Ethics & Christian living

Why I love Lee Abbey Camp

A couple of weeks ago I got back from eight days at Lee Abbey in Devon, helping to run a week of the Camp for 13-18 year olds.   For each week of the camp about 100 campers plus 40-odd leaders descend on a (normally) soggy field and form a community.  Simply put, it’s the best thing we do as a family.

Earlier in August, Christian camps came in for some criticisms in an Guardian article entitled Christian teen camps are wicked, innit.  It criticised Christian youth camps for two main reasons: 1) the tactics used at camps are manipulative and 2) the messages presented on the camps can be damaging to young people.  Of course some ardent secularists love to associate everything that Christians do with the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition and lots of the on-line responses reflected this.  Christian camps do need to be careful in how they are organised to avoid these dangers but I thought the accusations were pretty weak.  I wished that the journalist could have come to Lee Abbey and been a part of what we do.

But perhaps the interest of a national newspaper should be taken as evidence of the effectiveness of these Camps because the scale and vibrancy of such work is clearly rattling some cages.  Isn’t the Church supposed to be quietly dying?

Remember the bigger picture: nationally Churches now employ far more youth workers than local authorities, and often their work has an energy, a creativity, a volunteer base and a moral purpose that secular agencies envy. But the faith that these qualities are rooted in will never be truly understood or endorsed by secular commentators.

We have only been involved for a few years and many have been involved for far longer, but already it feels like the Camp is a fixture in our family’s year – that we are part of something vital and important.

Its because the Camp reflects the values that we aspire to and are passionate about.  An inclusive community which lives and learns together in a spirit of friendship, tolerance and openness.  A simplicity of living where there are no video games, no TV, DVDs and best of all no mobile signal so people actually talk rather than text and facebook.  It means that everyone gets a break from the hectic and complex lives that teenagers and adults live.  It allows vital space for thinking, contemplation and a better sense of perspective.  And, before I make it sound too heavy, the whole thing is surrounded by loads of fun, games, silliness and lots and lots of laughing.

And all these qualities don’t appear from nowhere: they are rooted in the faith and hope that comes from following Jesus.  This is what lies at the heart of the whole thing and has done since it started in 1947.  So this is why I love Lee Abbey Camp: inclusivity, simplicity and a great laugh- a little slice of what the world is waiting for.

14 thoughts on “Why I love Lee Abbey Camp”

  1. I love it too – very very much. I became a Christian there in August 1973 aged 15 : the Lord I met and gave my life to that fortnight and that evening have influenced the whole of the rest of my life. I went back as a Camper twice more in ’74 and ’75 and then, having lived on the LA Community from ’77-’78, I was on Camp Team in ( I think it was ) ’81, ’82, and ’83 with the girl who became my wife. The whole place is very special, even as it changes over the decades, and yet still holds to its original vision. I especially love the idea that there is no mobile signal there and the spontenaity that must allow. My youngest son Felix might need to get booked in there in a few years’ time …
    Richard Heald


  2. Hmmm… not entirely sure about that. I do think there was something a little manipulative about aspects of Lee Abbey camp.

    Taizé this summer made me see the good side of L.A. camp and also the bad – it shared its space for reflection, simplicity of living, the welcome, the silliness, and yet also the sense of true piety and devotion that I very rarely see elsewhere. (That such silliness could grow across languages It had a view of Christianity closer to the “red” side of the chart than the “blue,” to use your analogy, whatever the pros and cons of that – a Christianity more rooted in relationship than fact. But at the same time there wasn’t the same pressure to conform to the opinions of the maker of the materials in Bible Studies and other discussions and whilst people on community there were quite frank about their views and happy to discuss them, I felt that in Taizé there was less of a sense of judgement from disagreeing with the powers that were, whereas in L.A. camp there was a pressing feeling that there was very definitely a party line to toe, especially on issues of human sexuality.

    The other noticeable difference was that L.A. camp had a lot of people who had variously been asked or made to go by their parents, and I felt that a lot of them had felt as though they ought to feign a sort of conversion experience to please their parents. I was never very comfortable with the evening worship, which always felt very melodramatic and emotional. The worship and testimonies felt very commercial, almost like some sort of advertisment. I told my brother about this, who said that he felt that for some people they required that sort of thing so it was okay to trick them because they were “stupid” – and you know my brother better than I do probably, but I don’t feel the end necessarily justifies the means, almost like lying to children about Santa Claus. (Also little things I think manipulated the atomsphere too, like the omnipresent caffeine and orange squash.)


  3. Hi George – thanks for your comments. I was reflecting on what you wrote and how much of it I agreed with and also how much could be changed by the way LA camp is led. We want to avoid any manipulation – there is enough of that out there in everyday life as it is – advertising, peer pressure and all kinds of cynical manipulations without ‘Christianity’ adding more. Also we know people are vulnerable being away from home and we want to be as open as possible with everyone about what they are coming to.

