I received some surprised looks at the airport as I checked a bag and was greeted with the question: You’re flying Portland to Portland? I acknowledged that I was, and then questions followed as to what I was going to be doing in the other Portland. (I received similar comments on my return flight as well!) I shared that I would be gathering with others who do work similar to mine for a time of reflection on our work, relationship-building with one another so that we can provide ongoing support to one another in our work between the times that we gather at the end of the fall, to explore failure, and to hear about how our host site, Camp Mechuwana, connects with the broader context of ministry in Maine.
After arriving in Portland, we had a one hour drive to camp, with a dinner stop along the way. I, along with three others who are new at their jobs, had arrived a day early to receive training and wisdom in how to do our work! It might be a little scary to think that I have been on the job for over a year and did not have such a training yet. Thanks be to God for grace from staff, colleagues, campers, parents, family and the Board of Camp and Retreat Ministries of Oregon-Idaho. Now I feel better-equipped and connected as I look toward the work ahead of me in this ministry.
The opportunity to learn and develop collegiality began over that first night’s dinner as we talked about our specific situations and the topics that we would cover in the next day: staff, organization, and mission related topics. I am grateful that I took advantage of this opportunity to delve more deeply into the work that we do and the impacts of doing it well.
Colleagues arrived through the afternoon on this clear-sky, chilly day. Camp Mechuwana is over 200 acres with hardwood and conifers as well as access to two lakes. There is a 1880s hunting lodge on the property that is used by a variety of groups and is slated to be refurbished between the ground and the roof, as the foundation has been stabilized (actually there is a foundation now instead of the rocky ground that it was on) and the roof has been redone recently. The site has over 350 beds, about 100 of which are in winterized buildings. The camp has many works-in-progress construction projects that are the handiwork of staff and mission work-campers. Volunteers have accomplished remarkable improvements to the site over the years.
We met in small groups on several occasions, twice to review case studies of “failures” that we had encountered in our lives (professionally or personally), and also for times of worship & reflection. As part of one devotional time we were asked to share what we want the light of Christ to shine on while we were gathered together. For one group this meant a conversation about hope and the loneliness that we can experience in doing the work that we do. Out of that came a plan for a digital/video covenant group among people who are spread out across the country. The UMCRM Association will also be piloting another small group to see how we can sustain one another in our work throughout the year.
On Wednesday, Rev. Michele St. Cyr, who is appointed to local church ministry as well as the UM Economic Ministry, shared with us her work to, for, and with the poor in Maine. She provided us with an exercise to make decisions about how to spend our hypothetical monthly income which was less than half of the expected bills for the month! Michele reported that one client said that she had spoken to her landlord about paying half of the rent this month and making it up later; the landlord made a counteroffer –half was acceptable now and the other half could be covered with “favors.” There were audible gasps and a great sadness in me when I heard this statement. Understanding the stress and challenges people in poverty face just getting through the day helps build our compassion and inspire new ways to support the poor in our communities.
Norm Thombs, Director of Camp Mechuwana, also shared with us the work that the camp does in working with the poor in their region. Scholarships are regularly granted, including an “evergreen” scholarship that allows a camper to continue coming to camp, free of charge, every summer until they graduate from high school! Norm provided us a tour that included the still day turning stormy and rainy on our tour. We were at the leading edge of the weather front as we walked, and the sound of the wind was was like a freight train as it moved through the treetops across the property! We certainly had an experience of the wonder of creation.
A trip to Portland, Maine would be incomplete without stopping in Freeport and visiting the L.L. Bean megaplex. We had an opportunity to meet with someone from L.L. Bean who shared with us a little bit of the history and oriented us to the facility and various stores. We resonated with their current ad campaign “Be an Outsider.” The entire group met for a seafood dinner and had the opportunity to celebrate the work that Kevin Witt has done on our behalf at Discipleship Ministries. For 21 years Kevin has worked diligently on our behalf to advocate for camp and retreat ministries within the former General Board of Discipleship. He has travelled many miles to provide leadership, guidance, coaching, and friendship to directors, staff, and campers during these 21 years. We are so grateful for his willing and kind spirit. The UMCRM Conference staff are thrilled that he’ll remain “one of us” and be able to continue participating in the Summit in his new role in the Susquehanna Conference. There will be some more opportunities for UMCRM colleagues to celebrate Kevin in the coming months.
When it was all said and done, 23 passionate and dedicated camp and retreat ministry leaders accomplished their goals of sharing their lives with one another, being inspired by God’s creation, and receiving the gift of simply being in the company of others who understand the joys and challenges of this work we do. I look forward to meeting others next year and continuing to develop strong bonds of friendship with my new friends in United Methodist Annual Conference Camp/Retreat Ministry.
Rev. Todd Bartlett is the Executive Director for Camp & Retreat Ministries in the Oregon-Idaho Conference. He formerly served as Director of the Alton L. Collins Retreat Center near Portland (the Oregon one!) and in parish ministry as an elder in the UMC. Todd enjoys being outdoors– especially on or around water, photography, and being engaged in the work of discipleship formation through camp and retreat ministries.
Photo credits go to Keith Shew, Dail Ballard, and Kelly Peterson Cruse.