Sky Lake News Archive

Autumn 2017 Edition of Xenia is Available

Autumn 2017 Edition of Xenia is Available

The Fall edition of our newsletter, Xenia News, is now available online. Click here to read about what’s been going in the life of Upper New York Camp and Retreat Ministries.

Posted on November 20th by Matthew Williams

Grateful For Where We’re Going: Planning Our Church Visit Tour 2018

Grateful For Where We’re Going: Planning Our Church Visit Tour 2018

It’s not all that uncommon for us to be asked: “what do you do here the rest of the year?” Some might get upset when asked this sort of question, but we hear this as a genuine invitation to share more about our ministry here at Sky Lake. (Which is also why we’ve started sharing a glimpse behind the scenes in this column each month.)

Sure, we have some rather unglamorous tasks that we do on a routine basis during the retreat season—like paying the bills, emptying garbage bins, clearing leaves and snow away from buildings, refilling paper towel dispensers, answering calls from telemarketers, blah, blah, blah…. But these pale in comparison to some of the “bigger things” that we get to do, like welcoming back friends we haven’t seen in a year, lighting a fire in the fireplace in Founders’ Lodge for guests to relax in front of, and working on bigger projects that have a bunch of little “moving parts.”

During the autumn and winter we actually spend a lot of time thinking about and planning for…the next summer. One of the “moving parts” of this bigger project is setting up times for us to visit churches and organizations in the spring. We are always grateful for the churches who extend an invitation for us to come visit and we are equally grateful for those churches who respond affirmatively when we invite ourselves. Here’s what we look for when considering a visit:

· The trend of the congregation’s/group’s support of camping and retreat ministries — in other words, does the church have a history of “sending” campers or do they express a strong desire to start doing so? (Guess what…we like to visit both!)
· Average worship attendance compared to the overall membership of the church — this is a more helpful number for us rather than thinking of a church as big, medium, or small
· Potential for recruiting campers — full disclosure, while we love chatting with potential donors (it does take a fair amount of money to keep a ministry going after all) our spring tour is geared more toward recruiting campers. So we try to schedule visits where we’re apt to run into actual kids and youth! And to help us determine the potential of interacting with children and youth, we look at (1) the number of children and youth involved in Christian formation groups + (2) Sunday School attendance compared to worship attendance + (3) VBS attendance compared to Sunday School attendance. When considered together, we get a better idea of not only the life of a congregation but the community surrounding it.

One of our earliest cheerleaders, the Rev. Edgar Singer, once referred to Sky Lake as the additional Sunday School classroom for each congregation. He wasn’t wrong. A local church is great at providing the “head knowledge”, while camps are really great at being the “learning labs” where these theories can be tested, prodded, and experienced in real time. When head knowledge is reinforced by affirming experiences it becomes heart knowledge. And believe “heart knowledge” is what leads to the transformation of the world! (Can we get an AMEN?!)

To help us share our vision with others is the reason we like to do our visit tour each spring. No two visits are alike and we enjoy working with leaders at the local level to personalize our visit. We are pretty flexible and equally comfortable doing a presentation for kids and youth during Sunday School, delivering a quick speech during a Mission Moment, giving the children’s message, bringing the goods to make s’mores for a covered-dish meal, or even leading an entire worship service. (We’ve done all this and more over the years.) Also, our unofficial mascot, Harvey the Hippo, usually tags along with us, so there’s that… And if there’s one thing Harvey has taught us over the years, it’s to play well with others. So we like to include some non-United Methodist Churches on our Spring Tour every year!

If you’re interested in setting up a visit or exploring the possibility of partnering with us a little closer, please don’t hesitate to connect with our site director, Matt Williams. We hope to see you on our tour this spring!

Posted on November 3rd by Matthew Williams

Grateful For Where We’ve Been: Ladies Of The Lake

Grateful For Where We’ve Been: Ladies Of The Lake

We here at Sky Lake are grateful to be able to spend time with so many awesome people throughout the year. While our summer camp ministry brings a certain level of intensity to the life of our team, we’re also kept on our toes extending radical Christian hospitality to retreat guests from the end of summer camp in August until June the following year. We provide hospitality support to a wide variety of church and non-profit groups any given week/weekend; in addition to these groups we also hold retreats and events for which we provide the programming.

