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  • 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


  • 15 Nov 2017 9:41 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    Students in Compass Points Program Development course Oct 2017UMCRM participants were: Geoff Fielder (Tanako, AR), Matt Williams (Sky Lake Camp, NY), Abel Salas (Suttle Lake Camp, OR), Brandon Gooch (Camp Lake Stephens, MS), Zach Brandt (Northern Pines, MN), Allison Doyle (Lakeshore, TN), Jonathan Gowan (Sumatanga, AL), Ashlee Phillips (Camp Wesley, OH), Whitney Winston (Camp In The Community, Holston Conference,TN), and Jeff Wadley (Camp Bays Mountain, TN)


    Are you seeking to better understand your role and call in Christian camp and retreat ministry? Let me highly recommend the Compass Points certification program. I have attended various workshops at different conferences, retreats, and events that all sought to better equip us camp folks with knowledge and fun new ideas to take back to our camp. However, I have learned more from my time taking classes in the certification program than I ever did from these workshops.

    Students of the Biblical & Theological Foundations class, Oct 2017First, the classes are more intensive because they last over a 3-day period. Most workshops are just an hour and you never get to interact with the speakers. With Compass Points, you have time and opportunity to ask all the questions you can think of. Our instructors teach on everything from fundraising to hiring summer staff counselors to creating a mission statement.  I have learned so much from the wealth of experience all our faculty bring to the table. You also get the added benefit of hearing from your fellow classmates about how they are dealing with certain issues or have found solutions to common problems.

    final campfire, Compass Points Oct 2017Getting to know Christian camping people from various denominations around the country has been my favorite aspect of the program. I have realized we are all asking the same questions and that there is more that brings us together in community than divides us. What unites us is our love for sharing Jesus and building His kingdom through camp and retreat ministry.  The different ways we try and separate ourselves from others soon fall away as you hear other people’s passion for the work they do day in and day out. The community I have formed through the Compass Points certification program has truly been a blessing to me and one of the best parts of my whole experience.

    The Compass Points certification program will help you be a better camp and retreat professional. Whether you are just starting out like me or you have 20 years of experience, the classes offered will enable you to be the best that you can be. It will help you to continue building God’s kingdom one camper, one activity, one encouraging word at a time.  


    Jonathan Gowan is Director of Summer Camp Ministries at Sumatanga Camp & Retreat Center, Alabama. He formerly served the summer camp ministry at Lakeshore (TN) for 7 years and as a local church Youth Director prior to that.  Jonathan feels strongly that camp and retreat ministry is part of the greater church, and believes it is his call to pour into young adults to help them see their part in the Kingdom.



  • 08 Nov 2017 7:46 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)


    “Go and make disciples… baptizing them… and teaching them to obey…”  Matthew 28:19


    We all know the Great Commission; the exhortation from our Lord to help form one another in discipleship, to initiate one another into the fellowship of the church, to inspire one another into transformed lives characterized by world-changing behaviors of piety and mercy after His example. But in changing times and circumstances, sometimes we wonder how to take people deeper into discipleship.


    In 2015, Rev. Curtis Brown (Director of Faith Community Development in the Pacific Northwest Conference) shared to a group of Camp and Retreat leaders that in our Methodist heritage discipleship growth was deeply rooted in a back-and-forth movement between three focal points. Drawing from the strong start of our Methodist movement, Rev. Brown named the three nodes as "sacramental worship,” “class meeting,” and "camp meeting.” I would describe the three points as Experiential Worship, Intentional Community, and Creative Dislocation.


    Experiential Worship is the experience of being both in the presence of divine mystery and within a community greater than oneself. For the early Methodists, this was experienced through worship in their local parish. Through liturgy and sacrament they experienced the transcending presence of God and the communion of saints. In baptism, we are initiated into the fellowship of the church and the mystery of grace; in holy communion we are renewed and reconnected with the grace that welcomes, heals, challenges, and sustains us.


    Today, many churches excel in providing inspiring, experiential worship. Some invite people into God’s larger story and community through traditional liturgies and music. Others incorporate modern rituals and varied communal practices to help provide a place for people to experience God’s presence and express their worship.


