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  • 11 Dec 2019 12:31 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    Pictured, L to R: Russell Davis (N.GA), Mike Standifer (FL), Ron Bartlow (Desert SW), Arthur Spriggs (SC), Jen Burch (UMCRM), Sue D'Alessio (WI), Alan Rogstad (Pacific NW), Kevin Witt (Susquehanna), Dail Ballard (NC), Jessica Gamaché (UMCRM), Gary Lawson (Memphis), Todd Bartlett (OR-ID), Ethan Porter (Great Plains), David Berkey (Cal-Pac), Ryan Clements (Greater NJ), Jack Shitama (Pen-Del), Chris Schlieckert (Balt-Wash), Shea James (WV), Keith Shew (Dakotas-MN), Russell Casteel (TN), Ken Overholser (W.OH)

    Present but not pictured: Mike Huber (Upper NY), Brooke Bradley (NY)

    For several days in November, twenty-three Conference Camp and Retreat Ministries representatives gathered to fellowship and vision at the annual Conference Staff Summit. Among times of worship and education, this group worked together as strategic advisors on the direction and vision of UMCRM. Several meaningful and inspiring conversations were led by UMCRM Board Chair, Russell Davis. Topics included timely issues such as our Association identity in the changing UMC environment, supporting members through data-driven marketing and development resources, and strategies for leadership development and growth in expertise around faith-formation.  

    Attending the Summit for the first time this year was Ethan Porter, representing the Great Plains Annual Conference. Here is his reflection on the value that the Conference Staff Summit brought to him as a camp and retreat leader.  

    My time at the Conference Staff Summit at Lake Junaluska was an amazing learning, fellowship, and networking experience. It was a great time to be able to grow in my position under the guidance of some of our more experienced and knowledgeable leaders in our field. We had many strategic conversations about UMCRM going into the future. Being able to listen and participate in these talks was not only informative for questions that we have here in the Great Plains Conference, but it was nice being able to share some of our experiences in return. The most informative topic for me was the discussion on “Organization of a Reorganization” from the transitional team from Camp Tekoa and the Western NC UMC Conference Council. Listening to how they managed to re-envision one of their camps as opposed to shutting the doors provided valuable insight on how they turned the site around. In another information session, attorney Lach Zemp shared the general process and implications of non-profit incorporation and engaged us in conversation about the benefits and risks, along with answering specific questions from the group. 

    Keep your eye on S’more Mail for information about next fall’s Conference Staff Summit. It would be wonderful to have each Annual Conference represented at this valuable event. 


    Ethan Porter has served as the Director of Camp Norwesca in the Great Plains Conference since October 2019. Before coming to Norwesca he was an Assistant Manager for Walmart. He lives onsite with his trusty dog Scout and enjoys swimming and playing games with friends.  

  • 14 Nov 2019 5:35 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    For those of us who have attended previous United Methodist Camp & Retreat Ministries National Gatherings, the start of the journey always feels the same. At least it does for me. After packing the night before and an inevitable poor night’s sleep filled with anticipation followed by the long journey of driving to the airport from our relatively remote camp and retreat centers at some pre-dawn time, loading into a flight or two as we watch the familiar ground of our home states shrink below us, arriving in some new place like an anxious camper walking up to the registration table with our bags tiredly pulled behind us, loading into shuttles to finally arrive at our new home for the week. Did that sentence feel long? So does travel…but it’s always worth it, right?

    This is my seventh national gathering event. In camp-staff-dog years, that makes me somewhere in my middle-age thanks to the beautiful longevity I see in our colleagues. While I tend to be a bit introverted, I still know the faces of most of my United Methodist family. I know the eager smiles, familiar laughs, and hugs that come eagerly from those who are committed to tending the same campfires as me, just with different lakes, mountains, rivers and deserts in the background. It’s our extended family arriving for another family reunion.

    As we boarded the shuttle from the Greenville airport though, it felt quite different. I saw people that looked like my UM brothers and sisters, but somehow I didn’t recognize a single face on the bus. It was like an odd dream. Did I…did I get on the wrong bus?

    So imagine how much stranger it felt as we arrived at Lake Junaluska; a beautiful United Methodist site where I had even been to a previous National Gathering event several years ago. At registration there were the familiar fleece-vested organizing team members…but not a single face I recognized…oh wait…is that Mike Huber?

    This odd dissonance lasted the first several hours. Eerily the same, yet somehow unfamiliar and altogether different. It was unsettling to me somehow. How different would this week be? We settled into worship for the evening, gathered together below the exposed wood and history of the Stuart Auditorium. We sang, we prayed, and we laughed. We marveled together as Ken Medema weaved anthems of the words we heard shared into instantaneous song. At the right of the stage stood a giant blank canvas for Rev. Lisle Gwynn Garrity to share her gift of worship art with us. It stirred in me a wonder of just what kind of painting would fill that canvas as the week progressed. What kind of new creation would God make of all of us?