One of those offerings is our Ladies of the Lake Retreat, which was held last month for the 9th consecutive year. When longtime friends of Sky Lake—Jean Grube and the Rev. Jan Clark—approached us years ago with the idea of a retreat for women that would combine elements of a spa experience with opportunities for spiritual growth, we were immediately sold on the idea. “While observing the autumn-kissed, lake waters from one of those boulders by the boathouse, I’m always reminded how thankful I am for these retreats. These times away at Sky Lake allow me to focus on the amazing gifts of the women gathered and our need for each other to build up the body of Christ” says Ladies of the Lake co-leader, Jean Grube.

“The friendships that are formed through worshiping together and the variety of activities offered each retreat is what keep women coming back,” says Jenna Amberge, Assistant Director of Sky Lake. In 2012 we increased the opportunity for women to build those meaningful relationships by expanding Ladies of the Lake to include Rejuvenate each spring (by the way, online registration for Rejuvenate 2018 is now open!)

“I am grateful for the chance to offer rest and renewal for body and soul at the picturesque setting of Sky Lake. Women grow in their friendship with each other and with God. It is a place that helps us find our center!” the Rev. Jan Clark, co-leader of Ladies of the Lake.

Posted on November 3rd by Matthew Williams

The Cairn We’ve Built: Hemlock Community Values

The Cairn We’ve Built: Hemlock Community Values

This past summer we made a concerted effort to better articulate and live out Sky Lake’s long-held core values of invitational Christian discipleship, connecting with God’s natural creation, and commitment to living in intentional community. To help campers better understand this last core value, we developed the Hemlock Community Values program.

The Eastern Hemlock is a sturdy coniferous tree which can be found in abundance at higher elevations in eastern North America. Hemlocks typically tolerate moist soil, ravines, steep hillsides, and lakeshores. They’re slow-growing and regarded as one of the most shade-tolerant species of all trees. There are plenty of other trees in a forest to use for building projects, but anyone who’s ever built a campfire at Sky Lake knows that there is no better source of kindling than the died-off, lower branches of a hemlock! But the most important aspect of why we decided to base our community values program upon the hemlock is this: while an individual of this species can survive on its own, the most mature hemlocks thrive in small stands.

Each day at camp we focused on a different, specific characteristic of living in community: on Sundays it was the value of learning; on Mondays, interdependence; on Tuesdays, compassion; on Wednesdays, faithfulness; on Thursdays, wholesafety; and we rounded the week out on Fridays with a focus on gratitude. As we were developing this program, we considered a large variety of characteristics of a healthy community, but these six really stood out to us. Why? Because they were the ones most woven into the fabric of Sky Lake already!

This summer we also chose to rename our weekly get-together of the Sky Lake community to “Hemlock Community Gathering” and added something new to the mix: the presentation of a Hemlock Community Values plaque to one member of the community who exemplified these characteristics throughout that particular week.

We always had an idea that Sky Lakers were amazing, but this summer proved it! Hands down the most challenging task the core group of staff responsible for overseeing this program had was not developing the program itself, but rather limiting awarding the plaque to just one member of the community each week. What made it even more challenging was that there were so many top-notch nominees from which to have to select. In the end, the priceless look of genuine humility on the face of each recipient was worth it.

The Hemlock Community Values program is definitely a “cairn” that we’re glad we started to build here at Sky Lake this summer for we strongly believe that these very characteristics are something from which the entire world can benefit.

Over the coming months we plan to share a little more about each of the individual characteristics. Be sure to stay tuned by signing up for our newsletter, Around the Campfire!

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Posted on October 4th by Matthew Williams

2017 Summer Camp & Retreat Programs Registration Opens!

2017 Summer Camp & Retreat Programs Registration Opens!

Upper New York Camp & Retreat Ministries (CRM) is excited to announce that registration is now open for its 2017 Summer Camp & Retreat programs. Program details are available online and brochures were mailed this week! Brochures were sent to past participants and campers as well as all Upper New York Annual Conference churches.

