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  • 12 Feb 2020 4:18 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    The week of the SEJ gathering was a time of immense learning, wonderful fellowship, and spiritual conversations. It was evident that the sessions were thoughtfully planned and led by extremely competent members of the camping community. I especially found this week helpful as a newcomer to the UMCRM world. I feel as though anyone in the camping field would have really benefited from the SEJ gathering.

    In addition to the sessions, I learned much during the time of fellowship with other attendees of the gathering. Then, on top of all the other wonderful experiences offered, the worship time presented us with a mindset on how to approach our ever-changing environment by leaning into God.

    During the first whole group session, we were given three points as a takeaway by Jack Shitama, Executive Director at Pecometh Camp and Retreat Center and author of Anxious Church, Anxious People: How to Lead Change in an Age of Anxiety. The points are to 1) remember your camp’s purpose, 2) put your employees first, 3) think big, but act small. All of these points centered around the idea that change is going to happen, but with these three things, we can adapt easier and be more successful. Personally, the biggest takeaway I had was not to let the fear of the unknown keep your camp from growing, which goes along with the "think big, act small" point.  

    In our next large group session, led by Russell Davis, Executive Director of North Georgia Camp and Retreat Ministries, there was an emphasis on being an adaptive leader. This session was more of a group discussion rather than just a typical presentation. In small groups, we discussed the differences between varying mindsets of leaders, which allowed us to understand better how we lead and if we should re-evaluate that. 

    Then our last session brought a 

    more historical approach to help us understand how to make disciples based on biblical examples, which was led by Chris Wilterdink, Director of Young People's Ministries at UM Discipleship Ministries.

    In addition to the large group sessions, we were able to attend three different workshops of our choosing. I attended workshops on trauma informed care, volunteer engagement, and experiential activities and how they are used to make disciples.

    Amy Foley from Camp Hope Worldwide led the trauma informed care workshop. This workshop brought a unique perspective of how, within the structure of having campers for one week, we can make a lasting impact to help these campers learn to self-regulate. We were presented with many small actions we can take at our camps that would allow our campers who have experienced trauma to feel safe with us at camp.

    Jessica Gamache, Association Director for UMCRM, led us in volunteer engagement. We focused on how to get volunteers and then how to keep them. We were given three points for getting them and three more for keeping them. When looking at how to get volunteers, the points are to inform, inspire, and invite. The three points for keeping volunteers engaged are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. My biggest takeaway was always to remember to leave a potential volunteer with a call to action.

    Our fellowship time was provided in the form of structured evening events and in free time. We were able to enjoy a silent disco where we all jammed out to our favorite songs while showing off our great camp dance moves. We also saw how talented our peers are in an open mic night. Then my favorite event, game night, allowed us to have some friendly competition with each other. During these times, the leaders of the sessions would also hang around, which provided a great time to ask any follow up questions we had while building a connection with them.

    Finally, our worship was a time where God was so clearly present. We were taken on a journey through the seasons of change during the sermons by Joya Abrams, which matched so well with the worship portion. I believe we all left the SEJ gathering feeling refreshed and reassured that no matter what is going on in our lives, work, or even in our denomination, God is still working, and we can still rely on Him and His goodness.

    Haleigh Davis has served as a counselor, volunteer, and intern over her time in camping. She served specifically with Camp in the Community (TN) as the intern from 2016 to 2018. Prior to her return as the Assistant Director at Camp in the Community this year, she served at Emerald Youth Foundation as a Youth Ministry Coordinator. We welcome her into the UMCRM fold and appreciate her contributing this post from her experience at SEJ! 

  • 12 Feb 2020 3:56 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    My Unfortunately Unique Path as a Program Director

    One of the first things I did as a newly hired Program Director for Lakeshore Camp and Retreat Center was to go to the UM National Camp Leader Gathering in 2001, held at Snow Mountain Ranch in Colorado. I had graduated college a month before and was stepping into a newly formed Program Director role without much certainty about what it would be like or how long I would be in it. The National Gathering was a great way to plunge right into the United Methodist camping world. 

    My boss told me to seek out other Program Directors, engage them, pick their brain, learn for myself. I met a lot of people in the course of a week. I returned to Tennessee and started the job in earnest, a 23-year-old who was really just going on 6 years of summer staff experience. Fast forward two years later to the next National Gathering, and I am feeling much more confident, more connected to people, more in touch with what year-round camp work means, but no expert by any stretch of the imagination. Many of the people I met two years ago were absent. Many Program Directors were noticeably younger than me (I was 25). Fast forward two more years. At this point, I’m an elder statesman of Program Directors at the National Gathering. There are only a handful of people my age, and part of why we are close is because there’s this feeling we are the only survivors of something. 

