“The greatest event that has ever occurred in the world since the resurrection of the Son of God from the tomb, and his ascension on high, was the coming of the Father and of the Son to that boy Joseph Smith, to prepare the way for the laying of the foundation of [God’s] kingdom—not the kingdom of man—never more to cease nor to be overturned.” – President Joseph F. Smith

When ward councils convene to calendar the year’s activities, many make sure they have a “Trunk or Treat” for the Primary kids in October, and a Valentine dance or dinner for adults in February.  Sometimes there’s a Fourth of July Pancake Breakfast, and of course it all culminates with a Christmas party in December.

And then something interesting happens.  Someone brings up the annual Father & Son Campout in May.  I know I’m the last person who should weigh in on the Father & Son Campout, since I am neither a father nor a son, but I want to share some thoughts about it.

My first thought is to ask if maybe we are forgetting that we are celebrating the biggest, most awesome event, save the resurrection only, in the history of the world?  We all know that, but what I’m asking is this: Is a campout truly the best way to commemorate an event of that magnitude?  In light of recent counsel to consider “good, better, and best,” is this really “best”?

People who know me hasten to point out that I’m not a huge fan of camping in the first place.  But it’s not from lack of experience.  I grew up with a dad who took me camping/hiking/fly fishing all the time, including a survival trek to the Moab, Utah area that he headed up for a bunch of educators, and was Roughing It Plus.  (When I was a Girls’ Camp director, the consensus was that I had never done this before and was a newbie to the woods, but not so.)   Introducing your children to the great outdoors will appeal more to some than to others.  It doesn’t make either side “wrong”; it’s just another preference, like chocolate over vanilla.

And I do get it.  I can understand why lots of folks enjoy camping.  The fresh air, the stars, etc.  I can similarly understand why some people like off-roading, boating, golfing, scuba, and baseball.  But, like camping, these are—let’s be honest—self-indulgent recreational pursuits that are fun for a family on occasion, but not the sort of thing one pictures as a great way to honor the restoration of the Priesthood of God.  This ought to be a bigger holiday than Pioneer Day.

I am also keenly aware that a lot of men love the hyper-emphasis on camping.  The entire time my two eldest sons were in Young Mens’, when I would ask them what they did at their YM meeting their answer was always “Planned our next campout.”  I began to wonder why they didn’t just hold their meetings at a sporting goods store and stop kidding themselves that this was gospel-related.

So, as I sat in ward council and listened to the men talk about how to reserve various campgrounds, I couldn’t help thinking, why not do something more in line with what the Savior would do?  Why not have a Father & Son Temple Day?  Or a service day when they could help the homeless, serve in a soup kitchen, paint a shelter, or build a house for Habitat for Humanity?  How about helping the elderly widows in the ward?  OR… what about a giant missionary blitz?  If all they did was visit every less-active on our ward list, what a blessing that would be!  It would also save money (camping is not as inexpensive as it is billed to be), and wouldn’t require a sleep-over, or the reservation of a campground. 

I know, to many camping is virtually sacred and what I’m suggesting is blasphemy.  I know, I know, everybody goes off on how spiritual it is around the campfire at day’s end, the testimonies shared, etc., but how much more might that spirit be magnified if the day were spent in service or missionary work, instead of just hiking around and enjoying nature?  You can have a very spiritual meeting in a widow’s living room, in the parking lot of a shelter, in our chapel, and in dozens of other places.  There is nothing magical about a campfire.  For years I’ve heard Girls’ Camp women go on about how it really creates testimonies, but if that were true, how do you explain thousands of campgrounds filled with campers still mourning the death of Jerry Garcia and playing their guitars all night?  How do you explain mountain-man hermits who do nothing for anyone else?  Being in the wilderness can be fun, but let’s not kid ourselves that it beats a day in the temple or visiting lost souls in the ward.  

And for those who think this is just too big a tradition to part with, how do you explain a campout to thousands of poorer church members around the world, for whom tent living is the norm?  What do you tell those living in tar paper huts to do?  Sometimes I think we forget this is a global church, not a Western Culture Club.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’d love our boys to go off with their dads doing something that really focuses on service, and underlines the power of the Priesthood to bless others and change lives.  This day should stand apart as a really amazing experience, not just another campout like so many others.

Is it a long-standing tradition that lots of guys would balk at giving up?  Yes, but no one is saying they can’t still go camping on their own.  I just think a truly different, gospel-centered celebration would send the message to these young men that the restoration of the Priesthood was an extremely big deal, not just another excuse for recreation.