Staff Development in the Wild

June 01, 2018

Reflections on the Seven Foundations for Camp & Retreat Ministries

Foundation 3: "Nurture Christian Faith and Discipleship"

by Eric Conklin, Camp and Retreat Ministries Donor Relations

While working on site for Twinlow United Methodist Church Camp in Rathdrum, Idaho 20 years ago, I received my call to service as a clergy person in the United Methodist Church. In fact, most of the young adults I worked with over my years at Twinlow made significant changes to their prospective career paths because of their time working at camp. 

Consider the impact of that experience of community: When reconciled back to their contexts, transformed people can’t help but co-create transformation in their world. Through leadership development, camps fulfill the mission of the United Methodist Church, "To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the world"!

Counseling therapist and author Bob Ditter reminds camp leaders that young adults who are coming to work at camp will be bringing an unprecedented slew of anxieties about their future and the future of the world. While this is a sign of a culture too accustomed to isolation and fear, I believe that the call to discipleship most often comes out of a place of tension and anxiety. Like venturing into the Wilderness!

The biblical thread of Wilderness experiences (the Exodus, the Diaspora, John the Baptist, and Jesus’ temptations, treks, and retreats) present images of resistance to accumulation of wealth and domination. They also present images of Wilderness as a tangible character in the story, rooted in mystery and ever-present in its ability to bring out vulnerability and transformation.

It is precisely because of the set-apart-ness and inherent danger of the wilderness that we recognize, simultaneously, our own fragility and resiliency, and dependence on Creator and Creation.

There is both fear and trembling and an irresistible draw in our relationship to Wilderness. It's no wonder that spiritual experiences were commonplace in the Biblical narrative. And still are. If this is the frequent, periodic prescription for Jesus and the disciples to have mystical encounters and discern God’s wild and restless call for what happens next, then what better place than camp in the Wilderness to form leaders preparing for life in an uncertain world!

Our camp and retreat facilities are the closest thing the collective, institutional church has to experiencing the wild. There are young people making the pilgrimage to these wild places in order to learn and experiment in leadership and Christian teaching. They are finding these ways of being at camp in ways that are impossible to get in urban or suburban environments. Immersed in Wilderness, leading those even younger than they are into a close encounter with God, young adults who apply to work at camp are intentionally positioning themselves into a dramatically transformative experience.

Through our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness, let us ensure that, in these set-apart places of Camp and Retreat Ministries, young adults continue being offered the opportunity to follow risk-taking Jesus into the wilderness and beyond!

Much Love and Peace,

Eric's ridiculous signature (Eric)


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A partnership between The Oregon-Idaho Conference of The United Methodist Church
and The Episcopal Diocese of Oregon