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  • 14 Mar 2018 8:35 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    In the not-too distant past, I was struck with a new insight into an old story. In the book of 1 Kings, the prophet Elijah has successfully stood up to the prophets of Baal, proving that God (Yahweh) is the real God and Creator of the universe. Unfortunately, as a result, the evil queen has declared she wants to see Elijah put to death. So Elijah flees into the desert, despairing to the point of requesting death. An angel sends him further on to Mt. Horeb, where he spends the night in a cave. From there we pick up with what is likely to be a familiar story:

    [The angel] said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place... (1 Kings 19:11-16, NRSV)

    You’ve likely heard the story before; perhaps in the context of a sermon about how we should seek God in the still, quiet place. And that is a legitimate interpretation. But let me share my insight.

    I believe, deeply, in the immanence of God. This means I believe God is always present in all of Creation. We sometimes get glimpses of that: it might be a “theophany,” an appearance of the divine like Moses saw in a burning bush or the disciples’ witness of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, or it might be a glimpse of the divine breaking into our ordinary world through a beautiful sunset or spectacular vista. There are the moments people tell us about when they’ve experienced God in nature; when all the world comes into a different, sometimes sharper focus, and one gets a glimpse of the glory that surrounds us all the time but goes unseen.

    While such moments may be rare, I believe in the immanence of God as the underlying truth of them. God is always present; everywhere. And so, when I read this story recently, I struggled with the assertions that “the Lord was not in the…wind…earthquake… [or] fire…” Because I believe God is always present, I believe God would be present in the wind, earthquake, and fire. And that’s good news to me in my life, because if I allow the story to become metaphor about the presence of God it reminds me that God is present in whatever chaos (wind), whatever world-shaking news (earthquake), whatever raging crisis (fire) I encounter. God is present. I am not alone.

    But the story reads that “the Lord was not in the…” wind, earthquake, or fire. At face value, the story seems to contradict a theological doctrine I hold close to my heart; undermines part of my understanding of the mysterious nature God. Until I realize, this is not an objective narrative; this story is being told to us from the point of view of Elijah.

    Elijah has already (twice!) heard an angel and/or the Lord speak to him. Elijah has defiantly and successfully stood up to the prophets of Baal. But now Elijah runs in fear for his life, expressing that despite his own zealousness for God, he is endangered; threatened. I now see that, from Elijah’s perspective, God wasn’t present in the wind, earthquake, or fire. These external, physical phenomena of chaos echoed the circumstance within his soul. But as they passed – as the world stilled, as the quiet came – then Elijah was able to discern God; when he and the world were quiet, Elijah was able to hear God, was able to speak and be spoken to.

    I think this is the core of the story, and it connects with my understanding of “creative dislocation” as a value of camp and retreat ministries. You see, Elijah was so enveloped by the chaos of his circumstances that he could not find or sense God in the midst of them. That is not the same as asserting that God was not present. Yet it seems to be in keeping with our experiences in this life; there are times when it seems next to impossible to experience the presence of God.

    Elijah had to go into the cave and wait for the moment of stillness, the moment of quiet, to re-encounter the divine. This is exactly the reason retreats are so important to our spiritual journeys. From time to time, it behooves us to take a few minutes away from the busy-ness, the chaos and clutter of our lives. It benefits us to step away from the wind and fire and earthquake, to still and center ourselves in such a quiet way and place that we can, once again, connect with God.

    Camp and retreat ministries provide us the opportunity to come away from our ordinary routines in which we are no longer able to discern God’s presence. Retreats allow us to see the world with new eyes and gaze on the wonder and divinity that always surrounds us. (This, to me, is the miracle of the Transfiguration [Matthew 17]. Jesus wasn’t changed; he was always the divine son of God, and the glory of God always surrounded him. But for a moment the disciples were changed, their eyes opened; able to see clearly the glory of the divine that walked with them.)

    Elijah might not have perceived his fleeing to Mount Horeb as a retreat, but in that mountain top experience he was able to re-encounter God, was able to more clearly hear God’s calling on his life. (And it is intriguing to me, but probably a topic to explore another time, that part of what he heard from God while on the summit was the call to go and appoint a new prophet to follow him.) At their best, camp and retreat programs provide for us a means to disconnect from the ordinary in order to more directly re-connect to the extraordinary; to step away from the mundane and encounter the spiritual; to have our own eyes and spirit opened to the ever-present glory and wonder of God… and then take that remembrance and experience back with us into our daily lives.

