Camp Friedenswald was founded in 1949 by Mennonites from the Central Conference and Middle District in order to provide a place for young adults in their churches to retreat and renew their Christian faith commitments. In an article titled “Why a Retreat Ground of Our own,” Rev. R.L. Hartzler claimed:
“We are markedly deficient in the nurture and enlistment of our young people during the period from the intermediate to adult stages … The retreat cannot be presumed to offer the full answer to this problem, but it has its own distinct and significant contribution to make. The testimony over and over of those who have had retreat experiences is that there is a unique and potent spiritual impact in such a time of getting away from the usual routine and spending a period in meditation and in fellowship with other inquiring and aspiring spirits, listening to the voice of Him who still calls, ‘Take up thy cross, and follow me…”
Prior to purchasing the original forty acres on Shavehead Lake, youth in the conferences attended week-long “camps” at Camp Mack in northern Indiana. As the vision for camping ministry gained momentum within the churches, it was decided that “We should accordingly have our program of Christian teaching and nurture so planned and geared that it will be taken for granted that so far as possible every boy and girl in our Sunday Schools during their teenage years will annually attend a retreat designed to meet their needs at the respective age levels. For this we must have a retreat ground of our own.”
In 1950 the first cabins were built. That same year twelve cabins and two bathhouses were built. In June of 1951 the first summer camp was held at Camp Friedenswald. During that summer, Cabin 7 served as the dining hall and kitchen. Campers ate under a tarp off of Cabin 7 and when it rained they lifted their feet to allow the water to run down the hill.
While Camp Friedenswald continued to serve as a place for faith and life formation to youth and young adults, new programs and outreach initiatives gained momentum from the 1960’s onward. New programs included family camps, outpost camps in tree houses, trip camps, winter retreats for high school youth, and parent/child retreats. The program expansion also included reaching out to the surrounding community. A camp aimed at the local community children began and Camp also was used by local elementary schools for outdoor education programs, which continue today. Throughout the course of the fall and spring, local school children experience overnight trips to the peaceful woods where they participate in activities like canoeing, archery, nature hikes and campfires. For many children, their time at Camp Friedenswald is a highlight of their elementary school experience!
In addition to offering quality programming to schools, youth, and families, Camp Friedenswald also serves a wider constituency, offering hospitality to groups such as Lakeshore Band (Stevensville, MI), who has been coming to the peaceful woods for marching band camp for over fifty years. Providing hospitality and retreat space for groups from diverse and varying backgrounds has been an important part of Camp’s ministry for many years. Each year, over 15,000 people pass through the peaceful woods and it is our hope that while they are here that they find the space to retreat, renew and reconnect. In addition to offering a “cabin” experience, Camp now provides contained “lodge” experiences for churches, businesses, families and friends who desire an opportunity to design their own retreat experience.
Since the original forty acres were purchased (for $3,500) in 1949, Camp Friedenswald has acquired – through purchase and donation – a total of 365 acres. This additional land has included two rare Prairie Fen wetlands (of which one is home to the endangered Mitchell’s satyr butterfly), old growth forests and a Red Oak Preserve, natural springs, over 2000 feet of waterfront property along Shavehead Lake, ravines, meadows, beautiful wooded forests. While the original founders of Camp Friedenswald knew they selected a beautiful location for the new retreat center, little did they know what a marvelous display of God’s creation they selected! Today, with the help of committed volunteers, Camp Friedenswald seeks to be good stewards of the land, water and species by seeking to restore the variety of habitats found on the property to their “original” state.
Truly God has been at work in the ministry of Camp Friedenswald during its rich 65+ year history! Camp Friedenswald has been shaped by those who have provided support through prayer, volunteering time and energy, and financial gifts. From the very beginning, Camp Friedenswald has been blessed by a committed constituency (link to Builder’s Association) who believe in the power of a retreat experience to provide valuable faith-forming experiences in Christian community.