Take some some time for Outdoor Ministry this summer – Pastor Thoughts

Greetings from Luther Village!

I am sitting in our cabin at at “The Village” writing to you this week. 

As some of you may know, outdoor ministry and camp is something that I have in my background, though not at Luther Village. 

Lutheran Outdoor Ministry has a long and extensive history in Canada and the US. In many parts of the upper mid-western United States, such as Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Ohio and Wisconsin, you can hardly throw a rock without it landing on a Lutheran Bible Camp. 

In my home province of Alberta, there are four Lutheran camps. Camp Kuriakos on Sylvan Lake (the old Danish Camp), Hastings Lake Lutheran Bible Camp on Hastings Lake (the old Norwegian Camp), Mulhurst Lutheran Church Camp on Pigeon Lake (the old German camp) and Wilderness Ranch down in the foothills of Southern Alberta near the Livingston Mountain Range. 

For about 30 years now, some combination of the four camps have been doing their 10 days of staff training together (Joint Staff Training or JST), and supporting one another in their common work of outdoor ministry. 

I was lucky enough to work for two summers at Mulhurst, one at Hastings Lake and two at Wilderness Ranch. After that I continued serving on the Alberta Synod’s outdoor ministry committee (LOMAN) and participated in nine JSTs altogether. I also was fortunate enough to meet the then Executive Director of Luther Village back in 2004 at a Lutheran Outdoor Ministry in Canada gathering. I have served on the boards of two camps and have also served as a resource pastor in Alberta, Saskatchewan and now the MNO at 5 different camps. 

Suffice it to say, since I showed up for work my first summer of camp back in 2002, Outdoor Ministry has been an important part of my life. 

While pastors get most of the training, skills and knowledge they need at seminary, I also credit camp with teaching me a lot of the skills and leadership qualities that I still use in parish ministry today. Camp has a way of turning young adults into life long leaders in the church, whether ordained or lay. 

Camps and outdoor ministries are often important places of faith formation for the folk to who attend. Getting away from the hustle of everyday life and out into nature, participating in intentional Christian community, taking the time to worship, to learn, to play and to grow together is rooted in scripture. God commanded the people of Israel to spend two weeks each year living in tents in the wilderness in order to connect with God, as a reminder of their wandering in the wilderness for 40 years – trusting and relying on God to provide. 

These days most camps work hard to provide a relaxing, activity-filled, worship- filled, community environment for campers to come and experience. To make this all happen, camp staff are often running a behind-the-scenes operation with military precision and planning. It takes long days and exhausting work to be on camp staff. And after my summers of working at camp, there was no going back. Camp won’t ever be relaxing and easy for me again, but that isn’t the point. I love seeing how the camp community and experience can receive someone on Sunday and send them home a changed and renewed person by Friday. 

It has been my privilege to work with the LV staff this week as they, too, reset again in this pandemic world. With new Executive Directors (Ad and Lisa Van Dijk!) and a new staff, there is lots to learn after two pandemic summers where things were scaled back dramatically. Being here to provide some of my knowledge and experience to the staff has been a great chance to relive my camp staff days. The callouses on my fingers are getting thicker again playing guitar at Morning Jam and Campfire every day, but thankfully the morning staff meeting is a lot easier to wake up for at 39 year old (and with two small early-rising kids) than it was at 19. Leading daily adult study sessions has been a great change to talk with folks from across the Synod about faith and life. 

As I look forward to the last few days of camp for us, I would encourage you to pray for Luther Village and all outdoor ministries across the ELCIC. And if it is something that still fits into your summer’s plans, I think there are still open spots this summer to attend family camp (whatever your family looks like!) so come on out and be changed too!

See you Sunday!

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