    Rev. Ron Bartlow is a member of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference, where he serves as co-pastor of Trinity Heights United Methodist Church in Flagstaff, Arizona, and as the conference Director for Camp and Retreat Ministries. Ron has yet to receive a kyber crystal to build his own lightsaber, and so is content to swing a flashlight around at night while chanting “I am one with the Force..."

  • 28 Feb 2018 8:53 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    When was the last time you went to camp? Not went to camp, like every day walking out your back door across the soccer field to get to your office, but truly went to camp— packed up, headed off to a different site where you’re not responsible for leadership of the program or the logistics of the experience, having a vague understanding of what activities might happen while you’re there based on a short brochure description, and going to meet and live with completely brand new people for a week.

    For me it had been over ten years since I headed off to my last session as a summer camper. Since that time, I’ve spent every summer as seasonal staff and then year-round staff. Somewhere along the way, I somewhat forgot what it was like to go to camp. As a participant in the recent UMCRM Immersion Week, I got to go to camp again. Remember that unique combination of excitement and nervousness of the first-day-of-camp, driving down the main camp road and finally meeting your cabin-mates and counselors? Remember the joy of having someone you just met a few days ago call you over because they want to make sure you are included in experiencing an awesome sunset? Remember the feeling of pride from words of affirmation from a trusted camp leader? Remember the swing of emotion that occurs in sharing a first meal with strangers and then a few days later sharing a final meal with dear friends? These are the experiences we all lived for as campers and helping facilitate these growth moments was almost certainly part of what drove us into camping ministry as a profession. Not only did the UMCRM Immersion Week remind me of what it’s like to be a camper, but that reminder refueled my passion for why I am called to this incredible ministry.

    We all know that archery, swimming, crafts, and low ropes are the experiences we’re facilitating for campers, but the actual goal of those activities is much deeper— community building, development of self-confidence, and other growth edges we work to find. So too, with the Immersion Week. Sure we learned all about the teachings of John Wesley, the ministry of administration, and the complexity of United Methodist polity, but actually we were building community, developing self-confidence, and discovering growth edges for ourselves personally and professionally. I learned a lot of information from the UMCRM Immersion week, and I learned a whole lot more from the community and personal edge-work surrounding the content of the week.

    One of the pieces of practical advice from the Ministry of Administration session was that it is important to sleep in every type of lodging at your site so that you can have an understanding of what your guests are experiencing. I’m going to add to that advice that you should go to camp so you can be reminded of the highs, lows, and everything in-betweens of being a camper. The UMCRM Immersion Week is a perfect opportunity for that reminder. Led by caring, knowledgeable and passionate instructors and attended by caring, understanding, and passionate peers, the Immersion Experience will benefit anyone in any stage of their career in camping ministry. The content learned creates a richer understanding of the foundations of our United Methodist camping heritage and the community that is built is uniquely suited to be supportive and compassionate towards the joys and challenges of the calling we all share.

    It is my prayer that each successive iteration of this program will continue to create space for community and cooperative learning in ways that ripple out throughout the rest of our Association and into the lives of God’s people. Special thanks to the UMCRM Board and Education Committee for committing to making this program a success.

    Collin Grooms is the Site Director at Lake Lucerne Camp and Retreat Center in Neshkoro, Wisconsin. Spouse to Katie and dad to Owen, Collin thought he was being asked to attend UMCRM Immersion Week because he had made one too many jokes about being Lutheran and wanting to hold raffles to fundraise for camp. He left Immersion Week honored to be considered a colleague to an incredible group of faithful disciples of Christ. 

  • 14 Feb 2018 4:55 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    Once upon a time, in a far off land… Actually the story goes more like this: last January at the UM Camp & Retreat Leaders Gathering in Texas, someone spoke about the Compass Points Program and camp director certification within the UMC. Something welled up within me at that moment and before I could rationalize how I didn’t have the time, etc., I found myself registered for the set of classes being offered the following month. Last autumn whilst I was in the midst of another set of Compass Points classes, I learned a bit more about the UM Immersion Experience and immediately registered for that as well.

    One of the many great takeaways from the Compass Points classes I’ve taken so far is the importance of claiming and articulating one’s personal core values. Learning is one of my deeply held core values, particularly the kind of learning which helps me be a more confident, effective leader within Christ’s church. So it makes sense that I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about camp and retreat ministries from a uniquely United Methodist perspective.