    Among this small group of old (late 20s/early 30s) Program Directors, our discussions more frequently landed on our colleagues who were not returning and why they had left their positions. It became more and more clear to us that many camp Program Director positions were not designed for longevity, to the detriment of our colleagues and the camps they used to serve. 

    Fast forward again to the current day. I am beginning my 5th year as a Director at Camp Magruder, a UM Camp on the Oregon Coast. I worked for 13 years in program before stepping into a director role, which is pretty unusual in our line of work. This wasn’t for lack of opportunities--I felt like my calling was still program. I realize though, I was lucky to sustain that kind of longevity. As I look at my camp now through a director lens, and as I think about other camps, it seems crucial to our success and my sanity that my department heads, particularly my Program Director, stick around 5-10 years. 

    The Road Trip to Restore Faith in Camp

    I met Sam and Sara Richardson when they stayed at my camp on an epic adventure they were taking. The Richardsons were (are!) camp people who had just left their camp to take an extended road trip in a grandfather’s RV, visiting faith-based camps, volunteering in exchange for food and a spot to park. They wrote about and vlogged their adventures along the way, seeing much of the country and getting a better taste of faith-based camping than just about anyone I knew. 

    When I asked them about my suspicion that most Program Directors are set up for burnout, they told me that at one camp where they’d worked the Program Director position was referred to as the Professor of the Dark Arts (a reference to the Hogwarts position that is occupied by a new person in every Harry Potter book). 

    I would interview them again as I put together my workshop, and I learned this was their story, too. Sam was Program Director for two years before he and Sara got married. Once married, he stayed less than two years at camp before the lack of work-life balance burned him out. By the time he left the job, he wasn’t there psychologically. They told me that their trip had partially been to revive their passion for camps.

    A Revolving Door

    I found we made similar observations about camp Program Directors. They are typically an all-star summer staffer, just out of college. They know summer camp intricately and passionately. They have very little experience with full-time employment, healthy work-life balance, and long-term visioning. They often end up working at a year-round pace that mirrors their 3-month summer pace. Though they work long hours whenever necessary, their time off policy is dictated by rigid conference-wide standards not designed for camp life. And once a new family member enters the picture, it becomes clear there is no room for a personal life if it is not had at camp.

    As I thought about this more, though, I recognized that camps are losing overall by a revolving door of Program Directors. If Program Directors last anything less than 3 years, a Director is almost constantly hiring and training someone new. The program itself is frequently unstable because campers and staffers are constantly getting used to a new personality in that role. There is never a chance to follow a long term vision for growth, because it is constantly being paused or rerouted.  

    I surveyed 50 Program Directors and 22 Directors across the country in faith based camps to compare some data with my hunches. I asked questions about support, average tenure, thoughts about the future. I concluded that most camps surveyed don’t reach or barely reach the number of years generally agreed on for a Program Director to establish a sustained program and culture. Most Program Directors would describe their training as “trial and error as I lived into the role.” While nearly all Program Directors in the survey reported working over 60 hours a week during peak season (17% reported over 100 hours a week), about 60% of Directors report providing a specific number of vacation weeks that don’t take hours worked into consideration. 

    We Can Do Better

    Young camp professionals who are entering their first full-time job and desperately passionate about camp work should consider the best ways for them to extend this work they love for many years. That means engaging leadership in how training will be executed, who will do it, how long will it take, and how will success be measured. It may mean asking for training if there are inadequacies. That’s going to mean thinking about the work as a year-round marathon and not a summer-long sprint. It will mean considering if the proposed workload and benefits will adjust to home life with a spouse and children. Will there be adequate time to recharge the battery after summer? 

    Of course, Directors should be thinking of all these things ahead of their newly hired year-round Program Staff. One of the biggest areas needing improvement, based on the surveys, is in training and support. This is an incredible time investment from planning to execution to follow-up. But, the cost for a Director to lose a Program Director every few years is subtly keeping the wheels of large sections of camp spinning in the mud. A Director needs to be aware of:

    • Time spent hiring and training new full-time Program Staff

    • Time spent covering inefficiencies from new staff person

    • Time spent covering challenges from poor/recovering/rebuilding staff cultures

    • Time spent addressing complaints over inefficient camp system from campers, parents, guests

    • Cumulative effect on Director of having less time to devote to administrative tasks, being inefficient from a constant state of catching up

    • Spiritual toll of having less time to be immersed in the joyful camp life crucial to enjoying this work

    Camp systems set up like this are a wasteful use of resources and run counter to most camp missions. Simply from a pragmatic approach, they make the work of a Director more difficult. It may not be obvious, but it takes a great toll. 

