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  • 20 Jun 2018 5:39 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    How did you come to be involved with camp ministry?

    Funny you should ask that question, since I came about being involved in an interesting way. When I graduated from college, there was yet another depression in the economy, so I needed to think about what I wanted to do. I decided I needed to go somewhere where I would be paid to think about my future. I ended up in the Army Reserves. I went there like Private Benjamin without a clue as to what it would take to be in this man’s army! Anyway, long story short, while in basic training, we went to boot camp where we camped out and played army. It was there that I discovered that I could love camping if I had better equipment and better circumstances going on outside of my tent. Moving forward a few years, I became acquainted with United Methodist Camp Ministry while volunteering at my church offices, Genesis UMC in Milpitas, California. At that time, Junius Dotson (now General Secretary of Discipleship Ministries) was my minister. He had started a high school camp named Camp David. As he and the staff were planning for camp, I asked if I could volunteer, he said yes, and the rest is history! My first UMC camp experience was at Lodestar, a camp in the California-Nevada Annual Conference. I absolutely loved my camp experiences from the very start and I have been involved with camp ever since, almost 20 years later!

    Where have you served? Also, tell us about what else you do?

    After being a camp counselor for about 10 years, what I call "boots on the ground," I had the pleasure of being kicked upstairs to the Cal-Neva board. I have served on the board for about 10 years. Being a member of the board has allowed me to contribute to camp in different ways, but I often miss my boots-on-the-ground experiences. I must admit, though, I am not sure that I could handle those Leap of Faith and other high ropes elements the way I used to! As a result of being active with the Cal-Neva board, I was blessed to be invited to become a member of the United Methodist Church and Retreat Ministry.

    While serving on the UMCRM Association Board, I have continued to meet wonderful people who are involved in camp and who regularly confirm my motto that “Camp People are Great”! When I joined the board of UMCRM I noticed that I have a lot to learn. I gave myself a break because I also realized that I was probably the only person on the board who does not work with the United Methodist Church or camp. In my day job I am an attorney/mediator for the State of California. So it’s no wonder I lack the camp/retreat ministry expertise that my fellow board members have. When UMCRM offered the Immersion Experience this January, I jumped at the chance to be a part of the first Immersion Class, hoping to gain even more knowledge in a deeper and quicker manner. It was a great, great opportunity to meet more wonderful camp people but also to be immersed in the United Methodist way of camp. If you have the opportunity to take this class, I highly recommend it. [ed. note: the UMCRM Immersion Experience will be offered again in January 2020!] If you ask me what else I do, anyone who knows me knows that the great loves of my life are camp, my family, volunteering with my sorority, and hanging out at the lake with my husband and friends.

    What are the greatest blessings of camp for you?

    One of the greatest blessings of camp for me is being a part of the joy that I see camp bringing to the kids who come. For instance, in my first year of being a camp counselor, I met a young lady who was in need of attention. I was there to give it to her, and I know I helped change her path. As a result, my own life was changed. When it is right, it is so right. I see kids “get it” there at camp; I see camp profoundly affect their lives and the lives of all who they touch. But to be honest, the greatest blessing of camp for me is what it does for me. I always feel closest to God at camp. Some of my favorite places in the world are at camps, Lodestar being number one for obvious reasons.

    How would you like to see the UMCRM Association respond to our ministry's greatest challenge(s)?

    OMG, I would like to see our camps become more ethnically diverse. If you are reading this article, you know how great camp is. I want the greatness of camp to be shared with a large number of ethnically diverse kids. Being African American myself, I definitely want more African American kids to have these wonderful camp experiences. I am optimistic; so optimistic that I think we could solve half the world’s problems at camp! Let’s keep this thing going!

    What would you like the UMCRM community to know about you?