    I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I had relatively high expectations nonetheless. To use a flight metaphor for a moment, from the Immersion description I anticipated that we’d basically take a 35,000-foot view of the topics covered by Compass Points, and then drop down to 5,000 or so feet to get a closer look at our United Methodist heritage, our present realities, and vision for our future. What I didn’t anticipate was that we’d do it at mach speed and basically circumnavigate the globe twice in four days. In many regards, I imagine John Wesley would be delighted with the speed and intensity at which we proceeded.

    At times it felt as if we were at camp ourselves—complete with some sage mentors. While there were quality and practical instructional sessions, the connections made in intentional small group times, sitting around the dining room table, going for walks after meals, and sitting in silence together were equally important and impactful. I feel that not only have I personally benefited from this Immersion Experience, but that my site will, too. While I won’t expect everyone at camp to geek out about our Wesleyan heritage to the same level as many of us in the Experience did, I came away inspired and equipped to help our staff and campers better articulate the Wesleyan understandings of what it means to be a disciple of Christ in the 21st Century.

    As an avid snowshoer, I’m glad I didn’t let the possibility of a big snowstorm in upstate New York keep me from travelling to warm, sunny Florida for this experience. It was well worth it and I highly recommend even seasoned camp directors consider attending the next Immersion Experience wherever it is held!

    Matt Williams is Director of Sky Lake Camp & Retreat Center in Windsor, New York. Ask him what podcasts he's listening to. And then invite him to say something in Welsh.

  • 31 Jan 2018 11:02 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    Immersion Week 2018

    This was the perfect event at the perfect time with the perfect group of people for me. The excellent content was secondary to the relationships that were built, while still providing a good overview of areas of continuing learning that can (and should) be undertaken as we grow in this profession.

    Immersion Week 2018 Participant

    The first-ever Immersion Experience, geared toward providing colleagues in camping ministry a chance to immerse in learning about the importance, potential, and best practices of United Methodist Camp and Retreat ministry, was a huge success! Fourteen students and seven facilitators from 4 Jurisdictions and 12 Annual Conferences gathered at the Life Enrichment Center/Warren Willis Camp in Florida to steep in camp leadership in the Wesleyan tradition, exploring together how our unique identity can give voice to a more meaningful future.

    Each day was focused on core content and themes central to the UMC camp experience: United Methodist and Camp History, John Wesley, Faith Formation, Discipleship, Personnel and Administration, Best Practices, and the 7 Foundations of Camp and Retreat Ministry.  Each morning was spent exploring self-awareness, conflict, and identity exploration; each afternoon allowed for small group exploration of that content. Evening worship explored spiritual discipline practices including breath prayer, the Ignatian Examen, lectio divina, and guided biblical imagery.

    Small group reflectionDeep conversations around discipleship, offering radical hospitality, and imagining a future in the midst of a turbulent present became the heartbeat of the week, giving life and flesh to the narratives that shape our current sites and ministries. The week was a reminder of the possibility we have when we engage in intentional, meaningful conversation! As one student wrote in reflecting on the week: The Immersion Experience was really wonderful with the commitment and excitement we modeled. To deliver so much information with such care for individuals was fantastic.

    As someone who found a life’s calling in the midst of learning and friendships in the UMC Camp and Retreat Ministry Certification Program, I was in awe of the level of commitment of last week’s Immersion group. The culture of learning extended beyond our identities as facilitators, instructors, and students: all learned, all taught, and all listened. It turns out that Millennials, GenXers, and Baby Boomers alone don’t have an answer, but together we have gifts to help bring a bright future to our shared ministry. We learned that we can deepen the meaning and intentionality in what we do by doing it together. Thanks to the UMCRM Board and Jen Burch for lending their support, expertise, and logistical help to make the event such a success. Thanks be to God for all who brought their gifts together, and for the good work ahead of us now.  

    Interested in learning more about future Immersion Experience opportunities?  Contact Gary Lawson at garydlawsonsr@gmail.com  for more information.

    Russell Casteel is the Director of Cedar Crest Camp in Lyles, TN, the Executive Director of Camp & Retreat Ministries for the Tennessee Annual Conference, spouse to Callie, and dad to baby Brown, born in September 2017. Russell serves on the UMCRM Association's Education Committee and shared his expertise and passion as part of the faculty team for the 2018 Immersion Experience.

  • 20 Dec 2017 8:31 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    Volunteers – whether boards or site ministry team members, cabin leaders, resource leaders in specialty areas, or those who serve in kitchens and maintenance areas – are incarnational gifts to our various camp/retreat ministries. They are “love with the skin on”!

