When Jan Thomas first became a Camp Director, there were very few women serving in those roles. Back then, in every place where she came into leadership, she was the first woman in the job. At her first National Gathering in 1976 there were about 70 people in attendance and she recalls there were only maybe only two or three other women present. Regardless, she found a welcoming community of belonging and a feeling that “these are my people!” She also experienced affirmation of her call to ministry. She says she came away feeling that “I could really do this!” She felt encouraged by seasoned camp directors who believed in her. She felt fortunate to have a national community of leaders that provided opportunities to connect, continue learning, and keep growing in expertise and mission.
Jan served on the first National Camp & Retreat Committee (NCRC) in the 90s – a group recruited by Rev. Mel Moody, the Director of Camping Ministries at UMC Discipleship Ministries to provide vision and support for UMC camp leaders and to help lead the biennial National Gathering. She was also part of the inaugural class of the Camp & Retreat Certification program in 2000, an initiative that helped to professionalize camp and retreat ministry in our denomination. She is appreciative of all of the ways the UMCRM community has continued to evolve to meet the changing needs of camping ministry leaders. She admires the work that visionary colleagues did to help transition the NCRC to the current UMCRM Association, providing even more valuable resources like Intentional Leadership Groups, Volunteer Training, and Ministry Impact Grants. She reflects how Directors today have to deal with issues she never would have considered back in those days, from active shooter drills to climate change. She’s excited that the UMCRM Association continues to expand its scope to keep camping ministry leaders missionally focused, connectional, and continually learning.
For Jan, UMCRM is “a sign of hope,” expanding the impact camp and retreat ministries can make in transforming lives. She believes that our Association is “making sure something significant is happening” at United Methodist camps.