First Congregational’s ministries encourage children and youth to explore their developing faith through learning, worship, service and fellowship—all in a warm and accepting environment. For information about programs, see our pages and comprehensive CYF Calendar.

Wilderness Ministry

Why Wilderness?

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.   –Psalm 19:1-4

God is in creation and we are part of God’s creation. Just as the psalmist says, our Still Speaking God is still speaking throughout the marvelous creation that surrounds us. When Jesus wanted to commune with God, he went to the garden and to the mountain tops to pray. Wilderness travel offers us the chance to get to see and know God’s handiwork in new ways and understand our relationship to creation and to God more concretely. God’s beauty is in all things, and one of our tasks as stewards of this world is to know the creation we are called to love and advocate for. Time outdoors helps us to build an ecological theology.

Being in creation and seeing God’s handiwork also provides us the opportunity to know ourselves better. Wilderness travel isn’t easy; we may have to portage a canoe, carry a heavy pack, or be exposed to the wind and rain. Adversity affords us the opportunity to grow in our understanding of personal accountability and commitment to a group.

The Opportunity

Wilderness Ministry at First Congregational has two main goals: to instill a sense of relationship with creation and God, and to teach basic outdoor skills to allow people to enjoy the outdoors on their own. Each experience, whether backpacking or canoeing, will have an age-appropriate curriculum to achieve these two ends. Most likely, all trips will contain components of prayer, alone time and Bible study, along with ecological and wilderness skills education.

The Upper Midwest provides two ideal opportunities: backpacking in Isle Royale National Park and canoeing in the Boundary Waters Canoe area. Additional opportunities include canoeing in the Sylvania Wilderness, Flambeau River State Park and the St. Croix National Scenic River. Additionally, backpacking is offered at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Porcupine Mountains State Park. Other locations may be added as well.

Lastly, the most important part of leading and teaching others about God’s creation and their relationship to that creation, is doing everything possible to have a good time! Having a positive experience can greatly affect one’s long-term relationship to being outdoors. Every consideration is made to ensure the trip is age-appropriate, people are well informed about gear they need to own or rent to stay comfortable, and that safety and fun are high priorities. While these experiences may provide a level of physical and mental difficulty that you or your loved one may find challenging, you will be provided a lot of support and encouragement along the way. We want you to enjoy yourself and love the outdoors!

The Schedule

Our Wilderness Ministry uses a rotational model to offer backpacking or canoeing experiences for multiple age groups in different wilderness areas. Registration, deadlines and costs will be posted as each trip nears. Each trip will:

  • Target a specific age group or multiple age groups.
  • Vary in length from 3-8 days at a particular destination.
  • Have a tailored set of spiritual and wilderness education resources.
  • Offer pre-trip preparation.

About Pastor Nick

Nick Hatch grew up with a love for the outdoors and especially Northern Wisconsin. He started taking canoe trips in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in high school and discovered his love of the wilderness. After graduating from McCormick Theological Seminary and spending a lifetime in classroom education, he pursued experiential education, attending an Alaska Outdoor Backpacker and a Sea Kayaker course in Alaska and a Fall Semester for Outdoor Educators. Both courses were offered through the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in Lander, WY.

NOLS is the leader in outdoor experiential education. The Outdoor Educator program consists of intense wilderness based expeditions meant for those with prior outdoor experience looking to teach in experiential education programs. Students become certified Leave No Trace (LNT) Master Educators, obtain a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification, and also focus upon Risk Management & Leadership. Pastor Nick considers it a privilege to use these skills, combined with his theological training, to lead the church’s Wilderness Ministry.

Upcoming Trips

Boundary Waters Canoe Trip, Summer 2019

Who: High school and middle school students
When:  Summer 2019
Where: Boundary Waters Canoe Area, bordering Canada
Why: Because we all long to meet God in God’s creation!
Cost: Approximately $450, plus travel money

This is a spectacular opportunity to learn wilderness travel, develop leadership skills and deepen one’s spiritual understanding of God’s creation. I will be using this trip to create curriculums for future wilderness experiences.

Students who are interested should expect to work hard, have fun, spend structured time developing their faith, and see some of the most wild and beautiful lake country imaginable.

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) is in Northern Minnesota adjoining the Canadian border. The park covers 1,000,000-plus acres and contains over 1,500 miles of canoe trails, with more than 2,000 campsites. The BWCA is true wilderness and we will travel “off the grid” for about one week.

The park contains pristine lakes, virgin timber, wolves, bears, fishing and breathtaking sunsets…to mention only a few things. There are no roads and the park has restricted airspace (no approved aircraft under commercial airline cruising altitudes). If you’ve always wanted to be in a place still abandoned to creation, work for your dinner and be a team player, you should consider this experience!

We will be outfitted through Sawbill Outfitters, a trusted guide at the end of the Sawbill Trail. Food, gear and travel (12-passenger van) are included in the cost of the trip. We will be using higher end, lightweight equipment including Kevlar Canoes and Portaging packs with reinforced suspension systems and waist belts. At Sawbill Outfitters the higher quality equipment is called “Complete Outfitting Plus.”

Additionally, students are responsible for bringing a very limited set of personal items. (Visit Sawbill Outfitters’ website to view both the equipment we will be renting and what equipment the students should bring with them.) ]

Most meals will consist of freeze-dried camp food. Girls and guys will sleep in separate tents. We pack in everything and pack out ALL trash – every ounce counts!

We will depart on a Sunday and return on a Saturday by dinner. Phil Sorensen will co-lead the trip with me. The trip is open to all current seventh graders through outgoing high school seniors (grades 7-12). Students must complete the BWCA application for consideration.