    How do you recruit volunteers?  For me, it’s a year-round, “keep your antenna up” kind of enterprise. Whenever I meet people I try to imagine how they might be invited to grow in their discipleship by taking another step forward and getting involved in our multiple ministries. Are they particularly good at something, show enthusiasm and ability in an area of interest, connect well with others? Are they big-picture people or do they prefer to make tangible, immediate contributions? When are they available?  Can I invite them to “come and see,” get further acquainted, find additional interest and skill areas?

    Inspirational camp leader Bob Cagle always taught us to first invite people to training (or some experiential time of camp). Don’t ask them to decide whether to volunteer! It’s too easy to say “no.” Cast the net wide – invite many people to attend a training event, and then provide time to decide, based on your experiences of the training, what might be the best role for them to play if you want to move forward together.

    Start early. In fact, never stop recruiting/inviting people to consider serving with you!

    For youth events, have campers on the planning team or from last year’s camp nominate adults they’d love to have work with them. Then, those persons are contacted with the knowledge that the youth themselves want to learn from them! Perhaps some youth are part of the recruiting/inviting team with you.

    But what about the times when, despite your best efforts, you still need two more cabin leaders (or other crucial role) for an upcoming camp session?! I look down the list of participants – are several from one church or community agency? If so, call them and ask who cares about children there. Get names and contact info for the people who already work with these youth and talk with them about who could accompany them to camp so we can be fully staffed. Don’t settle for “warm bodies”!

    Be as specific as possible in your invitations to serve: “I have six 4th grade boys who need to know a person like you who can demonstrate God’s love by living in a cabin with them, showing them how to work together, leading them through the week. Could that be you?”  or,  “There are 5 children on our wait list for camp, and we have the bed space for another cabin, but I don’t yet have a committed adult who can be present. I’ll have to call their homes and tell them we can’t take them. Could you possibly attend the training and be that cabin leader so I can make a different call and let them know to come ahead?”  or, “I’ve watched you with your own children (or with the youth group that came here on retreat last year) and I’ve seen in you the kind of qualities we look for in an adult leader at camp. There are four children from your town who want to come to camp, but I don’t yet have a leader for their cabin. Would you consider serving? If it’s really not possible, who else do you know that I should be talking with?”

    A related article that I found insightful:  https://www.churchleadership.com/leading-ideas/why-dont-people-volunteer-at-church/

    Lisa Jean Hoefner is currently Director and Pastor at Lake Tahoe Retreat Center at Kings Beach UMC. She retired after 17 years as Executive Director of Camp & Retreat Ministries in the Oregon-Idaho Conference. Previously she served in parish ministry as an ordained Elder in The United Methodist Church. Lisa Jean represents the Western Jurisdiction as a member of the UMCRM Association's Board of Directors. 

  • 13 Dec 2017 7:57 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    It’s so easy for people directly involved in camping ministry to see the impact it makes. We can count the smiles and the s’mores and know that Christ is changing lives in real and lasting ways in these spaces. What can be more difficult to track is the hard data that inspires congregations to continue the work that begins during a week at camp. Being able to show a local church the pivotal decisions that campers often make while away at camp is essential as they continue guiding these students on their faith journey all throughout the year.

    Years ago the Warren Willis Camp developed a system of “Commitment Cards” to give students a space to acknowledge any important faith decisions made during a week at summer camp. These cards are entered into a database and then shared with their home church, or local UM church, so that a church leader can follow up on those decisions. These decisions can be as simple as dedicating to walk closer with God everyday, or as monumental as deciding to give their life to Christ. We also leave space for students who are struggling and still looking for more information. In passing this information along to local churches, we give leaders there the opening for a conversation more focused than your normal, “So how was your week at camp?” By giving churches an inside look into campers’ experiences, we have created a partnership that opens doors of communication for future camps and events while allowing them to care better for students in their home community.

    While we recognize that our sole impact cannot be measured in campers making faith commitments, we acknowledge that it is one of the most tangible benchmarks of success in our industry. Tracking this data year to year can give camps, conferences, and donors the data to celebrate successes or quickly spot declines. The nature of our ministry is that it is fleeting; we are given a brief moment in the lives of the students we are charged with. It is our responsibility and privilege to share the love of Christ in a powerful way and then equip those who will follow us in the faith formation journey with a personal way to connect with young people.