    The week proceeded with an insightful keynote from Joan Garry, who challenged us to reexamine how we prioritize and structure our non-profit effectiveness. Dr. Jim Cain stirred us with insights and new skills all week long. We heard from Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor in one of the most resonant messages of appreciation and gratitude for the work we do I have ever heard. Shane Claiborne reminded us that the need for our deep commitment to share Christ is the essential path to love needed to restore a world that seems so eager to break itself. Rev. Dr. Luke Powery concluded the week by reinforcing the potential we can have as a truly unified body of Christ, working together as unique parts, but divinely whole too.

    This feels familiar. It was encouraging and good for my soul. But do you know what was even better for my soul? Getting to know the names, ministries, and stories from all of those new faces. These were not my UM brothers and sisters. But they were my beloved siblings from denominations that have much more in common with mine than I might have considered. There were people I met who serve in camp and retreat ministries located in the same state (just a few counties over!) from where I have served for the last 14 years. And yet, in many cases, this was the first time I had ever met an actual living, breathing person from the staff of “the other church camps” in my state. It took two flights and bus ride, but we finally met!

    With these newfound friends, we shared our successes and struggles as the week went on. What a joy it was to ask questions like, “What is the best part of your camp?” and hear such wonderfully similar stories that remind us all of the best moments of serving a God who shows up in miraculous ways. And -- can I be real honest for a second? There was a small bit of relief to hear from other denominations without the looming anxiety many of us have felt from our United Methodist connections in recent years. I was reminded that despite the weight of all the decisions that are out of our control, the basic model of camp and retreat ministries remains incredibly effective. That while our future may be uncertain, our mission to show Christ’s love, grace, and forgiveness in all the ways we can remains the same and all the more important in this difficult season. That while some parts of the body of Christ are hurting, we continue to be places where all are invited to know God more. That when someone feels unsettled in a new crowd of unknown people, they can feel the comfort and care of Christ through our words and actions, inviting them into something new and good.

    Had it not been for the Great Gathering, many of us would have continued to journey in parallel to brothers and sisters who tend campfires just like ours, just under a different name. But now, after a week of shared meals, worship, teaching, and communion, perhaps we can move forward with a broader understanding of what the kingdom of God might look like here on earth.

    There is a common sadness as an event ends and we say good-bye to an even larger family who truly “gets it” when we share about the joys and challenges of camp ministry. Yet there is also a deep and resounding joy as new connections have been made and new partnerships of faith forged as a result of this historic gathering. Now that we have found joy together, may we be eager to remain connected, and may we find ways to meet again this side of heaven.

    Nick Coenen is Director of Pine Lake Camp & Retreat Center in the Wisconsin Conference. His newest ventures include (but are not limited to) becoming an Emergency Medical Responder and developing a local youth Lego League.

    Somehow Nick was able to write this reflection *during* the Great Gathering. The UMCRM Association extends its admiration and gratitude for this gift.

  • 06 Nov 2019 2:39 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    It can be hard to keep track of all the fantastic activities at camp! Spring Heights Camp and Retreat Center in Spencer, West Virginia has taken basic plastic craft beads and turned them into a fun way for campers, staff, and volunteers to remember participating in camp activities. 

    Each person at camp wears a leather nametag that they personally decorate. When they complete an activity, they “earn” a bead to add to their nametag. These beads are not only an excellent way to keep track of the activities at camp, but also a unique reward system for campers who may need the extra motivation to participate, behave during activities, and choose a challenge that is outside their comfort zone. 

    Family groups have a “bead ceremony” each night before bed. At the bead ceremony, staff and campers can share beads with one another. Each camper begins their journey with a Spring Heights bead. As they move through their week at camp, campers will earn friendship beads, happy camper beads, hydration beads, a bead for hiking, a bead for swimming, etc…the opportunities to earn beads are endless! Each bead is unique and reminds campers of their many accomplishments while at camp. The bead ceremony is a great time of bonding as a family group. Our bead program is extremely popular with staff and campers. Many campers can point to a bead and proudly say, “This is my friendship bead that Sarah gave me!” and “I earned this bead horseback riding!” Some campers have collected their name tags for years to grow their bead collection! 

    We have two extra-special beads: the “Spirit of Camp” bead and the “Christian Leadership” bead that we hand out at closing campfire (an all-camp gathering). A camper must be nominated to receive this bead. The “Spirit of Camp” bead goes to campers who exemplify the true spirit of Spring Heights, who are always positive, participating, and ready for adventure! The “Christian Leadership” bead goes to campers who shine God’s light in everything they do, dive deep into Bible Study, and lead their peers into a deeper relationship with Christ.

