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Brian Frick is the Associate for Camp and Conferences Ministries with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He has been involved in camp and conference ministry since high school. For the past ten years, Brian has served as program director of Johnsonburg Center in New Jersey, Westminster Woods in California, and Heartland Center in Missouri.

Camp and conference ministry compliments and partners with other ministry aspects of our church to foster faith development and reflection. As our communities and our church changes, our ministries need to grow and adapt with creative and emergent programming and leadership to meet new realities.

These blogs entries, though varied, are intended to spur thought and conversation around the opportunities and challenges before us.

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June 2, 2011

Why? Community Building as THE Mission

Community_pic Just had a wonderful conversation with Rev. David Ensign, (for those of you who knew Rev. John Ensign, long serving director of Camp Hanover, David is his nephew) exploring where the ministry of camp, conference and retreat is heading.

It started with the question “is anyone else doing forward thinking in conference ministry like Rick and Kitty [Ufford-Chase] are doing at Stony Point?” and quickly led into other areas.

The question is a good one.  What are we doing?  What are you doing in your ministry?  What is the purpose of our ministries?  Or backing up further – Why do camp, conference and retreat ministry at all?  If we are not starting with the Why, we’ll never have good answers for the what and then the how questions to follow.

 Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase, co-directors of Stony Point, are fostering an intentional, dispersed and interfaith community focused around issues of peace, while running Stony Point as a conference center.  A pretty big plate for sure, but the future of Stony Point lies in authenticity and missional purpose – while keeping the beds full enough to support the vision.  

Honestly, Stony Point’s accomodations for the most part, are nothing to write home about.  They are cinderblock buildings created for missionary training in the 60’s.  They have been adapted for use as a conference facility with mixed success.  If Stony Point is going to make it, it will be because their mission is so compelling, that people will sleep anywhere just to be there. 

David shared that he drives 5 hours, happily, just to be at Stony Point.  I would gander that he would not do that if Stony Point was not living with authenticity the mission they have set out to do.  Many others I know drive as far to come to Stony Point for similar reasons.

When I was at Westminster Woods, the young campers slept in “Adventure Camp” on canvas on the ground in tents.  But they came and enjoyed it.  My youngest loved it.  Why?  Because the program was compelling, the community was built with great young adult leadership and intentional adult oversight.  That is where my premise that kids will sleep anywhere if the program is good enough and I hold that true for adults too now through my experience at Stony Point.

Stony Point and Westminster Woods Adventure Camp are just two of many examples of passionate leaders using the facilities and resources of a conference center to do leading edge ministry for our churches.

 So the crux of the question is what is the overall purpose, the mission of our shared ministry? During our conversation, David brought up the point that for Hanover, and his uncle, the mission was all about community building.

Community building in the sense that they intentionally brought campers in, taught them how to share and live together in all activities throughout the day, while learning about Jesus’ call to us through Bible study.  The next level goal was to teach them how to foster community outside of the camp setting.  To value community and instill that value in those around them.

Jesus called us to more than to creating churches, or creating camps and stopping there.  Jesus formed a community of disciples.  A community not about following and incorporating whatever the world threw at them, but in living as a visible witness to God’s welcome and love for all as God’s children.

What do you think?  What is the mission of camp, conference and retreat ministry?  Why do we do it?  Why not just adapt to the culture?  When do we stand as an instructional example of living God’s community on earth?  How do we invite kids, young adults and adults into this world, when their daily lives and focus’ are so different than that?

I firmly believe we need to be living our ministries with integrity.  To do what we say we do.  I also believe that there is no one size to fit all.  But saying that, there is a commonality in the why we do it no matter where we do it.

I think David hit it right on the head.  What if we lived into our work with an overall framework that the ministries, programs, and hosting we do, all fits into the umbrella mission of building community and encouraging those who encounter that Christian inspired community at our center, to go and do the same in the rest of their lives?

That is a mission statement I can believe in and one I think the church and society are hungry for and willing to support and attend.


Tags: camp, community, conference, hanover, ministry, mission, pcusa, presbyterian, retreat, stony point, vision, westminster woods