I remember coming home from summer camp exhausted and exhilarated all at the same time! The 5-6 days at camp were an amazing experience that I couldn’t fully describe – fun, full of life, magical, and holy. I also remember the days right after camp, days that were quiet, reflective, lonely, and sad. The transition from camp to home was very hard for me. Maybe that is why I haven’t quite left? The camp feeling of being fully alive, fully accepted, and fully engaged in community was the way life was meant to be lived, in my adolescent mind and heart. This power is still what draws me to the vocation of supporting the retreat life.
As I experience the great divides in our society and in our communities, I wonder about the role of these places we hold as sacred – camp and retreat centers. Are we to provide places of respite for a short term only, or can we more broadly influence the world even after guests have returned to their day-to-day living?
The values we hold, teach, foster, and share with our guests are values needed in our common life. As places away, we wait for people to retreat to our ground and experience health in community for their short time away. Our guests go back home renewed for a day or two, maybe a week, but the chaos of around-the-clock connection, news, and social media quickly wraps all corners of existence. The joy of a place where everyone is loved, accepted, and valued is a distant memory.
The challenge many of our United Methodist camps have in making the camp experience “stick” is the relatively short nature of our camp events. Camps that have been most successful in living camp values are those who are intentional about developing partnerships with local church leaders. Intentionality may include local church volunteers participating in camp, visiting afternoons and activities with church leaders, or immediate follow-up with churches following a camp session. Camp or retreat events are an integral part of the discipleship growth model of local church ministry. We need to claim this important role!
As camp and retreat leaders, we have a responsibility to live our values beyond our acres of retreat. We need to challenge our guests to take the values into day-to-day life, to change their world because they have been changed. When campers and guests lose the vision of what it means to live in a place of radical acceptance, may we provide places where they can always come back to reconnect and live in the holy community again.
You were chosen to be in leadership because you have great gifts to offer at your center. I challenge you to lead more fully into your community. Don’t just be an unknown place of retreat “out there,” but a beacon and a refuge for our broken world to engage in healthy living. Beyond managing the day-to-day operation, claim your role as a leader in this critical time. Share the vision of a place where you can be who God created you to be, a place where everyone is accepted, just because they are alive and present. Invite your community to be your guest. Offer an alternative way of relating to one another than the separate nature our current cultural climate. You have a role in communicating to your community that your ministry center is relevant and ready to host with open arms. Be bold. Claim your voice. Be an alternative. Lead like you believe in the power of what you get to do.
Blessings in your ministry – thank you for all you do. I hope it is a great summer!
Jody Oates serves on the UMCRM Association Board of Directors. He is owner and Principal of Kaleidoscope, Inc., a consultant to camp and retreat centers. Formerly, Jody was a Conference Executive for Camp & Retreat Ministries in the West Ohio and South Carolina Annual Conferences and served churches as UMC clergy. There is always a large jar of M&M’s in Jody’s office, so he has many friends.