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2012 Annual Gathering Report from the Outdoor Ministry Team

Submitted by Rev. Petra Malleis-Sternberg, Chair, Outdoor Ministry Team

A Time of Change

          This has been a year of enormous transition for our conference’s outdoor ministries, and so our report needs to begin with gratitude to all those who helped in many different ways to bring us, with great perseverance and faith, to this point of renewed opportunity.   We are deeply grateful to the members of the former Pilgrim Pines Board of Directors and to the staff of Pilgrim Pines Camp and Conference Center, especially our former executive director, the Rev. June Boutwell, for the extraordinary effort and commitment they have shown through these challenging times of change.  Many former members of the Pilgrim Pines Board of Directors now continue as members of the Outdoor Ministry Team or the Facility Team for Pilgrim Pines Camp, but we also wish to acknowledge with deep gratitude the gifts shared by those board members who are no longer serving in these roles, and the service of the Rev. June Boutwell as our camp’s director, shepherding us through strategic planning, financial challenges, staffing changes, and finally, preparing us for the transition in administration of our Pilgrim Pines Camp to management by the non-profit camp administration company United Camps, Conferences, and Retreats.

Our Team’s Charge

          The Outdoor Ministry Team is now charged by the Conference Board of Directors, acting also as the Pilgrim Pines Board of Directors, with coordinating our conference’s shared ministry of retreats and camps through leadership of our outdoor ministry programs.  As part of our strategic planning over the last year, we recognized the great potential for renewed leadership from our conference’s churches in shared ministry as both leaders and participants in outdoor ministries in this conference.   Outdoor Ministries continue to be an outstanding source of spiritual growth for all ages in our congregations, and Pilgrim Pines is a beautiful and treasured resource for our shared ministry.  We also prioritized a desire to continue our commitment to social justice and outreach through full inclusion in our summer camps of adults and youth with developmental disabilities, and youth from foster and group homes.  We have a calling to sustain Pilgrim Pines’ ministry with many children, youth, and adults in our region who would not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in camping or in inclusive spiritual growth opportunities.

Seeking Volunteers

          Sometimes, working in times of great change can be stressful, difficult, and painful.  Many of us on the Outdoor Ministry Team have experienced our own frustrations, and know that many in our conference have as well, with the past or with the present forms of our Outdoor Ministries.  At the same time as we are seeking to rebuild a strong foundation for the future with a new and different structure for shared ministry, our Team is also very busy trying to recruit an all-volunteer staff in order to be able to hold camp for this summer, because the vast majority of staff in previous years were paid and most cannot afford to return this summer as volunteers.  Many people are using their vacation time and making significant sacrifices to be able to volunteer at camp this summer, but we are far from finished with a very long list of positions to be filled and tasks to be accomplished before camp can be held this year.  Your continued partnership in inviting volunteers is needed and appreciated beyond words.

Stories of Hope

          For each of us, I think, in the midst of the stresses of change, we do regularly need to pause to remember why we are doing this.  Last summer I was a co-pastor at camp with the Rev. Mary Sue Brookshire, and one of our jobs was to check in with the different age and ability groups, to offer a pastoral presence during the activities of the day.  One morning we headed down to the ropes course because the Mini campers were going to be climbing the rock wall, and we wanted to see some of the youngest campers try this feat for the first time.  I sat down under a tree next to a sweet, cute young Mini camper who I hadn’t met before.  As we were chatting about camp, I asked about which activities she liked to do back home.  And the camper responded that she wasn’t able to participate in any activities unless Mrs. “Robinson” (not her real name) was able to take her, and even then she often had to do whatever the other kids in the house wanted to do.  And I realized then that she was one of the many campers who come to our Pilgrim Pines summer camp from foster homes.  I had momentarily forgotten, even though I knew it well, that many of our campers have a life outside of camp that is completely different from our usual expectations of what a child’s life is like, that she lived with strangers and had few choices about her life, and in her simple acknowledgement of this deep brokenness in her life, this camper broke my heart open.  I suddenly knew how terribly important it was for her to be at camp, and to have, for just one week of her life, the same story as everyone else, the same bunks and same counselor and same chance to participate in all of the activities.

          But I still wasn’t sure I believed that this one week would really make a difference for her until later, when I was subbing for one of the sr. high counselors during rest time, so that she could go take a long quiet shower.  I was talking with a couple of the older campers, and one of them shared that she was from a foster home, and she had been coming to Pilgrim Pines for a couple of years now.  This was her week, her time, in her special place, up at camp, and she planned to return as a counselor when she aged out of being a camper.  It was very clear as she spoke how much hope and joy and life and love was bundled up into this camp experience for her, how this was her place, her stability, away from all the uncertainty of the rest of her life.  Sometimes we do get to glimpse the hope that God can bring into even very difficult lives, because I received the deep joy of watching those two campers all week long, as they climbed rock walls and jumped into the pool and danced on the volleyball court, and wove lanyards, and sang silly songs, and gazed at the stars.  And those two faces are the ones that still bring me deep joy, as we now work hard to meet the challenges of keeping camp open this summer, so that it can be a place for all campers to once more know God’s love in a community where everyone shares the same story, a story that offers real joy.

Sharing Gratitude

          And so, to each person who has (or will) said “yes” to being a volunteer for a week (or more) at summer camp this year: THANK YOU.
To each person who will be volunteering in many other ways, coming to help with registration, or making phone calls, or helping find craft supplies, or driving campers from your church: THANK YOU.

          To each person who has (or will) donated to our campership fund, which is too low this year in a time of great need for financial support for campers: THANK YOU.
To our partners on the Facilities Team and the Pilgrim Pines Board of Directors: THANK YOU.
And to the Outdoor Ministry Team, Alison Morales, Neal Washburn, Jackie Rader, Keith Clark, Steven Mabry, Dave Palmer, Colleen Keehan, Audrey Turner, Paul Lance, Jeanne Halverson, and Whitney Washburn: THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.

What’s Next

          We ask for your prayers during our 2012 summer camps, from July 8 –August 4, and for your continued support in seeking volunteers and campership funds.  And, we will soon begin plans for the retreats to be offered at Pilgrim Pines in 2012-2013.  If you are interested in helping to plan or lead a retreat, the Outdoor Ministry Team would welcome your input as we plan the schedule for the next year.  In August, we will be welcoming all of your input from summer camp this year and dreaming a new structure for the future of our summer camp ministry.  If you would like to serve on the Outdoor Ministry Team, we will soon be welcoming new members.  Please speak with Keith Clark or Petra Malleis-Sternberg to volunteer.  We look forward to continuing to transform lives together, through God’s grace, the love of Christ, and the sustaining hope of the Holy Spirit.

Other Reports:

Report of the Conference Board of Directors Chair

Report of the Executive Associate Conference Minister

Report of the Associate Conference Minister for Church Relations

Report of the Associate Conference Minister for Border and Latino Ministries

Report of the Youth Ministry Coordinator

Report of the Young Adult Ministry Coordinator

Report of the Outdoor Ministry Team

Report from Retirement Housing Foundation

Report from Peppermint Ridge

Report from Pilgrim Place

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