Reflections from Alice Shirley…
I have served as the Coordinator of Camping and Retreat Ministries in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference for the last 5+ years after serving appointments in local churches and as a district superintendent for about 33 years. I joined the conference staff as an interim Coordinator of Camping and Retreat Ministries in June 2011 and continued to serve as an “interim” until I was hired for the permanent position in January 2015.
The work that needed to be done in the camping ministry turned out to be a good fit for the gifts I have brought to ministry over the years, the most useful of which in this position was to identify constraints to vitality in the ministry and to align the practice of ministry with the vision and mission of the church. The work we did included a number of organizational tasks including clarification of personnel policies, committee tenures, job statuses, and job descriptions, revamping the budget, and developing online training for seasonal staff. The task that consumed the most time and energy on the part of the camping commission during these years was leading the annual conference in the right-sizing of the camping ministry, which resulted in the sale of three of the five camp properties and paved the way for a master plan, which was approved in April of this year.
Another significant change in the camping ministry was the hiring of “Ministers of Mission Expansion” (MMEs for short), who are clergy given the tasks of holding the vision, overseeing the spiritual life of the camp, supervising staff, and linking to local churches to articulate the importance of retreat ministries and the various resources the conference ministry offers. We are in the process of ramping up marketing, getting the word out about the impact of camping and retreat ministries on lives and life vocations.
My decision to retire was driven by a number of things, but having time for family (especially grandchildren!) made the top three. I also have become entranced with (addicted to?) genealogy and research on family history and am writing a book that I hope will eventually be published for family members. I also picture myself gardening, canning, cross-stitching, walking, watching all the movies I’ve missed over the last 39 years, camping, and maybe even sleeping in. We are purchasing a house in Dubuque, IA, and plan to relocate there around Thanksgiving.
It’s been a real blessing and joy to serve the conference and camping ministries for the last five years, as well as to learn from other leaders in United Methodist camping ministries across the nation and from incredible staff members and volunteers who have done the face-to-face, person-to-person, blood-sweat-and-tears work with campers that transforms lives. Camping and retreat ministries in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference and in the connection as a whole will always be close to my heart and in my prayers.
Thank you all for your gifts of wisdom and mutual support in a ministry that is so vital. And fun!