Executive director marks 10 years at Camp Aldersgate
November 01, 2016
Jenn Becker Carpenter has been leading Camp Aldersgate in North Scituate, RI, for the past 10 years, but has been involved in camp and retreat ministry for nearly three times that long. We asked her about this vital ministry and what keeps her involved. Here’s what she had to say:
What brought you to Camp Adlersgate?
There was a job opening on the East Coast. We were in the Midwest and we wanted to be back on the East Coast.
Aldersgate felt like the right place to be at that time in our lives. (Carpenter’s husband, Lee, is associate director at Camp Aldersgate). When we came onto the property, it felt right; it felt like home.
What made you want to become involved in camp and retreat ministries?
This was my 29th summer. When I was a camper I knew I wanted to be a counselor because of how impactful my counselor was on me. It [camp] was
the first place where I really felt completely accepted for who I was, and I wanted to really create that for others. So it just felt like every step was so natural …
When I was a junior in college, I was program director at the camp I had been at for six years. My camp director said, ‘Why are you going into social work and not camping?’ I said, ‘I never really thought about it.’ He planted that seed in me, and by January of my junior year, I had a full-time camping job. I was finishing college and working full time.
I haven’t really looked back, and every step has been the next step in the career path.
Why do you continue in camp and retreat ministries?
It’s hard to see me doing anything else. It’s the people, the community, the relationships; creating sacred spaces for people … you can really shut out the world [at camp]. For me, camp is like that closet place to heaven. When you’re sitting at a campfire and you’re singing those songs, you can just feel the Spirit move, and you just feel so alive.
I love the kids. As tough as they are sometimes, they’re a great challenge, but you know you’re doing what’s right.
What are the biggest changes in camp and retreat ministries that you’ve seen over the last 10 years?
We used to rely on the churches to pump in the kids, and now we can’t do that anymore because there aren’t kids in the churches.
Now we’re trying to figure out a way to support the churches by pumping our kids that we’re finding – that need the spirituality and are thirsty for the spirituality – and get them reconnected into the church. We’re now the pipeline for the churches. We’re now some of these kids’ church.
How has that affected your approach?
Our kids that our coming don’t have that Sunday School background, so when we do worship or we do Bible studies, we can’t assume they know the story of Noah or Adam and Eve. There’s not a lot of biblical literacy, that foundation. We’ve found that we’ve had to kind of back down to get to a place where we’re rebuilding – we’re building – that foundation for them.
We really have to start with the very basics, and we always start with ‘everyone is a child of God and God loves you.’ Really bringing it to that very basic ‘God loves you as a child of God,’ and then building from there. Every single first day, that’s where we have to start.
You can’t make any assumptions that the kids know a lot of Scripture or have had very much church involvement. You can’t make those assumptions anymore. You have to figure out how to give them the tools to continue their spirituality journey and growth back home without having that church connection.
We give them tools for how to live out their faith every day. Teaching them how to pray. Teaching them different worship styles: That praying to God isn’t just this very formal sit-down. You can sing a song, you can paint a picture as you pray. You can just have a simple talk with God. It doesn’t have to be this big, scary thing.
Living out their faith is about seeing someone drop something and you pick it up for them. It’s the simple things in our daily life, opening up your eyes to where God’s moving and where God is moving you.
And trying to get them connected to churches.
They’re yearning for that, connection, Carpenter said, but they can’t describe what that would look like or how to get there. “Camp becomes that space for them,” she said.
Many of our kids come from Adoption Rhode Island and foster care, so they don’t have a home that’s just theirs. So when they’re here they’re not a foster kid, they’re not a homeless kid. They’re just a child of God and they get to just feel that and live that.
[The job] is a lot bigger. [Camp] used to be a place where we could just be a shelter from the world, but now I think we are not just a shelter, but we’re also a spiritual center that’s teaching them. It’s much deeper and much more vital. I think this ministry is more vital today than it was 10 years ago. It’s essential for this generation right now to have a place that they can know God’s love, feel it in community, and be able to learn how to live it out in their daily lives.
How has your tenure shaped your faith journey?
Huge. For me it’s always been about helping others, but I think it has taught me how to slow down as well, lately. Finding spiritual practices for the campers and doing different kinds of worship, that can’t help but to broaden your own faith. I think that’s where I’ve grown the most: By teaching them different things, I’ve learned so much.
Where would you like to see Aldersgate in 10 years?
We continue to grow every year, which is great. I would love to see Aldersgate get even bigger and be a place where we can have more and more kids come to feel that love from God. (The camp has 700-750 day and overnight campers a summer).
I’m really excited that we’re on this verge of Aldersgate just really pushing into the next … It’s almost like Aldersgate has grown up. It’s gone from this very small summer camp 10 years ago to a young adult. It’s hitting its adulthood.
I think in the next few years we’re going to see the potential of the ministry Aldersgate can have. It’s exciting, the things that are ahead for us.