“We are excited about the high quality and excellent variety of programs being offered this summer,” said Mike Huber, director of CRM. “The CRM team, in collaboration with hundreds of volunteers, has created programs specifically designed for spiritual growth, birth, and renewal.”

CRM offers programs and experiences for children, youth, families, and adults. Summer Camp programs/week(s) will be held at Aldersgate, Casowasco,  Sky Lake & Skye Farm. Retreat programs and events will be held at Asbury, and will include adult, family, and youth retreats.

Each of our centers offer online registration for most programs, making it easy to register for a favorite or to find a new one to attend. To view programs or to register, click HERE. To download a PDF of the brochure, click HERE.

For more information, contact us via e-mail at or toll free (855) 414 - 6400 or 315-364-8756.

Posted on February 14th by Mike Huber

Resource of the Week: Homesick and Happy

Resource of the Week: Homesick and Happy

Michael Thompson, PhD, draws upon his experiences as a father, school psychologist, and years of camping to write about something that everyone experiences at some point in their lives: homesickness.

In Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow, Thompson helps parents and camp professionals see the value in helping individuals not only survive this common ailment, but to actually thrive from it. In short, to see homesickness in the bigger picture.

However, don’t let the title fool you—this book is about way more than homesickness. Rather Thompson carefully lays out the benefits of the camp experience for both campers and the parents that remain behind at home.

Look for it at your favorite book shop.
ISBN-13: 978-0-345-52492-8

Posted on May 24th by Matthew Williams

The Power of Letting Go

The Power of Letting Go

We’re currently in that time of year when schools and churches are starting to wind down for summer. But for those of us in the camping ministry, this is when we start to gear up for another awesome season of impacting the lives of young and old, neurotypical and differently abled individuals, first-timers and those who have been coming to camp longer than I’ve been alive! It doesn’t take much arm twisting for me to admit that this is my second-favorite time of year (summer camp season proper is my favorite, of course!)

As we focus on all our preparations, I like to keep one question in the forefront: Why?

At our core, we here at Sky Lake are intentional about providing a safe time and place for individuals to encounter community and God in a magnificent setting because we want to transform the world. Camp ministries have the amazing ability to teach individuals the valuable life skills of independence AND interdependence—not from a textbook but through experience. It still amazes me how much a simple activity like making ice cream from scratch can teach all of us: from coming to a consensus on what flavor to make; to keeping track of who’s next in line to crank; and finally, deciding how much of the finished product each one takes to ensure there’s enough for everyone. (It can also lead to some great discussions on how we ourselves are transformed through Christ.)

Recently when the proverbial “why?” was brought up in planning, we thought: “let’s ask some moms why they send their children to camp.” So a few weeks ago, we posted a link on our Facebook page inviting moms to participate in a quick survey. In that survey, we asked moms* three questions:
1) As a mom, what has been (or what do you anticipate will be) the hardest part about sending your child(ren) to camp for a week?
2) What ultimately helped you to make the decision to send your child(ren) to camp (or not)?
3) What’s one thing we here at Sky Lake can do to help alleviate some of your worries about sending your child(ren) to camp?

We received some great responses from some awesome moms (and I’m not just saying that because my own mom participated!) Reading through the responses the first time may or may not have brought a tear to my eye. Okay, I was moved by the responses of these thoughtful women. It’s always nice when others confirm your own beliefs—particularly when it comes to the power of camp.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be delving deeper into each of these three topics, but for now I wanted to share one specific response an anonymous mom gave to question #2:

“{I send my child to Sky Lake} to learn independence, make friends, and have fun.”

We raise a toasted marshmallow to that!

*Almost all studies of the camping industry conclude that moms ultimately make the decision as to whether a child attends camp or not. Some studies peg this at 85%, while others think it’s actually closer to 95%. So this is why we intentionally sought out moms for this survey.

Posted on May 24th by Matthew Williams

SNAP Program 2016

SNAP Program 2016

Ever wonder what you can do to be a leader at camp?