    The beautiful part of a bead system is it is adaptable to any camp context. You can make it what you need! Craft beads are readily accessible, and your camp can assign meaning to any bead based on your camp activities. The bead system encourages kids to try new things, builds self-esteem, and creates a strong bond in family groups. It is a simple and fun way to make a lasting memory! 

    My name is Amy Mullins, and I serve as Camp Manager of Spring Heights Camp and Retreat Center. I have been with the camp for 9 years and started at the horse barn. I love animals and I am always looking to add to our camp farm. I love spending my spare time with my two kids and husband. I have the best job and would not change it for anything.

    Photos courtesy of Spring Heights.

  • 30 Oct 2019 7:34 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    As Anne Horton looks forward to retirement, we asked her to share a little about her experiences and insights from her journey in Camp & Retreat Ministries.

    How were you called into C&R ministry?

    I started going to camp in junior high. Loved my experiences so much that when I was of the age to be a counselor, I did. During this time I felt called to work in the area of Christian Education. I worked in several churches, always taking kids to summer camp, weekend retreats, or festivals. It was during my time in South Carolina, planning, training, and leading sessions of summer camp and day camp, that I felt God's direction moving me more into camping ministry. God's word gave me direction and guidance for this, as did several mentors I had at that time. I'm grateful for the folks who, in different ways, have served as mentors for me: Peggy Mauldin, Nina Reeves, Bert Goodwin, and Jack Porter, to name a few. 

    Where have you served?

    In my forty plus years of ministry I've served at:

    • Mulberry Street UMC, Macon, GA - 2 years as Director of Youth
    • Central UMC, Decatur, AL - 3 years as Director of Christian Education
    • Gardendale-Mt. Vernon UMC, Gardendale, AL - 3 years as Director of Christian Education
    • Buncombe Street UMC, Greenville, SC - 11 years as Director of Christian Education & Program

    Camping sites that I've served are:

    • Sumatanga Camp & Conference Center, Gallant, AL (North Alabama) - 10 years - Director of Program(4), Executive Director(6).
    • Susquehanna Conference (formerly the Central Pennsylvania Conference) - 10 years as Executive Director for 4 sites (Camp Penn, Greene Hills, Mount Asbury & Wesley Forest).
    • North Georgia Camp and Retreat Ministries, Dahlonega, GA (North Georgia) for 2 1/2 years as Director of Business Operations.

    Describe your greatest blessings in this work?

    Of the many blessings I've seen:

    * Seeing how God works in the lives of the children, youth, and adults in large and small ways has been impactful.

    * Helping folks step out of their comfort zones to enrich their lives. Sometimes this is through challenge course experiences. Or seeing a camper have the opportunity to share their gifts, like singing or playing an instrument for the first time in front of other campers. Seeing young people letting go and letting God give guidance through struggles and helping them know they were not alone.

    * Seeing a young woman feel loved and accepted by Christ and her peers and ten years later seeing how she is encouraging others to share their gifts in similar ways. She's paying it forward as God provides those many opportunities.

    What's one important thing you've learned that you would like to pass along to other camp & retreat leaders?

    Stay focused on God and His direction. Keep the big picture the big picture. There will be many who will want to keep you in the weeds or the small things. God calls us to keep focused on the mission of making, training, and being disciples. Try to stay balanced between work and family.

    What's something you're looking forward to doing in your retirement?

    * Spending more time with family and friends.

    * Traveling.

    * Doing some volunteer work.

    * Working on projects around the house that need to be completed.

    Anne, you're an inspiration. Thank you for serving so well. We hope you won't be a stranger to the UMCRM community even once you're not employed full-time in this ministry!

  • 09 Oct 2019 9:37 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    The UMCRM Board of Directors announced this week the selection of Jessica Gamaché as its first-ever Association Director. We are excited about the new potential for our Association under Gamaché’s leadership!


    The Process

    Jessica was recommended by the Director Search Task Force after a three-and-a-half month process that began with over 300 initial applicants, saw almost 50 complete the essay and video requirements, narrowed to six phone interviews, and finished the first of October with three candidates interviewed in person. We were blessed to choose from an incredibly strong pool of talented individuals from within the UMCRM & UMC communities and beyond.


    The UMCRM Association Director position was made possible last spring by a generous foundation grant that will fund the position in full through 2022 and will phase out by 2024. The UMCRM Board developed the search process and an independent task force to find a person whose skill sets would help the Association best pursue its mission. Hearty thanks to our dedicated Task Force members for their commitment to what turned out to be a pretty time-consuming process: Todd Bartlett (OR), Kim Carter (AR), Abi Fuesler (NC), Pam Harris (NY), Jody Oates (OH), Mike Selleck (GA).  They were asked to recommend to us a seasoned leader to assist our member-driven, volunteer-based association toward our strategic goals of developing the servant leadership and faith-forming capacity of camp/retreat ministry professionals. A profile was developed to help communicate the Board’s priorities of acquiring project and volunteer management skills in filling the position. 