    Imagine With Me if You Will

    The dream I want all camps privileged enough to hire a full-time Program Staff to aspire to is something like this: 

    • A 10-year Program Director

    • Stability in training seasonal staff, a summer camp culture that self-perpetuates

    • Generations of campers growing into seasonal staffers who know and trust said Program Director

    • Director (after time investments early on) devotes more mental energy and time to big picture, director stuff without interruption

    • As Program Director masters basics (scheduling, standards, training, support) more time opens for new program developments and broadening camp skills

    • A great amount of trust develops from top to bottom for camp program’s integrity and dependability, and a stable group of campers/guest groups return annually

    • Program is able to incorporate more effectively in a site’s long-term master and missional plan

    • A Program Director who has matured into professional and family life through the work. Personal growth enhances program and program enhances personal growth 

    • When it is time to hire a new Program Director, there will be time for an exit plan, to hire and train side-by-side, creating a smooth transition and taking weight off Director’s shoulders to do all the training exclusively

    • A Program Director leaves on a high note rather than reaching a breaking point. They leave for new challenges, new adventures, deeper callings, or new ways to help the organization. The exit is graceful and doesn’t leave a rift in camp circles that must be repaired

    This will not just happen because a camp wants it to, so the  person who supervises this Program Director will need to plan for sixth months for training to be a major time commitment every week. The Program Director will need to be prepared to advocate for these things and have honest conversations about them. I believe, though, the payoff in the following years will save time and energy with interest and make the life of camp more meaningful and sustained. The clock is ticking! Based on my research, one-third of the camps surveyed are less than two years away from losing their Program Director if nothing changes. Over half of the camps have less than two years if their Program Director’s family situation changes. Directors and Program Directors, we can do better. Your life can be easier. Let’s do this.

    Troy’s Suggestions On How To Get There

    • Create a system of work that’s more results-based than hours-based, that incorporates involvement, completion of projects, and success of seasonal staffers.

    • Define ranges of hours for a Program Director that are realistic to Director’s actual expectations and the demands of the work in its particular season to give a framework, but emphasize the work is still more qualitative than quantitative. 

      • Explain why hours differ, the pros and cons of involvement, rest, connection, disconnection. Talk about the rhythms you hope to see during summer/retreat seasons

      • Set specific hour ranges on where the Program Director’s hours should average (ex. Summer - 70 hours per week, Fall - 35 hours, Winter - 30, etc.)

    • Director helps Program Directors choose times for vacation their first year that align with the need for rest and the rhythms of the seasons. Make sure they are getting away enough and not becoming chained to the work. I think it is good to schedule a trip of some length before summer and one after as well. 

    • Director is greatly involved in goal setting, particularly for non-summer work to help get Program Director on board with the newer aspects of the job (if the Program Director is former summer staff). Helps Program Director recognize a hierarchy of objectives and how to pace and balance work. In the second year, Director backs away and grants more autonomy, still periodically checking in to evaluate progress.

    • Camp makes space for a social life and tends to the fact that this person may be dealing with a very lonely form of culture shock. If a new Program Director is a former summer staffer, they are now supervising nearly everyone they might be friends with. Encourage opportunities to socialize with other permanent staff. Director should take seriously requests to be with peers, even if it occurs during busy season.

    • Director starts training Program Director to accomplish tasks and train subordinates in such a way that they will have time for a significant other, even before a significant other enters the picture. Have them practice handing off responsibilities to subordinate staff, volunteers, etc., before there is an absolute need for it. Be available to monitor these handoffs in the early stages. 

    • Evaluate paternity/maternity leave policy, and create a generous one. Make a plan for a Program Director’s absence proactively, before you need it. This could give you many more years with a Program Director.

    • Create a camp culture that works like a healthy family, rather than a corporate, ladder-climbing, overly quantitative system. If life and camp can merge in a healthy way, work will be less of a burden and more of a lifestyle. We want good boundaries between work and home, but we want joy and community to be free-flowing between the two.

      • Gather as a staff to share a meal periodically outside of the dining hall

      • Open your home for visits (while protecting your own personal time)

      • Do recreational activities as a staff

      • Invite staff member to community happenings you are a part of

      • Take time during work day every now and then to digress into conversations not related to work

      • Encourage staff to pull together to help other staffers with major tasks; use it as a bonding opportunity

      • Get to know your staffers’ families

      • Be open to share what you are doing when you take time off, and why

    • Director should be a consistent voice to identify the Program Director’s next challenge, not always leaving it to them to explore/name/realize where their new challenge will come from. A long-term Program Director needs new challenges, new skills to develop, new projects to engineer. Burnout sometimes comes from lack of challenge rather than overwork. 

