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2nd Annual Disciples Outdoor Ministry Camp Summit

I am inspired. By my colleagues. By our beautiful and varied facilities. By our shared goals. By our shared challenges. By our purpose.

September 26th to 28th, 2017 Disciples Outdoor Ministry professionals met once again at the fabulous Christian Conference Center outside of Newton, Iowa to discuss, network and share with each other ways to deliver Outdoor Ministry in our present time. This mid-week event ran from the late afternoon on Tuesday to Thursday morning. Rev. Bill Spangler-Dunning together with co-director Rev. Michael Davison, Rev. Tiff Williams and his talented team, welcomed attendees from across the United States and Canada. Everyone present enjoyed delicious food and warm fellowship as we discussed difficult issues and successes concerning our camping facilities and programs. Even those not able to be there in person were connected by video chat and welcomed to our large sessions.

We had the great benefit of being energized by the ‘key-noter’, Rev. Dr. Bryan Feille. Bryan is a soft-spoken, brilliant speaker who quietly draws you in through his stories that he skillfully weaves together with ease while leaving us with a powerful message that seems very achievable. Bryan spoke multiple times during our gathering and gave us insightful, humourous and heartfelt words to buoy us up in our pursuit of sharing the great message of Christ’s Love with our volunteers and campers. He encouraged us to explore the ideas of identity as it directly related to community, a sense of life purpose and hope. In the absence of positive community, negative will fill the void as it is human nature to need community. We were challenged to meet people where they are in their journey to create and nurture healthy, positive relationships. There is truth in his message that ‘genuine identity’ is achieved through positive community. Behaviour is modelled and has lasting effects on the young people in our lives. Bryan and Rev. Olivia Updegrove both echoed the same fact that when church going is modelled in a young person’s life by five adults in their immediate circle, those young people are more likely to still be in a church a decade later. Among those that have attended church camp, a greater number of those young people will still attend church in in a decade. Another of Bryan’s supportive arguments for why camp is important in the life of a young person, was found in a class of his theology students. When asked what the high point in their spiritual journey was, the majority gave summer camp as their answer. Those that did not identify summer camp as their high point had never been to camp. Rev. Dr. Feille shared that his life journey was shaped by positive, mentoring relationships that supported him as a shy, introverted young person. Those mentors met him where he was at that point in his life, assisting him to become the person he is and shaping his faith. As a Disciples community, we are empowered to bring our “energy, passion and money to bring kids to camp” to experience positive relationships and supportive community. Camp provides the space to meet young people of all ages where they are, the opportunity to “share our faith purposefully and provide relational and spiritually vitality”. He also spoke of Hope. Hope is generated by knowing our future story about where we want to be. Our purpose as Disciples is to present, represent, re-present Christ to those we meet. Camp provides the environment to share this with campers, helping them to find a hopeful future in a powerful present.

Through the power of technology Rev. Teresa Hord Owens, General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada, had the opportunity to join the Summit for a short time. Rev. Owens, via video chat, was able to hear from those at the Summit about the Disciples camps represented and have a discussion about what Outdoor Ministry means for us as Disciples. It was heartwarming to have her present and open to understanding the significance of our camping programs in the lives of Disciples youth and those young at heart.

This Outdoor Ministry Summit provided time to network with our camping colleagues to discuss what challenges we are facing and share our successes. During breakout sessions, free time and ‘after hours’ each of us developed a better understanding of how our colleagues facilities work, the types of programs we offer and how each are expanding the services provided at our facilities to continue to offer our camping programs at reasonable rates for our campers. Many facilities have branched out to provide wedding services, outdoor education programming, hosting themed retreats and other denominational children’s camps. With limited resources to provide programs that are accessible to those who would like to come to camp, we need to be creative about how we generate income with our properties.

The 2017 Disciples Outdoor Ministry Summit has given each participant many ideas to consider for their program and facility. We left knowing that each region in the United States and Canada represented at the Summit are all working toward creating camp communities where ALL are accepted and can be inspired and feel hopeful about our shared future.

Sarah Leitch Ontario Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Disciples Conference Grounds Camp Manager

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