    Why We’re Excited

    Jessica Gamaché is an engaging camp and retreat professional with proven success in administrative oversight and fund development in the faith-based nonprofit context. As Camping and Retreat Ministries Coordinator in the Western PA United Methodist Annual Conference for the past eight+ years, she has been resourcing and leading camp and retreat site directors in meeting operational, financial, and programmatic objectives. Through her leadership in Western PA  and her elected service on the UMCRM Board of Directors since 2015, Jessica has earned respect as an ambassador of camp and retreat ministries and as a gifted collaborator. She understands this ministry we all share and its importance as a pathway of discipleship in the Church. Her deep Christian values and strong understanding of organizational leadership, volunteer engagement, and hospitality will certainly be assets to our Association.


    Background Information

    Having grown up as a camper, Jessica first came to United Methodist camping leadership as Assistant Site Manager and Nature Resource Guide at Wesley Forest in Central PA. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Resort Recreation Management and a Master’s in Parks and Resource Management from Slippery Rock University. In her most recent role as Camping and Retreat Coordinator for the Western PA Annual Conference, Jessica oversees the Directors of 6 sites, has spearheaded an extensive multi-year, multi-million-dollar capital campaign, worked with hundreds of volunteers, and championed camping ministries in the local church, Conference, and beyond. She was elected as a Northwest Jurisdiction representative to the UMCRM Board in 2012 and has served in various roles, most recently as Board Vice-Chair. Jessica is a proactive initiator at work and in her volunteer service, too. As a volunteer in our Association, she has been a primary driver for the Intentional Leadership Groups, UMCRM Book Group, and Online Volunteer Training, in addition to her contributions to policy governance and strategic planning. We can’t wait to see what she will be able to accomplish when UMCRM is her full-time work and primary focus!


    Getting Started

    Jessica will begin her work as Association Director on Monday, November 4th. She will participate in the Great Gathering at Lake Junaluska on November 10-14 and will meet with the Annual Conference Camp/Retreat Staff from across the country at their annual Summit, November 14-16.


    Please join us in congratulating Jessica and in praying for her as she and her family embark on this new adventure. You can reach her by email at jessica.gamache@umcrm.org.

  • 09 Oct 2019 7:17 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    Bamboo Toothbrushes and Fettuccine Stir Sticks? 

    The Inconvenient Journey to Environmental Sustainability

    Rev. Gary D. Lawson, Sr.

    “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” 

    Galatians 6:9  

    I saw it out of the corner of my eye. I growled a little bit. I was about to go out the door of the camp parsonage to get my workday started. Tough commute: just saunter across the front yard, cross the street, and walk in the office. I opened my door thinking I would just ignore what crept into my peripheral vision. The light in the back room was still burning bright. Was I in a hurry? No. Should an environmentally sensitive camp director ignore an unnecessary light using up needless power? Of course not.


    I let the door close behind me anyway, went down the front steps, took two steps through the front yard and hit the old guilt wall. I growled a little bit more, turned around, and did the thing a person of ecological integrity should have done in the first place – turned off that light. Faced that whole “inconvenient truth.” (Whatever happened to that Al Gore guy, anyway?)

    You know, I growl often and sometimes fail to choose the “inconvenient,” Creation-friendly action. I am betting that you, reader, can relate. Would you go back? Would one unnecessary light bulb bother you? I guess I hope that it would. Overcoming those little inconveniences in my home will not save the world, but I want to think that it makes a difference if all of us hit that guilt wall occasionally and turn around in response to a sacred calling to care for God’s Creation. 

    It has been a few years now since I penned an early UMCRM blog post entitled, “From the Giving Tree to Meatless Mondays: A Memoir of a Sacred Calling. At that time I shared my calling in outdoor ministry as a “caretaker of holy ground,” and the struggle to make the changes needed for Lakeshore Camp and Retreat to be a leader in caring for creation.  Just about everything we implemented in those days met with intense initial resistance, but those attitudes have mostly given way, and the “change curve” has leveled out toward normalcy. The occasional summer staffer will still try to sneak in a meat-based burger on Meatless Mondays, but they try harder to keep it to themselves. (Little do they know that we camp leaders have bigger eyes in the back of our heads than their moms do.)

    So, the journey to environmental sustainability continues. A few years ago, getting ready to teach in our UMCRM Certification core training, I made a list of over 30 things we had done at Lakeshore on our journey to become better caretakers of Creation. Each change came with a bit of excitement, followed by a bit of growling and inconvenience. I do not know about you, but each little bit of new helps me feel the energy of being the tree hugger some have called me. Each little step feels like faithfulness to that sacred calling as a steward of God’s good Creation. 