    The second node, which in the days of our earliest movement was done through Methodist societies, classes, and bands, is that of Intentional Community. Today many churches incorporate this important focal point as a key part of their ministries, developing Sunday School classes, small groups, Bible studies, covenant accountability groups, or other gatherings of people with an intentional focus on their growth as followers of Jesus.


    Years of evaluative study and training have taught us that personal discipleship grows best in the context of an intentional community that lovingly balances acceptance and truth-telling, encouragement and challenge. We know the importance of smaller, intentional communities where we hold one another accountable. We may vary on how successfully we lead in this node, but we are aware that resources abound: from the multitude out of Willow Creek to the work of our Discipleship Ministries’ Steven Manskar, from the discipleship plans of 3DM to the Wesleyan revival moment of England’s Inspire Network.


    But there is a third node that we perhaps neglect, to our detriment. In the Methodist movement this was experienced through field preaching and/or the camp meeting; times outside of the norm of parish life or community life of Society, Class, and Band. These were experiences where growing disciples stepped away from their normal routine, and as a result saw and heard the divine a bit differently; a bit more clearly. For this node I borrow a term that others have used, “Creative Dislocation.” (I believe I first encountered this concept in writings of Brian McLaren.)


    Experiences of Creative Dislocation invite us outside of our normal routine and experience, and somehow, through changes in geographic location, religious ritual, or daily rhythm, we find ourselves open to the divine in a different way. It’s not that God is suddenly more present. Rather, like the experience of the disciples at the Mount of Transfiguration, we suddenly glimpse more clearly the divine that is always present; the God who is always with us. Our perception expands and, when nurtured, informs and sustains us as we re-enter our regular rhythms of life.


    Today we can experience Creative Dislocation in a number of ways. The Walk to Emmaus and Chrysalis are weekend retreats hosted by church leaders that bless adults and youth, respectively. I personally find the experience of the Upper Room’s Academy for Spiritual Formation deeply meaningful. Camps and retreats may be hosted by camping centers, annual conferences, districts, or local churches; and the experience therein blesses many with a renewed spiritual awareness of God.


    Like a three-legged stool, I believe these three “nodes” of discipleship combine together to support the overall mission. And I believe that as we intentionally engage these three nodes, we move deeper into our commitment to knowing and following Jesus Christ. As we progress, our Lord inspires (and perhaps compels!) us toward greater personal and social holiness; calling us to new patterns of personal and social behavior aligned with Jesus himself:

    • Experiential Worship, in its best expressions, gives us a glimpse of heaven on earth, compelling us to do what we can to truly fulfill the prayer “Thy will be done on earth…”
    • Intentional Community fosters our growth as agents of change, both within ourselves and for our world, by nurturing and challenging us after Christ’s example.

    • Creative Dislocation removes us from the standard pressures and rhythms of life, allowing us greater space to reflect on our lives, our roles, and the impact we might have toward achieving peace and justice in this world. 

    In re-sharing this with our Camp and Retreat Ministry network, I am keenly aware how our varied UMCRM sites and ministries serve an important role in the spiritual formation of children, youth, and adults. Indeed, several of the 7 Foundations of Camp and Retreat Ministry speak to our role in providing “creative dislocation” as an integral part of a holistic approach to spiritual formation! As we Partner with United Methodist Churches and Agencies with our commitment to Provide Sacred Places Apart, Extend Christian Hospitality and Community, and Nurture Christian Faith and Discipleship, our sites’ unique missions, objectives, and ministries serve the greater good of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.




    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. While he has yet to find a TARDIS, Ron is currently traveling through time, just slowly and in one direction.


    This reflection was originally written for the Desert Southwest Conference and helps inform the “Mountain Pathways” Discipleship Plan at Trinity Heights UMC.