    But there is a thin line to walk because the camp is about sharing the best thing we have – about a liberating faith in Jesus which can be celebrated and lived out in real ways. We try and make sure the worship does not slide into the melodramatic – but of course sung worship does and should involve deep feelings – we are singing about deep and significant things and there are some emotions which we should not too scared of.

    Also whenever you get groups of young people together there will be emotions and I think we try and manage these as sensibly as possible. Taize sounds great – but I do think LA has a very wide range of views – among both leaders and campers and I hope we never squash differences. It is tricky to get a balance sometimes between being clear and being open. Inclusivity often depends on being clear about what what you are committed to. It has been a clear faith in Christ that has meant the camp has run since 1947. Christian churches, camps and groups can be often be criticised both ways – being too rigid on one side and on the other being too wishy-washy. It can be a hard line to walk and one the camp wants to get as right as we can.

    Anyway – thanks for your thoughts and for reading the other bits of the blog. Did the silos diagram make sense to you from your experience?


    1. Perhaps I accentuated the negatives a bit too much in my original post. I saw a lot of good in L.A. camp, especially the older camp. Likewise a camp targeted at secondary-school age children can never be the compared to one targeted at 17-29 year-olds, simply because camp leaders have to restrict the guests so much more, and I think had I started going at 13 or so I wouldn’t have been so bothered about it.

      L.A. camp made me less antagonistic about the “blue” side of the chart because I had real meaningful relations with people who grew up in that environment. It also challenged some of my preconceptions about evangelicalism, especially that its excessive concern with sexual sin, body image and other matters at the expense of corporate sinfulness was individualistic and commercial, that it was uniformly “noisy” without space for reflection and personal prayer – like several people I know, I first met the daily office at Lee Abbey – and that it had no concern for culture or aesthetic sense. Unfortunately, it’s something I haven’t really seen before or since in evangelicalism.

      Reading the post about the silos diagram articulated a lot of what I thought inwardly but had never heard expressed, much like reading Mere Christianity – another thing I have LA camp to thank me for introducing me to.

      Unlike you, we grew up very firmly on the “red” side of the chart. I think there are probably a lot of people on the “red” side who wouldn’t necessarily call themselves “liberal,” and certainly who would respect the existence of absolute truth and traditional Christian orthodoxy. Perhaps a minor omission was the centrality of relationships with God and neighbour to the red side of the chart. The corporate nature of the “red” theology springs from that, I think. I think the word “Presence” is perhaps a bit more passive than what is meant – an active demonstration of faith.


    2. I do try to bridge the gap between “red” and “blue” in my life – I know people well through both C.U. and chapel, but it’s grinding to do it from day to day and sometimes you have to be firm about what you do believe.


  4. Jon
    Delighted to read your blog on Lee Abbey. I spent many weeks of my late teenage years at the Camp, both as a camper and as a leader. My wife and I then considered carefully whether we would take our family but decided not to. But so pleased to read how it has become your regular fixture of the summer. Great memories, lots of fun, refreshing simple, one of the places that seems to attract the prescence of God. Simon Allen


  5. I myself love Lee Abbey. I became a Christian there in 2010 and it most deffinately wan’t a fake conversion to please my parents. I feel camp in itself is an amazing thing. The only thing that I have a problem with is that those of us that haven’t yet found a church to settle down in (not through want of trying, but I move around alot. I’m in my 11th house and 3rd country in 6 years) can feel somewhat abandoned after camp. It’d be great if there was more of a support system all year round, rather than just for 1/26th of the year.

    However, this is not an insult to camp, but infact a true singing of it’s praises, I love it so much I want more. It’s the only place in the world where I’ve felt like ‘myself’ and been comfortuble enough to deal with some of the darker of life’s experiences. I feel this may be what George was on about. Epilogue IS intense and it IS emotional, but I feel rightfully so. Not that I’m willing to share here, but I have experienced things that nobody should ever have to face and I have heard from other campers that they have horrors in their own lives. Many people bottle these up all year and then overflow at camp. Sometimes a few weeks back in to normal life I ponder what people from Lee Abbey must think of me. In ‘reality’ I am responsible, I am together and I am strong, or at least I give that apearance. Where as my ‘Lee Abbey’ self often has more mood swings than a pregnant lady and is such an emotional wreck that I’m suprised they’ve not locked me up yet.

    Anyway…I’ve lost my track. But in summary, Lee Abbey is one of God’s best gifts to the world.


    1. I have been to Lee abbey camp l, week 1 for the past 4 years. I am sadly too old for it now😥 it has helped me with my faith and I am now closer to god!! The leaders and other campers have accepted the fact that I have autism spectrum disorder and have made me feel welcome.


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