    View a sample follow-up letter to pastors

    Tanner Smith and Amy Scism are part of the program staff at the newly merged Life Enrichment Center and Warren Willis Camp in the Florida Annual Conference. Amy has recently joined the staff full-time after earning a Masters of Social Work from Florida State University. Tanner is a newlywed who joined the staff in 2012. Together along with the rest of Program Staff they oversee 6 summer camp programs and more than 10 weekend retreats for adults, youth and children.

  • 13 Dec 2017 7:11 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    Rev. Solomon Graydon Cramer believed strongly in the life-changing impact of Christian camp experiences for deepening discipleship among young people. He generously dedicated a portion of his will to endow scholarships for participation of young people in UM Conference camps. This has become a new annual source of grants supplied by the earnings on the Cramer endowment. This first year of grants in 2017 demonstrates the wisdom and foresight of Rev. Cramer in supplying new opportunities for youth and sparking creativity within camp/retreat ministries. Read below about the recipients of the 2017 grants and inspire fresh visions for your own ministries that may lead to your own application for a grant in 2018. Most grants are less than $3,000, but occasionally may be more.

    The priorities of the scholarship grants focus on camp experiences engaging at least one of four dimensions outlined below.  It is a plus when they involve multiple aspects related to the fund emphases. 

    • Minister with Young People Living in Poverty
    • Intentionally Develop Young People for Spiritual Leadership and/or Leadership with Camp Retreat Ministry
    • Collaborate with Faith Communities Engaged in Vital Congregation Processes of their Annual Conference
    • Expand Opportunities for Youth from Underserved Ethnic Populations to Participate and Lead

    2017 Grant Recipients

    The Experiential Leadership Institute   

    This camp experience of the North Georgia Conference prepares high school students through learning and practicing spiritual leadership with the supervision and assistance of well-trained coaches. They move into hands-on leadership as Grow Day Camp counselors, implementing core values, spiritual gifts, and service leadership among the younger campers. Following the summer, they are tasked with continuing their growth in faith and development through leadership roles within their congregations. The Solomon Cramer Grant enabled greater involvement of ELI participants from across diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. Quote from a participant – This summer I have learned so much about myself and what it looks like to live life as a leader and follower of Jesus!  

    Michigan UM Urban Youth Camp  

    This camp focused on a collaboration among urban congregations in the Pontiac and Detroit areas. The initiative gives youth from these cities the opportunity to participate in Christian faith-based camp that is intentionally linked to additional growth in discipleship throughout the year.  The camp incorporated the unique needs and dynamics of youth living in urban settings.  Participants learned more about United Methodist theology and practice, discovered additional faith formation activities beyond camp in their home communities, and participated in preparation so they can take on greater spiritual leadership as young adults within their communities of faith. The experience gave opportunities for youth to meet Christ in new ways and to make decisions of faith that encourage hope and direction for their lives. Close to 90 campers participated in this strategic collaboration among urban congregations.

    Oklahoma Conference Mobile Day Camps

    This project launched a new dimension of camp and retreat ministry within the conference.  A team of college-age students served with 8 congregations to offer mobile day camps in their communities. The outcomes of these camps include: relationships among new families and children from the community and local congregations, children, youth, and adults growing in their faith, congregational leaders better equipped for ministry with young people, and young adult leaders more aware of their spiritual gifts and growing in spiritual leadership. Special attention was given to connect and build collaboration with ethnic communities. The camps are integrated to other discipleship pathways that occur throughout the year.   

    Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference Camps

    This initiative focused on opening Christian camp and retreat experiences for Native American youth who otherwise could not afford to attend. The camp includes an exploration of the UMC “In Mission” study, inviting the youth to explore issues impacting the world today, the efforts of the United Methodist Church to address these situations as part of discipleship, and a growing faith and spiritual life among the youth. The camp will also involve a deeper appreciation of their unique giftedness as persons along with Indian culture and ways of life. 10-15 tribes are represented.

    Day Spring

    Day Spring provides camp opportunities for young people living in poverty in the rural communities of West Virginia.  Intentional focus on communities still recovering from devastating floods enables children and youth to have a week of love, fun, and spiritual encouragement in the midst of chaotic situations likely to last 3-5 years. Day Spring is a revival for the spirit of communities struggling to meet the needs of their young people. The camps share the gospel of Jesus Christ, developing older youth as spiritual leaders, a collaborative effort among the camp and retreat ministries and local churches of the region.

    Central South District Youth Camp

    This endeavor focuses on the small- and medium-size churches within the Houston Metro area, many of whom serve low income communities with significant racial diversity. This is a collaboration in which the District leaders bring youth to Lakeview Camp in the Texas Conference for a week of spiritual growth, reflective time in nature, and experiences of Christian community and love for one another.  It is an opportunity for the youth to reflect on the future direction of their lives and explore calls to ministry as laypersons or clergy.