  • 01 Nov 2017 10:01 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)


    Promising young athletes are connected with key coaches, sought out and recruited to excellent teams and sports programs. Promising young scholars’ test scores are shared with top universities, building a pipeline toward future academic success. Who’s responsible for recognizing, “coaching,” and developing promising young disciples of Jesus Christ? What are the key opportunities that will nurture their gifts and build their skills and networks? Could we more intentionally build faithful young Christian leaders through whom God will transform the world? Could churches, camp and retreat ministries, campus ministries, mission agencies, and others collaborate better in their efforts to engage youth and young adults in faith formation? More than 30 United Methodist leaders from these fields of ministry gathered in Dallas to address these questions and look toward a future that more fully embodies a “Culture of Call.”


    The Richard and Julia Wilke Institute for Discipleship (IFD) is named for the authors of the Disciple Bible study program that has deeply engaged United Methodists and beyond in small group study, transforming the relationship between faith and scripture for many. More recent endeavors of the Institute include the online platform BeADisciple.com, bringing rich virtual learning experiences to participants wherever they are in the world. As part of its newest project, the Timothy Circle, IFD hosted an intentional time of conversation with United Methodist leaders engaged with youth and young adults, with support from AFTE, A Foundation for Theological Education. Guests were invited to meet at the Perkins School of Theology in Dallas from camp/retreat ministries, campus ministries, and local church ministry with young people. UMCRM participants included Kim Bell (Glisson, N.Georgia), Jen Burch, Melissa Cooper (Life Enrichment Center, FL), Laura Goldenbaum-Yang (Don Lee Center, NC), Matt Idom (Lakeview, TX), Jack Shitama (Pecometh, MD), Troy Taylor (Magruder, OR), and Joel Wilke (Horizon, KS). Along with colleagues from campus and local church ministries, the group was joined by “listeners” from IFD, UMC Discipleship Ministries (including UMCRM’s Kevin Witt), the Perkins School of Theology and Southern Methodist University, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), Project Transformation, and several others involved with missions and faith formation opportunities with young people.


    The conversation began on the subject of “call,” coalescing in a collective definition that expanded the meaning far beyond callings to ordained ministry. As a group, participants shared a strong belief in the “priesthood of believers” and the idea that every person can live in the service of God and participate in the transformation of the world through Jesus Christ. The conversation moved to sharing specific ways that various ministry settings may (and do!) cultivate the awareness of a call in those they serve. It was touching to observe the passion and excitement with which participants described their ministries. The ideas that surfaced are too many to list: campus ministries collaborating with mission agencies, connecting students to seminaries, helping to recruit camp/retreat ministry staff, camps that are training worship leaders and Christian educators, service learning retreats that partner camps, campus, and community, internships that connect students back to local churches. There are so many exciting programs and opportunities available to youth and young adults, but how do they learn about them? Who are the connectors?


    It was humbling, at times, to realize the untapped potential for collaboration among ministry areas. Camps, campus, and churches often operate with limited resources and fall into functioning as “silos,” disconnected from sisters and brothers who share many of the same goals. The metaphor of “passing the baton” as in a relay race became a key touchpoint as we realized that the “handoff” is often a place where the metaphorical baton gets dropped. How are camps & retreats receiving youth group members, Sunday school kids, etc.? How do camp/retreat leaders connect young people coming “down from the mountain” from our experience and re-entering their church, family, and community? How do churches and camps hand off the metaphorical baton when a young person heads off to college? How are we connecting promising disciples with the next step in their path of faith formation? The experience of the Call Cultivation conversation deepened our commitment to working better together. Keep an eye out in your region for extensions of the conversation. Or start your own! How well is your ministry aligned with others in the local church, on campus, and in missions and community? Does your Annual Conference have a Vocational Discernment Coordinator?


    IFD’s new Timothy Circle is an emerging resource that aims to connect young people with mentors and opportunities oriented toward this goal. The project includes a searchable online database (going live in 2018) of resources and opportunities for students exploring and clarifying their call. It features training and community for local church mentors engaged in helping young people on that journey. Registration is already open for the Mentor Training courses through BeADisciple.com in early 2018. The different aspects of the Timothy Circle will come together through a phone app that will act as a portal to connect young people (and those who support them) to community, resources, and opportunity listings. Camp and retreat ministries will be encouraged to participate in the Timothy Circle by listing leadership training programs, internships, mission/service experiences, and other faith formation and call-cultivation opportunities. UMCRM leaders can also be key points of connection and avenues for communication and collaboration. Let's become better handlers of "the baton" of young disciples, running with intention the race that's before us and practicing our handoff skills so no one gets dropped along the way. 