    In the movie Field of Dreams, the visionary child promised, “if you build it, they will come.” I keep hearing that message when I think about what God wants me to do and how God might use all my years in camp. If I could create the camp that I wanted to create, the camp that I think God wants me to create, that camp would be predominantly African American. For some reason, at least in Northern California, not that many African Americans go to camps. But I believe that if I build it, they will come, and it will be great! I have had the honor to experience a predominantly African American camp that was the most awesome camp that I have ever witnessed. Mine may not be as awesome as Kids Across America (whose mission it is to build Christian leaders,) a highly-funded ministry beautifully located on the water in Branson, Missouri. But if I can achieve this dream, I will have accomplished one of the greatest missions in my life. I want to see many more of God’s children becoming disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world through camp. These new disciples need to be diverse. I am scared, but I know I can make this vision a reality.

    Thanks, Sharon, for your service with the UMCRM Association and beyond, and for taking the time to help us all get to know you better. We hope you will realize your camp dream, and we hope some of us can be a part of making it come true.

  • 30 May 2018 9:36 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    Those of us involved with United Methodist Camp and Retreat Ministries have amazing stories to tell! Stories of unity, of hope, of transformation. We help unite kids, teens, and adults from all walks of life. We help them unite in encountering the risen Christ. We use intentional experiences to help them unite together in building bridges from where they are to where they can be. We inspire them to unite in transforming the world. We live out what it means to be #UnitedInCamping!

    You're invited to join with the UMCRM community this summer in collaboratively sharing our stories through the visual medium of photography. It’s as simple as posting at least one photo each week—from June to August—that best reflects the given word for that particular week. You can post on whichever social media platform(s) you prefer, we just ask that you use the hashtag: #UnitedInCamping. If you post to Instagram or Facebook, be sure to tag @UMCRM in your photos. You might also consider inviting your campers, guests, and staff to participate (just make sure that all appropriate permissions are acquired and that individuals know your camp's social media guidelines in advance).

    Inspiration for the weekly themes comes from the 7 Foundations of United Methodist Camp and Retreat Ministries. We hope this helps all of us think more intentionally about our shared core values in the daily chaos of summer. We also hope this helps the people of our denomination and the world better understand the vital role Camp and Retreat Ministries plays in the current and future “Big C” Church!

    June 3 — Creation

    June 10 — Disciples

    June 17 — Transformation

    June 24 — Sacred

    July 1 — Nurture

    July 8 — Faith

    July 15 — Care

    July 22 — Appreciation

    July 29 — Partner

    August 5 — Hospitality

    August 12 — Community

    August 19 — Leader

    August 26 — Inspire

    We look forward to seeing your stories this summer!

     – Matt Williams (Sky Lake, Upper New York), Collin Grooms (Lake Lucerne, WI), and the UMCRM Board of Directors

  • 23 May 2018 7:26 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    By now most have you have received or seen promotional information for the United Methodist National Youth Event, Youth 2019.  Past events have taken place in the latter part of June, so most groups found it “doable” to attend the youth event and their regular session of summer camp.  However, in 2019, the event will take place in July, right smack dab in the middle of camp! As a person in ministry with young people in BOTH youth ministry and camping ministry, I’m committed to both, and would like to help leaders consider your options. I believe in and value the camp experience for each and every young person, and as well, I know the power of this national event on the faith formation of young people. To be in that place with THOUSANDS of other United Methodist youth in worship and service and fellowship is second to none. So WHAT IS A CAMP PERSON TO DO?  

    I suggest you make Youth 2019 part of your summer camp program! In my home conference we have some very small youth groups that did not have the numbers or resources to attend as a youth group. So our conference offered the event as a week of camp so individuals could sign up and attend. Consider the following ways to support BOTH important ministries for our young people:

    • Offer the Youth Event as a week of camp.  Here’s how our ministry did it: We did not run our regular senior high program during the week of the National Youth Event.  I sought funding for two chaperones through Camping and Young People’s Ministries at our Conference and had individuals sign up through the camp registration system. The price included the event and coordinated transportation. I also collected forms needed for both the event and my chaperones, registered the group, and arranged for the extra day activity (last time it was in Florida on a Disney property).

    • Offer it as a part of a camp experience.  Have a group attend the event with some of your staff, then return to camp for a few days to debrief and apply their experience from the event to their life of faith through a few days of reflection and further processing at your site.