    Cheers to developing healthy working environments for all! If you would like to converse with others around this topic, please comment below. To talk to me directly, email troy@campmagruder.org. Let’s make all our lives easier and better.

    Troy Taylor is Camp Director at Camp Magruder, living a charmed life on the Oregon Coast. He first got paid for camp work in 1997. When free, he indulges in running, beach bonfires, movie snobbery, the Chicago Cubs, poetry, walking long distances in the woods, and silently staring off into the distance. He's learning to surf to be a good role model for his two year old daughter. He's excited to see all the ways today’s kids will make the church into something new. Read about him every week on his personal blog: The Adventures of Troy Taylor

  • 21 Jan 2020 2:35 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

    Do your organization's leaders spend a lot of time being reactive instead of proactive? Does your board or leadership have trouble communicating the goals of your organization? Do well-meaning supporters suggest programming that doesn’t fit, but rejecting their idea puts you in a sticky spot?

    You need a strategic plan.

    A strategic plan is the guiding document of an organization that communicates who you are, who you want to become, and how to get there. It determines the goals and values of your organization, aligns your programming to your vision, and informs your decisions on a regular basis.

    A strategic plan is a decision making and resource allocation tool. The planning process will focus all key stakeholders on a unified vision. Without charting the course together, either hard-working board members will develop their own vision that may not fit with the mission, or they will become disengaged and complacent.

    A vision for the future changes the way we think about allocating resources. As camps and retreat ministries, we all face limited time and money, and we make the best decisions we can with what we have. A strategic plan enables us make those decisions more strategically, keeping the goals and vision in mind.

    Thinking about creating a strategic plan may sound daunting, but this work is meant to be done over time with the help of a board committee. I like to break the work into these three more manageable sections.

    Who We Are

    A strategic plan starts with a one-page organizational history statement or timeline, followed by vision statement, mission statement, core values, and a SWOT analysis.

    A great vision statement is aspirational and future-oriented. In one or two sentences, it illustrates your organization’s picture of success. A mission statement reflects the day-to-day work your organization does that moves the world closer to achieving the vision. Once these two statements are written, determine three to five core values that serve as culture pillars for the organization and represent the characteristics needed to fulfill the vision and mission.

    A SWOT analysis evaluates the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of an organization. A great organization capitalizes on its strengths and opportunities and actively works to minimize weaknesses and threats.

    Who We Want to Become

    The second part uses this foundational work to set SMART goals, evaluate current programs, brainstorm future programs to consider, and create an organizational chart and succession plan.

    Work together to set three to five SMART goals for the next five years. Which programs move your organization closer to achieving which goals? You may find that some activities do not align at all, and you may discover goals which no current programming supports. This exercise may present a need to retire programs no longer useful to the vision. For goals lacking program support, brainstorm additions or tweaks to existing activities that will move the organization closer to success. For each addition, determine the year you will begin work on that project. Agreeing on a timeline will increase the likelihood of achieving success.

    With goals and potential program additions in mind, prepare an organizational chart and succession plan for leadership, so the vision can move forward even with unforeseen personnel changes. Think about any additional personnel needed to be successful.

    How We Will Get There

    A strategic plan often requires additional funding, updates to facilities, new equipment, and perhaps additional staff.

    Conduct a facilities and equipment evaluation to determine major funding needs for the next five years. Estimate the cost of these needs, their priority, and the year the board will address them.

    By the end of this planning process, your organization will have snapshots of the new programs, facility needs, equipment upgrades, and personnel changes for each of the next five years. This snapshot will show the approximate annual cost of bringing this vision to life that will enable a discussion on how to fund this plan.

    The final part of the document is an evaluation plan. In order to ensure this work regularly informs decisions, this section determines who is responsible for progress updates and the frequency with which the board will revisit the strategic plan.

    Putting it All Together

    After doing the work to make the decisions lined out in these sections, it is time to present the strategic plan as one cohesive document to the board for approval!

    Still overwhelmed?

    For space considerations, I have covered the parts of a strategic plan in a quick overview here. A new series that will break down these three sections in more detail is coming soon to my blog.

    Jennie Dickerson grew up camping and working at Lakeshore Camp and Retreat Center and has been honored to serve as their Director of Communications and Development since 2016. With ten years of fundraising experience and as the founder & CEO of Cabin 9 Consulting, Jennie works to equip non-profits with the tools and resources to live out their missions. She lives in Memphis, TN with her two dogs, Corra and Ramsey, and enjoys paddleboarding.

  • 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. 

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