “It’s really vibrant and enthusiastic.”

Faintly in the distance, the melodious voices of the senior choir could be heard coming from the dining hall where students were practicing for the week’s culminating performance of “Godspell Junior.” In a building adjacent to the dining hall, the joyous voices of the junior choir radiated.

Seated behind the piano, retired choir instructor Dinah Helgeson played as one of her grandchildren stood before the junior choir to sing a solo with two other campers.

Helgeson originally started the Northwest Choir Camp. It was a natural progression to add to her family’s history with the camp where she spent summer weeks as a child, developing a love of music. A camp where her father, Marcus Lindberg, helped clear the land and build cabins in 1946. Helgeson noted that a camp boat launch was named “Lindberg Landing,” in memory of her family.

What brings her back year after year is a passion for teaching music to youth in a welcoming environment where the lake and mountains serve as beautiful backdrop.

“You don’t have to be good to come. There’s no judging here. It’s very loving, safe and welcoming,” she said. “There’s an element of faith here, and it’s not just a camp. It’s not just a Bible camp. Just come and God will meet you here - whatever your higher power is. You are loved here.”

It’s not unusual for campers to eventually return as counselors, which is what Karrie Pepos, 19, did. Pepos is working as a counselor for the first time after having been a camper since third grade. Singing also is Pepos passion. She continues to sing in choir, various ensembles and take vocal lessons while studying elementary education at Rocky Mountain College.

One of her favorite camp songs is a piece titled “The Creed,” and written by Helgeson’s husband.

“It’s about what we believe as Christians. It was just very powerful. Each year it meant something slightly different to me as I got older,” Pepos said.

Pepos said returning as a camp counselor and watching the children sing with such enthusiasm makes her wonder if she had as much energy as a young camper.

“They can just sit there and sing and they’re singing with their whole hearts,” Pepos said. “They don’t have to think about it - just sing - and I think that’s so beautiful.”

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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