    • Schedule senior high camp during a different week (NOT the week of the event), so if their youth group is attending they don’t feel that they have to choose between camp and the event.

    Bottom line, there will be those who will choose one experience over the other because of time or money or both.  There will be those who will choose the event because it only happens every four years or they aren’t a “camp person.”  I will say, the year I ran Youth 2015 as a week of camp, it gave me the opportunity to have a connection with young people with whom I had not connected before. A few of them even tried out camp the next year as a way to reconnect with the youth they had met at the national event.  I feel it is our responsibility not to be in “competition,” but to embrace and support the many ministries outside of the local church that help in creating disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

    Learn more about Youth 2019 : http://youth2019.com/

    Connect with "Live Well" on Facebook

    Kelly Peterson-Cruse is a former Camp Director/Owner and served for 10 years as Director of Camping and Young People's Ministries in the Cal-Nevada Conference. She

    has just accepted a new position relating to Camp/Retreat Ministries at UMC Discipleship Ministries, along with her part-time role with Young Peoples' Ministries for the Western Jurisdiction of the UMC. Her ministry is fueled by good coffee, the energy of young people, and the love of Jesus.

  • 16 May 2018 7:44 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    Close your eyes and imagine yourself surrounded by 300 of your colleagues, friends, and camp family...

    ...joining your hearts and voices in worship under the music leadership of Chuck Bell. Be filled with the spirit through the words of Reverend Junius Dotson and the lively teaching of Reverend Melissa Cooper.

    Breathe a few deep breaths as you consider the connections you make at tables and the connections you’ll make “@ the Table”. Forging new relationships and reestablishing old relationships—be filled with the hope that friends in ministry bring. These connections “@ the Table” will be strengthened by a variety of keynotes and workshops—brought to you by professionals in camp and retreat ministry, Beth & Travis Allison. You, too, are invited to share “@ the Table” as a workshop leader (Apply now!).

    Smile and feel the joy of soon-to-arrive campers and of the opportunity to create new communities as we offer places where children, youth, and adults feel the celebration of being fully loved and fully included. That same work and time is being placed into creating this space for you “@ the Table” this coming winter. You have a place, and we hope you’ll join us “@ the Table.”

    Registration will open in late summer. In the meantime, make sure the Gathering is on your calendar (January 28-February 1, 2019!) and in your 2018 budget.

  • 02 May 2018 8:59 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    Are you trying to strengthen your board?

    The answer should be “yes!”, an ongoing goal of every director and existing board member. We always need to be on the lookout for who is needed and can bring resources to our work by serving on the board. But sometimes we go about it in ineffective ways. We think we need a lawyer or business people or people who have wealthy friends, before we take stock of what skills are already inherent in the current board membership, and what skills are needed to help us accomplish the goals for this ministry in the next several years.

    Focus on actions needed when developing a board membership matrix!

    Rather than recruit someone "with connections to city hall," ask a prospect if he would be willing and able to set up a meeting twice a year with those responsible for building and zoning regulations that might affect your next building plans. Instead of recruiting someone because she's wealthy, ask her whether she would be willing to organize three other board members into a group that would try to raise $50,000 per year as a group. Instead of framing your need for persons of various racial/ethnic backgrounds, recruit members of communities you actually want to and can serve. Together identify leaders who provide the people connections and possibly the training needed, so that more diverse populations actually participate in your ministries.

    By focusing on what people will do rather than what people are, we accomplish three goals:

    • We broaden our field of sight as we recruit for the board. Rather than just looking for someone in marketing, we think more widely and include bloggers, writers, community organizers, and others who know how to communicate a message.

    • We don't end up recruiting someone with the right demographics or professional background or financial means but who can't or won't do what we have mistakenly assumed they could or would. When we recruit people for what they will do, we get people who can and do what is needed, because we've asked them if they can and will. And someone who has joined a board to help with something they’re passionate about and able to do, is someone who will want to get started on that at his or her very first board meeting.