    Cal-Pac Urban Kids Camp

    The purpose of this camp is to give at-risk kids in Southern California a chance to experience a week of Christian summer camp that would otherwise be unavailable to them. We want them to experience what it is like to be outdoors in the fresh air away from the temptations and hardship of urban life, to be with peers and have a great time in the mountain air.  The goal is to develop them as leaders for Christ so they can go back with the love of the Lord in their hearts and spread God’s word. This experience builds character and self-esteem in those who may not have many role models and mentors so they can create a new blueprint for their lives.

    Camp Amistad

    The purpose of Camp Amistad is to create relationships between children of families who attend a set of United Methodist churches and children of Hispanic Latino immigrants who attend Spanish-speaking worship services associated with those United Methodist churches.  Several of the Columbus and Dayton, Ohio area United Methodist churches host Spanish-speaking worship services in their buildings.  The services provide a place where members of the local Hispanic immigrant community can gather to worship in a safe and welcoming place. Unfortunately, these services typically have their own Hispanic population that remains largely separate from the original congregation worshipping in the same church building.  Often the children of both congregations will attend the same schools, but will not necessarily know one another since they attend the church at different times. Summer Camp is a place where friendships form quickly and can become very deep and long-term relationships.  The goal is to provide an environment and programs that facilitate the formation of friendships and Christian community that will carry over into the local church as well as the local school and community.  

    Applications for 2018 grants are due by February 15th, 2018.

    Solomon Cramer Fund Grant Request Form

    W-9 Form

    Solomon Cramer Grant Evaluation Form

  • 05 Dec 2017 10:45 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    I received some surprised looks at the airport as I checked a bag and was greeted with the question: You’re flying Portland to Portland?  I acknowledged that I was, and then questions followed as to what I was going to be doing in the other Portland.  (I received similar comments on my return flight as well!) I shared that I would be gathering with others who do work similar to mine for a time of reflection on our work, relationship-building with one another so that we can provide ongoing support to one another in our work between the times that we gather at the end of the fall, to explore failure, and to hear about how our host site, Camp Mechuwana, connects with the broader context of ministry in Maine.

    After arriving in Portland, we had a one hour drive to camp, with a dinner stop along the way. I, along with three others who are new at their jobs, had arrived a day early to receive training and wisdom in how to do our work! It might be a little scary to think that I have been on the job for over a year and did not have such a training yet. Thanks be to God for grace from staff, colleagues, campers, parents, family and the Board of Camp and Retreat Ministries of Oregon-Idaho. Now I feel better-equipped and connected as I look toward the work ahead of me in this ministry.

    The opportunity to learn and develop collegiality began over that first night’s dinner as we talked about our specific situations and the topics that we would cover in the next day: staff, organization, and mission related topics. I am grateful that I took advantage of this opportunity to delve more deeply into the work that we do and the impacts of doing it well.

    Colleagues arrived through the afternoon on this clear-sky, chilly day. Camp Mechuwana is over 200 acres with hardwood and conifers as well as access to two lakes. There is a 1880s hunting lodge on the property that is used by a variety of groups and is slated to be refurbished between the ground and the roof, as the foundation has been stabilized (actually there is a foundation now instead of the rocky ground that it was on) and the roof has been redone recently.  The site has over 350 beds, about 100 of which are in winterized buildings. The camp has many works-in-progress construction projects that are the handiwork of staff and mission work-campers. Volunteers have accomplished remarkable improvements to the site over the years.

    We met in small groups on several occasions, twice to review case studies of “failures” that we had encountered in our lives (professionally or personally), and also for times of worship & reflection.  As part of one devotional time we were asked to share what we want the light of Christ to shine on while we were gathered together. For one group this meant a conversation about hope and the loneliness that we can experience in doing the work that we do. Out of that came a plan for a digital/video covenant group among people who are spread out across the country. The UMCRM Association will also be piloting another small group to see how we can sustain one another in our work throughout the year.

    On Wednesday, Rev. Michele St. Cyr, who is appointed to local church ministry as well as the UM Economic Ministry, shared with us her work to, for, and with the poor in Maine. She provided us with an exercise to make decisions about how to spend our hypothetical monthly income which was less than half of the expected bills for the month! Michele reported that one client said that she had spoken to her landlord about paying half of the rent this month and making it up later;  the landlord made a counteroffer --half was acceptable now and the other half could be covered with “favors.” There were audible gasps and a great sadness in me when I heard this statement. Understanding the stress and challenges people in poverty face just getting through the day helps build our compassion and inspire new ways to support the poor in our communities.

