How many outdoor ministry/camp enthusiasts does it take to have a good time? Probably only two or three, but about 40 met at Camp Bethel near Fincastle, Va., Nov. 17-19 for the Outdoor Ministries Association National Conference.
The event, held biennially to bring together those who work in or have a passion for outdoor ministry in the Church of the Brethren, focused on “Fostering Leadership.” Bethany Theological Seminary president Eugene Roop provided keynote leadership, while General Board staff Chris Douglas and Janis Pyle and former Annual Conference moderator Paul Grout led other sessions.
Douglas started things off Friday evening by holding up Jesus as “a master of leadership development who really becomes our model” and looking at partnerships in the Church of the Brethren through which leadership development occurs. Pyle followed Saturday morning by examining “daily mission-mindedness” and stressing the need for intentionality and self-care in carrying out Christ’s work.
Grout, now director of A Place Apart, an intentional community project in Vermont, identified the basic spiritual needs he has heard from every age group—being able to slow down, find meaningful work, not to be afraid, and to find a place of belonging. “In terms of our longing, we’re all pretty much the same,” Grout said. He encouraged camps to be “heart centers” for the denomination.
Roop spoke twice later Saturday, providing an overview of generational differences in leadership during his first presentation, and holding together the “two worlds” of God-given creation on one hand and human ingenuity on the other in his second. Using the “cadence of creation” found in Genesis 1, Roop said camps could be places that teach people to live authentically in both worlds. “There’s no place else in the church where that’s the mission,” he said. That principle of offering something that “adds value” to people’s lives and meets their passion is key, Roop added.
Veteran camp directors Rex Miller and Jerri Heiser Wenger closed out the formal sessions Sunday morning, leading a roundtable discussion on leadership development through outdoor ministry. Other camp staff shared concerns and ideas, especially looking at leadership needs for summer staff.
The weekend also included numerous worship and singing times, a tour of the camp, and time for fellowship and connecting. Camp directors and managers spent several days meeting in retreat at Brethren Woods near Keezletown, Va., prior to the conference.