    • We ground board recruitment in the needs of this organization at this time in its development, rather than on a generic set of skills or attributes out of a textbook. By doing so, we focus our recruitment on the critical path of our unique organization and its strategic, pressing needs.

    So throw out that template board composition matrix. Instead, ask these questions:

    What are the three most important things for our board to accomplish in the next 1-4 years?
    Do we have the right people on the board to make those things happen?

    Rev. Lisa Jean Hoefner serves part-time as Director of Lake Tahoe UMC Retreat Center in King’s Beach, CA and pastor of the Dinner Church housed at the Center. She also chairs the UMCRM Association’s Development Committee, is UMCRM's unofficial expert on the History of United Methodist Camping, and plays in the Tahoe Toccata Symphony. Lisa Jean retired as Executive Director of Camp/Retreat Ministries for the Oregon-Idaho Conference in 2015. Her career has spanned nearly four decades serving local churches and camp/retreat ministries. Lisa Jean also holds a D.Min. in Camp/Retreat Ministry and a certificate in Nonprofit Management.

  • 18 Apr 2018 8:40 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    Have you ever wondered what Dr. Seuss’s stout character the Lorax and the United Methodist Church might have in common? Well honestly, I would be surprised if you had. But indulge me for a moment by considering the possibilities. Once you begin recalling the whimsical illustrations yet raw themes of Dr. Seuss’s colorful environmental tale, it might not be too hard to scrape up an answer: both entities realize the sincere importance of creation care and declare it in ways they deem most effective. (The Lorax had a habit of “shouting and puffing” to get his point across—surely we don’t know any good Methodists like that!)

    One of The United Methodist Church’s clear avenues of sharing the importance of creation care is through camp and retreat ministries. In fact, one of the Seven Foundations of United Methodist Camp and Retreat Ministries is to specifically Teach Creation Care and Appreciation. While I can’t stake any claims that the Lorax was a practicing Methodist, I can say with certainty that he shared some of the same values. One section of the Social Principles (found in The 2016 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church) reads:

    All creation is the Lord’s, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it. Water, air, soil, minerals, energy resources, plants, animal life, and space are to be valued and conserved because they are God’s creation and not solely because they are useful to human beings. God has granted us stewardship of creation. We should meet these stewardship duties through acts of loving care and respect. (Read the whole text here)

    Readers of this UMCRM blog are likely to already regard Creation with a certain sacredness. It is likely you have experienced the presence of God while sitting on an old log around an outdoor campfire, heard the whisper of the Holy Spirit as you strolled through the still woods. You have probably gaped in awe of our Creator as you gazed at a magnificent mountain or as you lay beneath the vast spattering of stars across a soundless night sky, silently beckoning your heart to worship. I’m sure you can sympathize with the Psalmist as he exclaimed, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.” (Psalm 19:1)

    As we ponder the wisdom and magnificence of our Creator, take a moment to consider your connection with nature a step further—do you only appreciate it, or do you care for it? Do you only consume it, or do you give back to it? Do the actions of your daily life benefit it or harm it?

    In my work at Outdoor Science Camp, one of the primary themes we try to impart to students is the practice of stewardship of the creation. We encourage them to pick up trash, remove invasive plant species from local ecosystems, protect and conserve watersheds, and weigh their food waste at each meal. We do these things not only because God has given us the responsibility to steward the precious, life-giving resources to which we so readily have access, but also to teach that consuming anything in excess can be harmful. The more resources one consumer uses, the fewer another has. You’ve heard it said, “Live simply so others may simply live.” How might the way we live day-to-day perhaps impact a neighbor down the street or another across the ocean?