    Maybe, like me, you are the victim of what the marketing world has coined “The Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility.” It is the law that says that our excitement will lessen the longer we experience something. The moral satisfaction of adopting a new earth-friendly practice may soon lose its shine. Soon, either we’ve mastered a discipline and the practice has become our habit, or we forget all about it until we crash into the guilt wall. Many times, we just quit those best environmental practices altogether, and the Creation is left suffering as the victim. You have experienced this “law” I mentioned. Maybe you have been out mowing the yard on a very hot day. You finish and head into the kitchen for a cold soda. As you drink it, you think that it is the best soda you ever drank. You grab another. As you cool down, this second soda tastes good also. The third soda, however, probably sits unfinished. Need another example?: Remember that first kiss? Oh my! Remember your last one? That, my friends, is the “Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility,” and if it applies to kisses, you bet it will apply to your energy in attending to all the disciplines and habits you need to maintain and care for the environment in a world that still doesn’t demand it. 

    This post is meant as an encouragement to stay the course in your commitment to God’s Creation in every big and small way. Lakeshore’s latest couple of exciting commitments to Creation care at camp may go in the small category. With the ever-growing problem of plastic, we will be offering our guests a bamboo toothbrush if they arrive on site without their typical plastic one. (Fun fact: each year, if you laid all the plastic toothbrushes used by humanity end to end, you could circle the globe 3 times!) The second is replacing the little plastic stir sticks in the coffee service area with fettucine (or any other sturdy, straight pasta). I mean, come on, they are just going to stir once and throw the plastic in the trash (or, more likely, on the surface in front of the coffee pot, am I right? Growl.)


    As for me and my house, we will continue to strive to stay the course while looking for new ways to do ministry with ecological integrity. I am feeling a bit of a nudge about getting rid of my K-cup coffee service in the office and my beloved Mini Moos. (Growling again, over here by the guilt wall.) You know, those constant bits of plastic waste are hard to justify. The journey to environmental sustainability is truly inconvenient. But then, I guess no one promised that following God’s mandate to care for Creation was going to be convenient. Maybe by bearing witness together to that inconvenient truth, we in Camp & Retreat Ministry can stay encouraged about the “utility” of our small, faithful steps. Like the apostle Paul, I exhort you to not grow weary in doing what is right.

    The Rev. Gary Lawson has led at Lakeshore Camp & Retreat Center in Eva, TN since 1992. He's served several terms on the NCRC and UMCRM Board of Directors representing the Southeastern Jurisdiction, and has often served as a workshop leader and faculty member for United Methodist Camp/Retreat Ministry Certification and training events. His deep faith includes taking seriously a call to caring for God's Creation. As we go to publication this week, Gary and his spouse Vickie are actively appreciating God's Creation on an Alaskan cruise.

  • 02 Oct 2019 4:29 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    Buffalo to Bays: Moved by Camp!

    by Jeff Wadley, with Whitney Winston


    Ribbon-cutting at Bays Mountain, Jeff Wadley centerJust before the ribbon-cutting at Camp Bays Mountain, Director Rev. Jeff Wadley makes sure the finishing touches are in place. Hints of a beloved camp, now closed, are sprinkled throughout the newest addition to Holston Conference Camping, honoring the past and looking to a bright future. At the campfire circle are 63 stones comprising the fire ring, one for each year of ministry held at Buffalo Mountain Camp (BMC). In the dining hall, the mantel from Allison Lodge, where children gathered around the table for meals, is now mounted above the massive fireplace at the new camp. And at the center of Camp Bays Mountain, the bell, moved from BMC, is ready to ring in campers for years to come. The journey of closing one camp and opening a new one is filled with ups and downs, joy and tears, tragic endings, and beautiful new beginnings.

    Standing at the Washington County courthouse steps in 1947 in Jonesborough, Tennessee, the M.H. Allison family purchased 600 acres of mountain land which fell into delinquency for unpaid property taxes by a lumber harvesting company. The Allisons presented an opportunity to the Methodist Church to create a camp for the young people of the region based upon the success of the earlier campmeeting traditions of the area. Local congregations embraced the challenge and opened Buffalo Mountain Camp two years later.


    Besides developing a thriving summer camp, the Board of Directors funded and built cabins, bathhouses, a retreat center, adventure elements, off-site adventures, whitewater kayak instruction, partner collaborations, opened the facility for weekend retreat groups, and created an environmental education center for school groups. BMC was thriving. Over many years hundreds of campers made decisions to follow Jesus, and dozens of others sensed a call into ministry at the site. Marriages were performed, baptisms were conducted, and many lives were transformed by the ministry of Buffalo Mountain.


