John Michael Spelman, executive director at Aldersgate, writes:
At a Rhode Island Association of Camps meeting, another director made this comment, and it stuck with me: "We are a 12-week leadership development program, and we use campers to do it."
As church camps, we are not only in the position to develop leaders, we are in the position to guide young adults through faith formation at a time when their families are no longer bringing them to church. College-age young adults have so many other choices, and faith gets pushed further and further down the list. As a Christian camp, we can help to reconnect them to God.
We gave all of the staff the essay prompt (below) and told them that there was an anonymous donor that wanted to start a staff scholarship. [Editor’s note: It was Spelman and his wife who donated the funds for the first scholarship].
“This summer, our theme has been Micah 6:8, which tells us that God requires of us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. How has this verse affected you this summer? How will you live out this message as you leave Aldersgate and go out into the world?”
They were challenged to write an essay on the prompt (and to include our international staff, it could be in any language). I offered to help them translate it into English; grammar/spelling were not considered by the selection committee.
We received so many great essays that I asked our board chair and our Living Arts Volunteer Coordinator if the Living Arts volunteers would
be interested in helping to fund a second scholarship. They responded so positively that we are setting up a fund for future staff scholarships.
“It was wonderful reading the incredibly diverse and creative ways that the recipients were applying their understanding of the meaning behind the scripture verse. It was more than just a passive or cursory encounter with God through the scriptures. They displayed a genuine and intentional living-into of the Spirit,” said Rev. Alicia Vélez Stewart, pastor Bridgewater (MA) UMC and selection committee member.
One scholarship was awarded to a staffer from the U.S. and one to an international staffer. (There were 11 international staff members at camp in 2018).
“Our Camp and Retreat Centers have a long history of developing, nurturing and ‘growing’ leaders for the Church, both locally and globally. Countless clergy and pastors and church leaders credit their life-changing experiences at camp and retreats as being responsible for their decision to enter the ministry. However, these experiences and decisions are not documented or shared in an organized way with the broader church,” said Karen Pehrson, chair of the Aldersgate Board and a member of the selection committee. “The essays were powerful as they gave insight to the life changing experiences the staff had over the summer. More importantly, the essays revealed the growth which occurred and the commitment to incorporate lessons learned once they left camp.”
“I am very proud of John for setting a scriptural focus for the entire summer and then working with the staff to help them to relate and process this scripture in their own lives,” said the Rev. Erica Robinson-Johnson, Director of Connectional Ministries/Assistant to the Bishop, who oversees the camps.
Rev. Robinson-Johnson went on to say:
“I would encourage our young people to look to our summer camps as places for intentional leadership development, vocational discernment, and spiritual formation as they seek seasonal employment/internship possibilities in the future.”