    A favorite game we play at Outdoor Science Camp to demonstrate consumption and balance in an ecosystem is called Oh Deer. Students are divided into two groups, some as deer and others as resources, which include food, water, and shelter. The group collectively decides “symbols” to represent each resource. (Making waves with one’s hands to represent water, for example.) The resources and deer are placed in separate lines facing one another. The deer each choose one of the three resources they would like to “find” during a particular round and tell the facilitator which they will be looking for. When the round begins, each stationary resource puts up the symbol to represent which resource he is providing for that round, and each deer tries to tag the resource she told the facilitator she is hoping to find. If she tags the resource before another deer does, she lives another round and the resource becomes a deer as well, causing the deer population to increase; conversely, if she doesn’t tag the resource she needs, she becomes a resource herself and the deer population decreases. During the game, we graph each round to illustrate that when an ecosystem contains more consumers than resources, the deer population is, over time, affected, thus demonstrating the need for balance in an ecosystem. I always like to take discussion of this game a step further by relating it back to the concept of stewardship. A phrase I find myself frequently using is: “Anything we consume in excess can be harmful.” When the strongest, fastest, wealthiest, most privileged consumers use resources more quickly than the resources can support or be distributed to the whole, some consumers don’t survive. I know that for me, it’s easy to feel far-removed from those lives receiving the “picked through” or “left-over” resources or those being detrimentally affected by our consumption, but that does not mean it’s not happening, and it certainly doesn’t mean we should be allowed to avert our eyes.

    I challenge you to prayerfully take a few moments for an introspective look at how you consume. A few questions you might ask yourself are: What do I consume on a regular basis? Which items are a necessity, and which just a luxury? Where is [object of consumption] sourced? Is there a particular area in my life that I can simplify, thus decreasing my consumption? Do some of the things I consume place a greater burden on God’s Creation; and how might I minimize the environmental and human footprint of my daily choices?

    I believe that as the church, we are to be at the leading edge of creation care, not only because we have been entrusted an incredible creation by a more magnificent Creator, but because our consumption of the earth and its resources affects other people, children made in the image of the Creator himself. So what do we do? What might be a next step? In the words of Dr. Seuss, spoken through the Lorax, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” It is our duty and blessing, as followers of a good Creator, to help things “get better,” participating in the redemption of the whole Creation that God has promised. We honor the Creator when we live lightly and help those who camp, learn, and retreat with us also to grow in their care for creation.

    As you observe Earth Day this weekend in whatever ways you celebrate, I invite you and those you teach and lead to consider your own day-to-day consumption of resources, perhaps trying a new way to simplify. Let us encourage one another in the joy of simplicity and hold each other accountable to the discipline of it. Of this, I think the Lorax would be proud. In this practice, we honor God’s commandments and our United Methodist values. I believe our Creator might just be smiling as well.

    Genée Morrison and her husband Zane live in Santa Cruz, CA, where they both enjoy teaching at Mount Hermon Outdoor Science School. Although this is their second year in CA, they have deep roots in Kentucky, where they spent many summers at Aldersgate UM Camp and Retreat Center, the place their passion for camp ministry was fostered. In her free time Genée enjoys hiking, climbing at the rock gym, and experimenting in the kitchen. Her most recent experiments include chocolate kidney bean dip and garbanzo bean curry. Genée also serves on the UMCRM Association Board of Directors.

  • 11 Apr 2018 8:41 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    Of course we are all thankful for donations of all kinds. Recently our site has been blessed by many #SurprisePackage deliveries. A year ago, my staff and I started a Wish List through Amazon. As we thought of things we needed, could use but not a necessity right now, or simply thought would be fun, we added them to our Wish List. Over the last year we gathered a wide variety of items. You can view our current Wish List here. We have dog toys for programming, office supplies, kitchen supplies, a wet floor sign that looks like a banana peel, mountain board parts, and so much more. Every now and then we go in and check to see if there's a high need for something that we'll just go ahead and purchase ourselves. Last year when we started the Wish List a few people contributed and sent us a gift. This year it has taken off! It seems that every other day we receive a new package of blessings from someone. Sometimes they include a note and we're able to use the Amazon QR code to send them a thank-you. Other times we have no idea who sent it. Either way, we take a picture of whatever arrived and post it on our Instagram and Facebook to share our excitement. This past week we received 16 hammocks, 12 tiki torches, 2 mops, batteries, a keyboard, name tags, and a paper cutter! Our camp supporters are amazing. If your camp doesn't have a Wish List, I highly advise you start one soon to give your supporters an easy, new way to contribute to your ministry.

