As a high school student, Josh Shaw volunteered for the Kid’s Club at Alamo First UMC in Alamo, TN to earn his Beta Club Volunteer Points. Over the years, his role there evolved, and to thank him for his service, the church took him and others on a free High School Retreat at Lakeshore Camp and Retreat Center in Eva, TN. “I had never been to camp. Based on what I heard, I was expecting a fun, enthusiastic, and Christian environment that accepted all my quirkiness,” Josh shared. “What I found was so much more. I found community. I found student leaders – leaders that were my peers. This was new for me.”
His relationship with camp ministry continued, and in 2019, Josh registered for the UMCRM National Gathering simply as a place to interview for a position at a different camp. After learning that Junius Dotson and Melissa Cooper would be speaking, attending became something more. “Junius was such a leader and role model for #SeeAllThePeople,” shared Josh.
Before arriving at that National Gathering, Josh was struggling with his faith journey. “My grandfather had just passed of cancer, and I was back in my grassroots, living at home with my parents.” He had returned to help care for his grandfather, and in the midst of the grief, he was feeling a call as a deacon. “I knew ordination was no longer an option and was struggling with where God was calling me.”
“At the National Gathering, I found a community of people who affirmed, accepted, and
encouraged me. I experienced beautiful hospitality from everyone I encountered. It was like a day at grandma’s house. It was warm, filled with love and laughter, and excitement. It was like the best sweet tea. It was everything you look forward to when you get to go spend time with your grandparents and cousins.”
What started as a safe community for Josh quickly became a place to learn. Josh was approached about serving on the UMCRM Board. “I looked at our board at the time, and I knew the demographic didn’t look like me. People of color and the LGBT community needed a voice at the table. Was I the right person for that? No, but I accepted that call because someone must, and maybe someone in the future will look at me and decide they can serve also.”
Josh began his board service in 2021. “I have learned so much about our association’s vision and goals. While we know there is more to do, there is a willingness to keep chipping away at it. It’s a high-functioning group of people with enthusiasm for the ministry. Personally, I have grown. I am a different type of leader. It has taught me patience. It has taught me how to ask hard questions, and it is requiring me to ask about the things I don’t fully understand. That feels vulnerable and it is hard, but it is good. As the youngest in the room, I am not belittled or looked down upon.”
Josh is grateful for the experiences God has given him at camp and through UMCRM to build community and grow leadership skills. He looks forward to helping shape the way UMCRM continues to enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of our camps and retreat ministries.