    Flood at Buffalo MountainBuffalo Mountain Camp served the East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia regions faithfully until 2012 when disaster struck. A huge thunderstorm developed over the valley and dumped more than six inches of rain in less than two hours, resulting in a flash flood and several landslides. The new pool was filled with debris, several buildings were washed from their foundations, and pavement was ripped from the surface. Plumbing was pulled from the ground, electricity was interrupted, and even the creek was rerouted along its course. When the rain came to an end, the camp staff surveyed the property with broken hearts.


    Former staff, congregations, businesses, and individuals from the community offered their assistance. Donations were received to help clean and repair what was remaining of BMC. However, the damage was done. Once hydro engineers, contractors, business leaders, landscape architects, and other leaders collected information, the Board of Directors decided to suspend operations and close the camp. Sixty-three years of fruitful ministry came to a screeching halt. Tears were shed, a decommissioning service was conducted, and a plan was set into motion to liquidate assets and to sell the property.


    In the same year as the devastating flood, another denomination ceased operation of their nearby camp and retreat center. The BMC Board decided that camping should not cease, but could be reborn. Once the BMC property sold, assets were liquidated, and the remaining donations from the flood relief were in hand, the Board acquired the new camp property about forty-five minutes away and announced that camping in the United Methodist tradition would continue in the region. From that decision was born Camp Bays Mountain located in the foothills of the mountain by the same name, situated conveniently just outside Kingsport, Tennessee. 


    A $4.1 million-dollar capital campaign, led by Director Wadley and the camp’s development team, began after consultation with Kaleidoscope, an architect firm, the City of Kingsport, church leaders, potential donors, and contractors. Now, all but 2% of capital campaign funds are secured, and the anticipation is that the effort will be fully funded by the end of 2019. Camp Bays Mountain exceeded its first two years of summer registrations, serving 578 campers, and has seen over 150 first time decisions, re-dedications, and calls into ministry. Dozens of retreat groups have made Camp Bays Mountain their new tradition. The Board has a master site plan supported by an integrated financial business plan to be a sustainable ministry into the next generation. 

    Opening worship at BaysTo honor the closing of one camp and the opening of a new facility, the Board orchestrated not only a decommissioning service led by Rev. Randy Pasqua (Holston Executive Director,) but a running-of-the- flame event. Jason Onks, former director at BMC, lit a torch at the former camp and began a 35-mile run/walk which involved former staff, campers, board members and supporters. The flame was moved through the countryside and past the courthouse steps where the original BMC purchase was made in 1947. Waiting at Camp Bays Mountain were the very first campers and staff. Anticipating the arrival of the flame from Buffalo, the campers began to sing. In the distance, the flame entered camp and was passed to the director, who started the first campfire at the new site. It was a fulfillment of a dream which resulted in United Methodist camping returning to the upper East Tennessee region.

    The God we serve made a way in a dismal situation and turned a disaster into something blessed and fruitful. The experience of building Camp Bays Mountain has been a faith-building adventure and an exercise in honoring the legacy which the founders of Buffalo Mountain Camp began in 1947. This new camp ministry is now entrusted to the next generation. 

    Rev. Jeff Wadley is Executive Director of Camp Bays Mountain. Prior to joining UMCRM, Jeff was founding pastor of Sycamore Tree UMC in Marysville, TN. He's been instrumental in developing the ministry at Bays Mountain, alongside an outstanding Board of Directors. He welcomed the first campers to the site in the summer of 2018. 

    Whitney Winston is Director of Camp In the Community for the Holston Conference. She began volunteering with the UMCRM Communications Team in fall of 2017. 

  • 24 Sep 2019 12:15 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    A South Carolina ministry site is getting a fresh start and a new purpose. On May 31, 2019, ownership of the former Rural Mission property was transferred to South Carolina United Methodist Camps and Retreat Ministries. Arthur Spriggs, Camps and Retreat Director, said the property was deeded to them in exchange for the relief of debt. “No way we were going to be able to afford such property at fair market value,” Spriggs said, noting the Lowcountry property was not only extremely valuable but attracting much interest from local real estate developers. The site is 5 acres in Johns Island, South Carolina, that sits on a two-mile waterway leading out to the Atlantic Ocean, just 2 miles by road away from the Kiawah public beach. Right now, there are about 40 beds with a dining hall, kitchen, and 3 program buildings.

    The desire was strong to keep the property in the United Methodist family. Rural Mission has a long history and a special place in the hearts of many South Carolina Methodists. Many pastors received their call to ministry while working there, and its five decades of service to the rural poor on Johns Island has drawn thousands of volunteers in ministry from across the nation.

    Spriggs said the site will now be called the Sea Islands Camp and Retreat Center. “Our first priority right now is to get the property secured, then we’ll hold a community meeting, a charrette, which will be a dreaming session of what the property can be,” Spriggs said. “We’ll be inviting community stakeholders, leaders in the area, key folks from the board, the marina folks across the water, etc. It will be a huge planning think-tank session, where we will literally ask the question, ‘What could this place possibly be?’” “We really will take off from that meeting,” he said. “We’re hoping something really cool will come out of it.”