    Here are Amazon's instructions to create a List:

    1. Go to any Amazon page. Hover over "Account & Lists" and select Create A List from the drop-down. 
    2. Click Create your list. Your list will be available and you can change its name by hovering over the list name and clicking the Edit list name link.
    3. Select Edit list profile from the List Actions filter at the top of your list to update your default shipping address, personal description and preferences.
    4. Note: Gift givers will only see the name, city and state of the shipping address you select unless the List is marked as for an organization.
    5. You can designate whether your list is for an organization and you'll have the option to provide the URL of the organization’s website.
    6. Click Save and browse for an item.
    7. Click Add to List under the Buy box on the right-hand side of any item's product detail page.
    8. You can make updates to your List any time.
    9. Choose your List sharing settings -- you can make it public or limit access to only those with the link. You can share the link to your Wish List on your website, via email, on social media... 

    Derek Bergman is a lifelong United Methodist from Elkhorn Nebraska, just outside of Omaha. He served at Camp Fontanelle (NE) as the Assistant Site Director from 2008 until he and his family joined the family at Lake Okoboji (IA) in February of 2017. Derek enjoys all areas of camp life and especially enjoys seeing all the various ways children of all ages are able to connect with God. He's awash in blessings this week with the donation to camp of a Tiny House, not to mention all those wonderful #SurprisePackages!

  • 28 Mar 2018 6:00 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    Global Ministries EarthKeepers:

    A Free Training Opportunity to Enhance Creation Care in Your Camp and Retreat Ministry

    By Rev. Jenny Phillips, Global Ministries Creation Care Program Manager

    Atlanta, GA ● May 17-20, 2018

    Detroit, MI ● Sept 27-30, 2018

    Salt Lake City, UT ● Nov 1-4, 2018


    I first felt my call to ministry at Camp Indianola on the shores of Puget Sound near Seattle, WA. My experiences as a camper, camp leader, camp administrator, and camp fundraiser taught me the deep connections between care for creation, stewardship of resources, and discipleship. Now I’m part of the Global Ministries EarthKeepers program, where I’m working to build those connections for people throughout the church. EarthKeepers is a terrific opportunity for both new and seasoned volunteers and professionals to focus on environmental stewardship in their camp and retreat settings.


    EarthKeepers equips United Methodist laity and clergy to develop or deepen environmental initiatives in their churches and communities, and it connects them with a broader community of United Methodists who are active in creation care. Training topics will include eco-theology, intersectionality, strategies for social change, and United Methodist resources. Participants will leave the training with a plan to develop a project that addresses a need in their ministry setting or community. Projects of current EarthKeepers include solar campaigns, community gardens, curriculum and program development, and building efficiency projects.

    The Atlanta training will include a component on green buildings. We will meet with Shane Totten, Director of Research + Innovation at Southface, a non-profit organization that promotes green building. Shane has experience working with camp and retreat leaders and has practical know-how for saving money and improving energy and water efficiency at camp and retreat sites.

    The Detroit training will include a component on sustainable community development. We will meet with leaders at Cass Community Social Services, an agency that provides food, housing, health services and job programs in green industries. Cass is a great organization to learn from if you’re looking for ways to meaningfully expand your ministry with limited resources.

    The Salt Lake City training will include a component on climate change as it relates to disaster mitigation, relief and recovery. We will meet with Brian Diggs, Associate Director of the UMCOR West Depot, and will visit and volunteer at the Depot. Many of our camp and retreat centers are experiencing the impacts of increasingly frequent and severe weather events. At this training, you’ll develop skills for talking about the connections between climate, weather and disaster.

    Lodging, meals and training are paid for by Global Ministries; participants are responsible for their travel to/from the training. Application due for the Atlanta training by April 26, for the Detroit training by Sept 6, and for the Salt Lake City training by October 11. Apply today!

    Click for more information about the training, cost, commitment and more

    Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at jphillips@umcmission.org if you have questions, would like to brainstorm project ideas, or want to discuss creation care aspects of your ministry. Many thanks for your good work!

  • 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. 

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