It was Monday morning, July 23. I was at Koronis Assembly Grounds on a site visit with our prospective director of camping, Keith Shew. A young girl was riding her bike down the hill in front of the dining hall, yelling out: “Best. Day. Ever!” This was even before breakfast.
We have gone through many hard discussions and made difficult decisions related to our camp and retreat ministry. You may be under the impression that camping is waning in Minnesota and we are trying to resurrect something that is dead. I want to give witness to the fact that our camp ministry is indeed alive and fulfilling its mission of transforming lives and connecting children to Christ, creation, and community. Yes, we could not keep doing business the way we had been and we need to make critical shifts in order to be better positioned for the future, but from what I saw on my two-day site visit and talking to three site directors is that there is a very vibrant ministry going on through our camps and retreats all over Minnesota. Lives are being changed.
When Keith and I arrived at Northern Pines on Sunday afternoon, STORM campers, tree house campers, and Wet and Wild campers were all settling in. That night, the dining room was filled with over one hundred hungry students and their adult leaders, several of whom were giving up a week of vacation to be there. Wet and Wild was a camp program that Decision Hills had hosted and was being integrated into the Northern Pines site. Bob Ford reported their overall numbers for this summer were higher compared to last summer. And the best report of all: after STORM camp, David Brown sent to the bishop a list of over a dozen young people who made some sort of commitment of interest to Christian vocation.
I was so impressed with the passion and commitment of our site directors and the ways they personally engaged with the campers. Keith’s comments in seeing the operations at Northern Pines and Koronis Ministries (the two sites we are retaining) was how well maintained they were, what great natural features they had, and how we were continually updating our facilities.
Both places were hopping with activity. People were having fun, experiencing Christian community, and growing as individuals. It was indeed a best day ever for me as I walked with these folks and was reminded again first hand why we do what we do. We want every child, youth, and adult to have these kinds of experiences. They were making memories that will last a lifetime and having experiences that will shape their lives.
I am pleased to announce to you that after our two-day state tour, Keith accepted our offer to become the new director of camping in the Minnesota Annual Conference effective September 1. Keith is filling the position vacated by the retirement of Rocky Wilson. Keith comes to us from Okoboji United Methodist Camp and Retreat Center in Spirit Lake, Iowa, where served as the site executive director since 1997. The Iowa Annual Conference has gone through a similar experience in consolidating programs, selling property, and unifying their finances and systems. Keith has been directly involved in that process as well as creatively developing programs on his own site and building a strong partnership base with local congregations.
We are very excited to welcome him to Minnesota. I believe that with Keith’s leadership and with the ongoing good work of our current camping staff and volunteers at all levels, we will have many, many more testimonies of “best day ever” in our camp and retreat ministries.
Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church