    Also this fall, the Camps and Retreat board plans to host a big thank-you celebration for the former Rural Mission staff. Former Rural Mission Director Linda Gadson, who served at the site for 47 years, stated, “I want whatever happens now to be successful.” Gadson noted she is happy the property is staying in the UMC family. “The most important thing for me is the property was not sold from the people. I pray the property will somehow still be available for local people, then when activities take place they are still a part of it—that they can have access even if not ownership, that the connecting link to the past will still always be there.” 

    Spriggs said he is excited about the future possibilities of mission, spiritual growth, and renewal that will certainly shape the outreach at the Sea Islands site. He’s also extremely excited about the camps and retreat possibilities the property will allow. He envisions being able to bring in small groups for team building exercises, such as obstacle courses and other group bonding experiences. He said the site is perfect for water activities, too, such as sea kayaking and other programs. “That’s the key thing when we signed up for this—to do all we can to make it sustainable and give it our best shot,” Spriggs said. “We’re excited about that opportunity.”

    This article is excerpted from the original by Jessica Brodie, published by the South Carolina Annual Conference Advocate

    Photo credit to Matt Brodie, SC Conference Production Coordinator.

  • 28 Aug 2019 8:57 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    ‘Ere thirty, I learned a lesson profound,

    visiting nursing homes the town around.

    Their mem’ries faded, of what would I speak

    when visiting members older and weak?

    I told stories of self, new to their town;

    but upon my return, many would frown

    with no memory of who I might be.

    Distressed at my lack of pastoral charm,

    I sought to do good and not to do harm.

    So on visit two the Bible I took,

    and found as I read they knew that good book!

    Verses and stories they hap’ly recalled!

    Our communication no longer stalled,

    we would end by reading Psalm 23.

    Their response to me was ere more profound

    when I brought a hymnal. For at the sound

    of the first sung line of “Amazing Grace,”

    they joined me in singing, both tune and pace!

    The hymns learned in childhood, years behind

    were still alive and fresh, lodged in their mind!

    We sang with joy; these parishioners and me.


    I’ve heard tell that there are numerous studies about music and the brain, though I’m too lazy to confirm. I do know that brain waves synchronize with music at performances, and also that music helps one to focus, study, and learn. I have found that music and associated lyrics linger long in the minds of those who are otherwise slowly losing so much of themselves to dementia. And who hasn’t experienced an “earworm,” a song or partial tune that gets lodged in one’s brain on repeat?! Music demonstrates the ability to impact us deeply; influencing memory, emotion, and even our spiritual formation.

    A church was replacing its decades-old, moth worn hymnals, and one senior member was vocally unhappy about the change. After a few weeks with the new hymnal, this older man was becoming increasingly agitated and upset. Initially the pastor dismissed it as resistance to change, but finally he asked the man, who had come to the church council yet again to complain, to share why the change bothered him so much. After some thought, the man replied:

    “Well, when I was a child, my granddad and I would stand in these pews and share a hymnal, singing the songs out of it. Even now, decades later, when we sing these old hymns I can feel him standing beside me. Now, with these new hymns and their different words, I don’t feel him as much.” (In response, the pastor wisely had old hymnals returned to the pews alongside the new ones, and integrated hymns from both into worship.)

    John and Charles Wesley seized upon the power of music as a key mode of forming faith in the 18th century Methodist movement. Charles Wesley wrote over 6,000 hymns during the course of his life, working with his brother John to fulfill their mission to “spread scriptural holiness throughout the land.” Charles penned lyrics that expressively praised God and taught aspects of Christian faith, even setting them to known and popular tunes (though there is some debate over the oft-taught expression that he used “bar tunes”*), some of which we still sing in worship to this day. 

    As he gave guidance to the spiritual formation of the Methodists, John Wesley collected hymns for their use. He included among these collections advice on how to sing! His “Directions for Singing,” including the exhortation to “sing lustily and with a good courage,” are still found at the front of our United Methodist Hymnal. In encouraging one to learn these songs first, and sing them with “an eye to God in every word you sing,” Wesley was drawing upon the innate power of music to help people grow in faith.

    Today, communal singing faces a variety of challenges. It is not as familiar or as accepted as it used to be. Many come to worship and stand quietly while others sing. I’ve even seen the very act ridiculed by some outside of the church. So, why do we still sing, be it at church or camp? It’s certainly not to recall the ancestral account of Noah by chanting “arky, arky!” 

    We sing because it is an expression of our human spirit, connecting with and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We sing because the act embodies the spirit of community, whether joining in unison or adding harmony to the melody of others. We sing because our brains respond to it; a person’s whole brain “lights up” in response to music. We sing because it engages our bodies and breath and stirs our hearts. And sometimes we sing because it’s just plain fun! 

