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COMMENTARY: Camp & Retreat Ministries respond to ‘Call to Action’ Kevin Witt, Mar 27, 2012
By Kevin Witt Special Contributor
The Call to Action’s focus on congregational vitality is not solely about rallying local churches for extraordinary efforts, but also calls equally upon spiritual leaders from ministries in close partnership with congregations to reorient and revolutionize side by side with them.
Camp and Retreat Ministries at the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD) is in the process of metamorphic changes in order to align with congregations to better equip people to follow Christ deeper into discipleship and intentionally outward to touch the world through fruitful, transformative lives.
Just as local church leaders are sharpening their focus, prayerfully discerning innovative actions and learning vital skills, leaders of Camp and Retreat Ministries are doing likewise.
The UMC is blessed with one of the strongest networks of camp and retreat centers of any denomination, and they serve nearly 1 million people annually. Many of these individuals are members and leaders of local churches, along with persons who have their first introduction to the United Methodist Church through a camp and retreat experience.
The goal is for this powerful path for faith formation and for developing principled Christian leaders to be directly integrated with local churches and their emerging vitality goals.
Given this laser focus, the UMC’s National Camp and Retreat Committee (NCRC) and the Camp and Retreat Ministries staff continue concerted efforts to train and rally camp and retreat leaders to gear up for this new journey together with local churches by using online classes, webinars and training events.
Just as our local communities of faith will be tracking their growing effectiveness, Camp and Retreat Ministries will have tools to measure and improve our support of local churches. A professional camp and retreat ministry consultation firm is developing specific measurable outcomes for Camp and Retreat Ministries that are directly related to the vitality markers and measures being used in local churches.
Alignment of resources is another critical aspect for the Call to Action. Camp and retreat ministry is appropriately included in many conference budgets because of its impact and effectiveness, but to create a sustainable future, the ministries also must be keenly responsible financially. Camp and retreat leaders understand that to do otherwise is untenable and would put a drag on Call to Action efforts.
Staff and key leaders of many centers are taking advanced training in fund development, financial best practices and other similar efforts which are being offered through collaborative education sponsored by NCRC, GBOD and ecumenical sources.
Innovative programs related to the Call to Action priorities are already underway. Some examples include:
Engaged disciples in mission. Footprints is a mission-based experience hosted by Camp Rockfish in the North Carolina Conference which gives young people the opportunity for a local mission experience that prepares them for ongoing mission involvement.
Gifted and equipped lay and clergy leadership. Camps and retreats are very fruitful avenues for developing Christian spiritual leaders of all ages. They offer sacred spaces and living laboratories apart from distractions and routine responsibilities where participants can be more attentive to God and go deeper. Camps and retreats immerse people in faith-based experiential learning environments where they grow by actually doing.
Casowasco Camp & Retreat Center in the Upper New York Conference connects with local churches in a profound way through Director’s Invitational, a leadership program for senior high youth. Pastors nominate young people from their congregation to participate. More than 150 youth have been commissioned to go back to their local settings and apply their God-given gifts of leadership.
Expanding ministry with children and youth. Gretna Glen Camp & Retreat Center in Lebanon, Pa., transports camp directly to where churches are located. Day camps led collaboratively by camp staff and church volunteers offer great opportunities for established congregations and new church starts to meet and serve families from the wider community.
“Day camp brought together hosts of people who would not have interacted or even met each other—inner-city kids, suburban volunteers, camp counselors, church folks within the community, old people, young children, Hispanics, Anglos and more. . . .,” said a member of one congregation. “Our partnership with Gretna Glen made a children’s day camp ministry that was impossible with our current resources possible.”
Mr. Witt is director of Camp and Retreat Ministries at GBOD. For other collaborative ideas on how to incorporate camp and retreat experiences into congregational vitality initiatives, contact him at (541) 317-1615 or firstname.lastname@example.org.