Begin with a place you love. This is the name of the activity I most often use to open ecological justice discussions. Reflecting on a place where they experienced a deep connection with nature, participants are swiftly, and oh-so-gently transported to thick forests, rock outcroppings, or quiet farm lands steeped in love, connection, and memory.

There is something deeply enriching about being out in nature. Bright stars overhead, a warm breeze through the grass, and, if you’re really lucky, the delicious scent of salt water in the air. Yet, as a country where 80 percent of the population lives in urban centres, many of us don’t experience the wonder of creation as often as we might like.

Fortunately, Canada is home to a vast network of federal and provincial parks, extensive lakes, rivers, and greenspaces, and summer camp facilities offering everything from basic camp-outs and daily lake swims, to specialized training in sports, music, art, and drama.

One particular gem is Camp Fircom. Located on Gambier Island in Howe Sound, British Columbia, the camp sits on 120 acres of ocean front, a short water taxi ride from Horseshoe Bay, West Vancouver. With a rich 120-year history, Camp Fircom is grounded in United Church values and welcomes everyone.

Not only does the camp’s programming offer children and families a chance to experience the great outdoors through traditional camp activities—like canoeing, arts and crafts, and campfires; Camp Fircom also encourages campers to go deeper, literally.

Regular renewable energy demonstrations and “Hands in the Dirt” experiential workshops in the camp’s 1.5-acre onsite organic farm and orchard encourage campers, outdoor school participants, private renters, and other guests to explore how to achieve a harmonious balance with the natural world.

Camp Fircom is completely off-grid and 80 percent of the meals they serve are vegetarian using fresh produce grown just 30 metres from the kitchen. But until recently, they relied on diesel generators for electricity. Now, in an effort to better align with their longstanding commitment to sustainability, Camp Fircom is working to lessen their ecological footprint.

In October, an innovative new hybrid diesel/battery power plant was installed for electrical power production. Plans are also in the works to do lighting retrofits and install micro-hydro generation with the support of The United Church of Canada’s Faithful Footprints program. The ultimate goal of these initiatives is to remove diesel generators from the equation with a combination of renewable inputs and demand reduction. Doing so has the potential to reduce Camp Fircom’s carbon footprint by close to 80 percent!

The approach being taken by Camp Fircom serves as a model for other church facilities. It demonstrates what is possible when institutions lead with values, and offers hope that the ambitious emissions reduction goals set by The United Church of Canada can be achieved. Equally important, however, is the message that it sends to the children, campers, and other kids, who participate in the camp’s programming.

This isn’t to suggest that everyone who visits Camp Fircom will celebrate the important steps being taken—or even that they’ll be aware.

But some will, and that matters.

Meaningful action to reduce emissions will certainly be noted by adolescents, and some school-aged children, who are beginning to explore their place in community and the world. These kids are old enough to understand that significant changes are required in order to address the threat of catastrophic climate change—and they’re concerned that the adults in their lives aren’t doing enough.

There is something deeply enriching about being out in nature.

There is also something tremendously powerful in witnessing—and participating in—efforts to do better, out of respect for the planet, and generations to come.

Well done, Camp Fircom!

 — Karri Munn-Venn is a Senior Policy Analyst at Citizens for Public Justice, a national faith-based public policy organization with a focus on climate change. She was the co-editor of Living Ecological Justice: A Biblical Response to the Environmental Crisis (2013) and coordinates CPJ’s Give it up for the Earth! climate action campaign. Outside of the office, Karri can usually be found knitting, often in the company of her fabulous husband and three wonderful kids.

Find out more about Faithful Footprints, The United Church of Canada’s program offering congregations inspiration, tools, and grants to help us live our climate commitments.