    Norm Thombs, Director of Camp Mechuwana, also shared with us the work that the camp does in working with the poor in their region. Scholarships are regularly granted, including an “evergreen” scholarship that allows a camper to continue coming to camp, free of charge, every summer until they graduate from high school!  Norm provided us a tour that included the still day turning stormy and rainy on our tour.  We were at the leading edge of the weather front as we walked, and the sound of the wind was was like a freight train as it moved through the treetops across the property! We certainly had an experience of the wonder of creation.

    A trip to Portland, Maine would be incomplete without stopping in Freeport and visiting the L.L. Bean megaplex. We had an opportunity to meet with someone from L.L. Bean who shared with us a little bit of the history and oriented us to the facility and various stores. We resonated with their current ad campaign “Be an Outsider.” The entire group met for a seafood dinner and had the opportunity to celebrate the work that Kevin Witt has done on our behalf at Discipleship Ministries. For 21 years Kevin has worked diligently on our behalf to advocate for camp and retreat ministries within the former General Board of Discipleship. He has travelled many miles to provide leadership, guidance, coaching, and friendship to directors, staff, and campers during these 21 years. We are so grateful for his willing and kind spirit. The UMCRM Conference staff are thrilled that he’ll remain “one of us” and be able to continue participating in the Summit in his new role in the Susquehanna Conference. There will be some more opportunities for UMCRM colleagues to celebrate Kevin in the coming months.

    When it was all said and done, 23 passionate and dedicated camp and retreat ministry leaders accomplished their goals of sharing their lives with one another, being inspired by God’s creation, and receiving the gift of simply being in the company of others who understand the joys and challenges of this work we do. I look forward to meeting others next year and continuing to develop strong bonds of friendship with my new friends in United Methodist Annual Conference Camp/Retreat Ministry.

    Rev. Todd Bartlett is the Executive Director for Camp & Retreat Ministries in the Oregon-Idaho Conference. He formerly served as Director of the Alton L. Collins Retreat Center near Portland (the Oregon one!) and in parish ministry as an elder in the UMC. Todd enjoys being outdoors-- especially on or around water, photography, and being engaged in the work of discipleship formation through camp and retreat ministries.

    Photo credits go to Keith Shew, Dail Ballard, and Kelly Peterson Cruse. 

  • 29 Nov 2017 9:15 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    Russell Casteel reflects...

    The daunting task of taking the next step in ministry is one that looms over all of us. When I decided to answer God’s call to move into being a Camp Director at Cedar Crest in the Tennessee Conference, after 10 summers of serving as Program Director at Camp Lake Stephens in the Mississippi Conference, I was left with nothing but questions amidst my faithful steps. Fortunately, I was blessed with a boss in Reverend Dickie Hinton who allowed me to take some chances and opportunities to fail. I was encouraged by our board to go out and make “connections with church folks that matter, because they don’t know who we are anymore.”

    In going out to churches, coffee shops, and college campuses, I had more than my share of failing conversations. In turn, I also ran into grace time and again: grace constantly revealing God in the hearts of young adults who felt that they might be called to be part of our team at Cedar Crest. One of those faithful young adults who applied to work that first summer, Jessi Persson, stood out immediately.  In her interview Jessi spoke eloquently and passionately about her time as a camper at Flathead Lake UM Camp in the Yellowstone Annual Conference (MT), where she grew in her faith, began to hear a call to ministry, and grew in her self-confidence. As she witnessed to what we hope to accomplish and achieve in camping ministry, I also heard a young woman who was on her way to lending places of meaning to young people.

    Now almost five years later, Jessi has completed two summers of camp counseling, two as Ropes Director and Program Staff, a year as Program Intern and now is in the middle of her journey toward a Master’s of Divinity degree at Candler School of Theology. She has made church visits and plunged toilets, held crying youth and grown in navigating conflict of all kinds. In days where so much about the church and her future can get us down, distracting us from discipleship and relationships, Jessi’s discovery and then commitment to UM Camping gives me hope. Thanks to the love of camp by her spiritual mentor and youth director, Janna Lauver in Montana, and, in turn, campus ministers, friends, and connected colleagues, Jessi has been able to envision a path towards servant leadership in UM camping ministry.  Now she has helped to build a program, meaningful relationships, and is ready to lead a camp with the gifts and graces of a seasoned camp veteran, one who has embodied and gifted the connection over and over again.