    Jen Burch is the part-time Administrator for the United Methodist Camp & Retreat Ministries (UMCRM) Association.  A former UMC camp Director, she works from her home office near Denver and delights in supporting and connecting the UMCRM community. Full disclosure: Jen edits this blog and the weekly S'more Mail e-news. Jen also has joined the Timothy Circle team to help coordinate organizational partners. 



  • 18 Oct 2017 5:04 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    Abi Fuesler is currently attending Brevard College in Brevard, North Carolina, where she is pursuing a degree in Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education with minors in Business and Environmental Studies. Abi is the youngest member on the UMCRM Association Board of Directors and is the biggest fan of Frosted Flakes in the entire Western Jurisdiction. Abi has been passionate about camping ministry since the first grade, when she knew that she was called to be a camp counselor. When she isn't at camp or studying, Abi is FaceTiming her chihuahua, who is living at home with the rest of Abi's family in San Diego, California.


    In an effort to learn more about why camp is special, I interviewed my best friend, Maya McLeod, whom I met at Camp Cedar Glen in Julian, California 11 years ago. As long-distance friends for all but one of those years, camp was the one week out of my year that I was guaranteed to spend time with her. Now that we can't have that time as campers, I cherished a little time with Maya to reflect on our experiences. After conversation regarding Maya’s recent wisdom teeth extraction, the following discussion ensued:


    Abi: So Maya, what do you think it was about the camp atmosphere that allowed our friendship to form?


    Maya: Well, for one you’re just dropped off with random strangers. We could put our best foot forward in our effort to make friends. Plus, you’re living in community with these people 24/7 for a week.


    A: Without technology, too, you really have to connect with people.


    M: Yeah. I feel like it’s that "we’re all in this together" mentality. Like the bugs might be crazy one year, and as unpleasant as that is, it’s a shared experience that a group of people who were initially strangers are having together. That’s one way that I will always be able to relate to those people.


    A: How has camp impacted your spirituality?


    M: I think being in nature is where I feel most spiritual because I’m away from distractions and I can really see the beauty of God’s work.


    A: That’s a good one. I think one of the reasons my faith is strong is due to my counselors. I was surrounded by these cool 20-year-olds and I realized I wanted to be like them. When they displayed their spirituality during campfire or praying before a meal, young Abi saw people with strong Christian faiths. I’m sure part of me was aware that if I was going to be a positive influence in others’ lives, I should really look towards Christianity as a guideline for how to be that positive influence, if that makes sense.


    A: Why do you think UM camping is something that needs to continue happening in the world?


    M: It’s so much more rewarding than doing a “craft camp” at the church or a YMCA thing. It’s like you get that same experience of making friends and getting away from home, but gain so much more. I can’t explain exactly how it works, but growing as a person and in your faith identity has to be a part of it.


    A: What hopes do you have for the future of camp ministry, Maya?


    M: Oh, gosh. I hope it doesn’t change a lot, honestly. Growth is a good thing, but I hope people know camp doesn’t need the latest gadgets to be a place of significance. Like with all the technology, I feel like it’s just going to turn into glamping, you know?


    A: Yeah, that’s totally valid. I would say, too, that I hope camps do more to be of service to the outside community. Church and camp and the way I was raised and all sorts of things have taught me that being of service is a big part of the Christian faith. It’s easy to feel really fulfilled and stoked on life when you’re at camp, and sometimes when I’m in that mindset I forget that there are others out there who aren’t feeling that fulfillment. I get excited when camps work to serve populations inside of camp that wouldn’t ordinarily have access to that fulfillment, or camps go into the world to reach people that way.


    Thanks to Abi and Maya for giving us a window into their friendship and encouragement in our work to impact young campers' lives.





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