Beth Hart-Andersen is a child of God.
And—not incidentally—a child of Ghost Ranch.
“I’ve been coming here since I was four years old,” she says. “At least that’s my earliest memory.”
A gifted artist and teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Rev. Hart-Andersen is a daughter of the late Rev. Jack Hart, who was on the Board of Christian Education of the Presbyterian Church when it accepted ownership of what was then a dude ranch in northern New Mexico from Arthur and Phoebe Pack in 1955.
The Packs’ generous gift of 22,000 acres “for the spiritual health and well-being of humankind” established 60 years ago what today is Ghost Ranch Education & Retreat Center.
“My father was serving a congregation in Oklahoma and regularly took churches here, mainly from Tulsa, for a family camp he ran in the 1960s,” says Hart-Andersen. “I grew up here. One day, our ashes will be here.”
Hart-Andersen’s family legacy posed a challenge when she met her prospective husband, the former Tim Andersen, when both were students at McCormick Theological Seminary.
“Before she would agree to marry me, I first had to pass the ‘Ghost Ranch test’ since I had never been here before,” says Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis. “We came here and camped in 1982. Only then could I marry into the Ghost Ranch family.”
Since both the Hart and the Andersen families each have a long ecclesiastical tradition and heritage, when the Hart-Andersens married, they took each other’s surnames. “We decided to unite our families symbolically by hyphenating our names,” they say.
And now, 31 years—to the day—and 3 children later, the Hart-Andersens still find a way to return to Ghost Ranch every year.
“It’s summer,” they say, “and we have to come to the Ranch.”
This year, the timing of their stay once again coincides with Ghost Ranch’s Family Week, June 29-July 5, an annual retreat that provides families of all shapes and sizes with a wide variety of workshops and activities in the creative arts, play, music and adventure.
While Beth Hart-Andersen—who currently serves as interim associate pastor at Oak Grove Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, Minn.,—enjoys the week’s many opportunities for artistic expression, Tim Hart-Andersen returns to his favorite spot in the Ghost Ranch library to do a year’s worth of sermon and worship preparation.
Both agree that Debra Hepler, Ghost Ranch’s executive director since April 2008, is doing an outstanding job of continuing and expanding upon the legacy they have both come to know and cherish.
“What’s so fabulous here is that you don’t have to fit into the cookie cutter,” says Beth Hart-Andersen. “Ghost Ranch wants you to succeed. They want you to have a creative, good experience.”
Beth Hart-Andersen says in her many years of teaching, studying and practicing art at Ghost Ranch, her favorite class was one in making sustainable jewelry.
“I make stuff out of junk,” she says, “and the lesson in that is that everything is holy. Everything is worthy of reflection and contemplation. Everything has beauty.”