    Morgan Tubbs, Cedar Crest Program Director (and lifelong UM camper, staff person, seminary grad) says about Jessi: “She is one of the most natural leaders I have ever seen; that, combined with her passion for both teaching and learning, makes her a dynamic camp professional and person of faith.”

    In turn, I would add that Jessi’s story isn’t luck or circumstance but rather an embodied connection that did the work it was called to do.  From Mississippi to North Georgia, from Flathead Lake to Middle Tennessee to all points east and west, our connection gives me hope.

    May we keep at it and stay connected.  May our young adults lead to imagine new, rich connections.

    Russell Casteel is Director of Cedar Crest United Methodist Camp and Retreat Center and recently accepted the role of Executive Director for Tennessee Conference Camp and Retreat Ministries. He is a graduate of the Candler School of Theology and holds professional Certification in Camp and Retreat Ministry in the UMC. He also serves on the UMCRM Association’s Education Committee. In September, Russell and Callie welcomed a new baby into their family.

  • 15 Nov 2017 11:41 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    A letter from Kevin...

    Serving as the Director of Camp and Retreat Ministries with UMC Discipleship Ministries for the past 21 years has been such a privilege. I want to express how rich with meaning life has been knowing, supporting, and growing with you as colleagues in camp and retreat ministries across the United Methodist Church. I leave this role with deep gratitude to all of you for the opportunity to serve you. I’m grateful for the ways we have rallied together to grow as spiritual leaders dedicated to create a strong, innovative future for the ministries we steward and those we serve. It is a challenging time as the landscape of society and the wider church rapidly changes, and yet exciting to be engaged in what is emerging as we join God in the midst of it all.  

    I am very excited about joining the Susquehanna Conference (PA) team as the Director of Camp/Retreat and Discipleship Ministries, which begins on January 1, 2018. This position fits so well with my gifts and graces and the vision of the Conference. It is energizing to be coming on board with a dynamic group of leaders there. In addition, my parents live in Pennsylvania. They are now in their 80’s, and being a part of their lives and supporting them is an important dimension of my Christian journey and calling in this season of life, too. Prayerful discernment and insight gleaned from many conversations clarified that this is Christ’s path for me. Still, I will certainly miss being with Discipleship Ministries, which is progressing in some very exciting ways.

    Undoubtedly, some of you are wondering how my transition to a new position may impact Camp and Retreat Ministry moving forward. First, it is vital to realize that the networking, consultations, visioning and strategic planning, motivating resources and newsletters, social media networking, training and certification courses, fundraising for leadership development scholarships, and much more arise from the creativity, dedication, and hard work of many people in the UMCRM community, not just the Director of Camp and Retreat Ministries. This collaborative network of leaders, including all those involved in the United Methodist Camp and Retreat Ministry Association, will continue to work on behalf of the whole. This rich network of inspiration and support has been a true partnership.

    While the way we resource our leaders has always been collaborative in nature, that does not diminish at all the value of having a staff position within Discipleship Ministries with expertise in camp retreat ministries and time to lead initiatives that help align and enhance the missional effectiveness of camp and retreat as a pathway for growing world-transforming disciples and spiritual leaders. I have intentionally prepared a document that outlines the most important initiatives underway in order to facilitate a smooth transition for a new person coming into this role. I have strongly encouraged Discipleship Ministries to identify and bring someone on board in a timely way and to continue camp and retreat ministry within its staff portfolio. Fortunately, there are many capable leaders who have the gifts and graces for camp and retreat ministries along with the all-encompassing missional initiatives that are priorities for all staff with Discipleship Ministries. Each time a staff person transitions at Discipleship Ministries, job descriptions and the focus of positions are re-evaluated. This discernment and decision process will be in the hands of the leadership team at Discipleship Ministries in Nashville.  

    From the bottom of my heart, thank you all for the ways you have encouraged me, extended grace, and valued my contributions over the years. Obviously, no one person can do it all and I recognize that there is much yet to be done. I have tried diligently to be faithful to the trust you have placed in me and to utilize my gifts to serve you and God. Thank you for the opportunity. Know that I am not riding off into the sunset. We have a powerful heritage of helping each other. I will continue to be a part of this great circle of colleagues and friends in a new way.  My new email address will be kwitt@susumc.org beginning January 1, 2018.

    Kevin Witt, November 15th, 2017

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