    Music both informs and inspires, and can play a vital role in forming faith, as the Wesleys vividly demonstrated. While we might remember part of a pastor’s sermon on Ephesians 2; we are likely to remember the verses of “Amazing Grace,” whether it be set to its original tune or that of the Gilligan’s Island theme. Even more, when we sing the song we might remember the story of John Newton’s radical transformation as a follower of Christ. We very well might recall a Sunday School lesson about God’s love for us, but it might take better root in our inner selves when we sing “Blessed Assurance.” Its meaning will linger all the more when we know Fanny Crosby’s story of faith and perseverance.

    Music plays a role in the formation of life-long faith at camp, too! Children and youth return from our camps with excitement about worship and the lyrics of “Awesome God” fresh on their lips. They come home sharing about a significant moment of introspection (though they might not use that word!) as their group prayerfully sang “Sanctuary” during holy communion. Sometimes their faces will light up in worship and they’ll “sing lustily” a hymn that is old and familiar to the rest of us, but was recently introduced to them in a new and “sticky” way at camp. The songs of camp – including the others we sing just for fun, like “The Belly Button Song” or “Little Green Frog” – take up residence in the hearts and minds of campers. When we can embrace this method of faith formation, our use of music can have a lasting impact on the faith and lives of those we serve.

    We still aim to “sing lustily and with a good courage… and above all… spiritually” at camp. We sing not just to praise God, and certainly not for the performance value; but also for the long-term benefits such action brings to our spiritual growth. May our camp experiences leave us humming tunes of God’s love and grace, messages worth singing for a lifetime.

    *See “Did The Wesleys Really Use Drinking Song Tunes For Their Hymns?” for debunking of this popular myth.

    This is the fourth in an inaccurately described series of three reflections promised by Ron Bartlow on the influence of our Wesleyan heritage upon the spiritual formation that occurs at camp. Portions of the preceding text were sung by trained monkeys in iambic pentameter over the voicemail of UMCRM's long-suffering editor.

  • 07 Aug 2019 3:23 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    The Intentional Leadership Group (affectionately, “ILG”) program is a new avenue, facilitated by our United Methodist Camp Retreat Ministries (UMCRM) Association, to bring together leaders in supportive community at least monthly to inspire and encourage each other in growth as spiritual leaders of camp/retreat ministries. 

    We choose to belong to an association that enhances the Christian missional effectiveness, vitality, and sustainability of UM camp and retreat ministries across the connection. One pivotal factor influencing whether we will reach this horizon together will be our own intentionality to grow as spiritual leaders capable of guiding adaptive change. As a circle of colleagues, we are and can become even more, a community of leaders committed to a common direction through mutual support of one another in life and leadership. 

    ILGs are designed to provide what many of us long for – a network of colleagues and friends as a source of real encouragement, learning, and energized shared vision as we journey forward together. Each group forms its own unique covenant to know each other, care about each other, and strengthen each other in going deeper both in spiritual growth and leadership while also reaching specific missional effectiveness goals for our own settings of ministry.  An online platform is used so group members from across the country can learn and grow alongside one another.

    Here's what current Intentional Leadership Group members are saying about the benefit they have seen from being a part of their ILG:

    “Great to have supportive people around the nation who understand the struggles and triumphs of camp and retreat ministry. Very helpful to bounce ideas off of.”

    “I enjoyed learning from people who work in a variety of roles in UMCRM and learning about the diversity of programming and opportunities our ministries provide throughout the nation!”

    “I deeply appreciate this opportunity to continue to stay connected with peers outside of my specific geographical location. One of the things I crave in this mainly solitary ministry, are for relationships with others who understand. My ILG are those people. And I'm so grateful for this experience for bringing us together.”

    “I loved connecting with folks from different camps! It brought me really valuable perspective.”

    “The thing I enjoy the most is the community, and having the time to just take a breath and fellowship with others.”

    This year the program has been revamped based on the feedback and recommendations from last year’s group members. We would like to invite you to join a group during the ILG program year that goes from September 2019 to May 2020. You can sign up for a group based on the availability in your schedule by going to this registration page. On the registration page you will be able to see the meeting spots available and who has already joined each group. 

    Are you part of a group from last year that would like to continue meeting during this upcoming year? Let us know by emailing jessica.gamache@umcrm.org. We will then connect you with resources to help your group grow in fellowship and leadership in the coming year. Included in these resources will be new session guides, a Zoom account link specific to your group, along with automatic meeting reminders. 

    We invite you to deepen personal connections and care of colleagues in ministry by being a part of the ILG program. 

    – The Intentional Leadership Group Curriculum Team: 

    Rev. Ron Bartlow

    Jessica Gamaché

    Rev. Chris Kindle

    Geneé Morrison

    Sarah Ratz

    Rev. Kevin Witt

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