Every summer Sky Lake runs several weeks of active and meaningful Special Needs programs and we couldn’t do it without our Special Needs Assistant Personnel, or SNAPs, working with us.

SNAPs are older youth volunteers. Still considered as campers, SNAPs work alongside our counselling staff to gain leadership skills, make friendships that last for life, and spend time at camp doing the camp things they love!

This is your personal invitation to join us this summer as a SNAP. We’d love to have you.
What are the requirements to be a SNAP?
SNAPs must be 14 years of age or older and be available for our mandatory training event:
SNAP Training June 11-12 3pm-3pm
SNAPs register for training online just like they would for camp and select “SNAP Program” as their session of choice. Take a look at our online brochure for more information.

How many weeks can a SNAP be at camp?
After training is completed, SNAPs can return to camp for any or all special needs programs we offer during the summer at no additional charge. This summer we have 5 weeks of special needs sessions!

What is it like being a SNAP?
As a SNAP, you’ll spend quality time cruising tables for meals, rowing boats with campers at the waterfront, playing games on the patio, assisting campers on hikes and so much more. In the evenings you will have time to hang out with the other SNAPs and the SNAP Coordinator to do more of what you love about camp such as night time hikes, s’mores, and of course plan the latest SNAP skit for Talent Night.

I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have. Please don’t hesitate to email me at


Britny Wainwright
2016 Summer Program Coordinator

Posted on May 24th by Matthew Williams

Thank You Work Day 2016 Volunteers

Thank You Work Day 2016 Volunteers

Register Online Now!(Privacy Statement & Refund Policy)Over 50 volunteers arrived on Saturday, May 7th for Volunteer Work Day 2016 and managed to complete almost all the projects we had on the docket for the day! Thanks to these fantastic volunteers for helping to clear the roofs and undersides of cabins; freshen up flower beds and the trysts; assemble a GaGa Pit; install new towel dispensers; clean out a squirrel’s hoard of pinecones; and most importantly—for the wonderful fellowship!

Posted on May 10th by Matthew Williams

The Legend of Harvey the Hippo

The Legend of Harvey the Hippo

This article originally appeared in Upper New York Advocate, Vol. 8, Issue 2:

The legend of Harvey the Hippo – the unofficial mascot of Sky Lake – began with a song written by a summer staff member, Steve Hulslander, in the early 1970s. From the earliest days, countless campers have taken to this 4,618.5-pound hippo, who, according to the song, manages to consume 200 pounds of food every day.

In the early 2000s, the legend began to take physical shape when the Rev. Joyce Allen came across a delightful stuffed hippo created by her former parishioner at the Worcester UMC, Emma Gaylord, and procured it for Sky Lake. “The moment I saw that hippo, I just knew he belonged at Sky Lake,” said Rev. Allen.

After several years of spending time with campers, going on church visits, and taking part in a number of photo projects, original Harvey began to show some wear and tear. Fortunately, in 2013, the talented Brookye Keeney – who co-leads Creative Arts Week each summer at Sky Lake with her husband, the Rev. Nick Keeney – refurbished original Harvey and created two replicas, ensuring that the legend of Harvey the Hippo will continue to live on for generations to come.

Visit to watch a video created by volunteer and former camper, Greg Milunich, of campers singing “Harvey the Hippo” last summer.

Posted on May 10th by Matthew Williams

Strengthening Our Connection to God’s Creation

Strengthening Our Connection to God’s Creation

Thanks to Joan Newlon, Executive Assistant for Upper New York Camp and Retreat Ministries, for this update:

The Lakeside Nature Trail, to be named in honor of Jim Krager for his 45 years of ministry at Sky Lake, is getting some exciting upgrades thanks to generous donors. 

Thirty-one (31) interpretive panels and mounting posts have been purchased and placed. The first batch of signs were placed along the trail last autumn, and the second batch (which arrived over the winter) were put in place last week. These panels include a mix of educational information about native birds, animals, trees, and life cycles which will prove to be a real asset in teaching our campers and guests about God’s wonderful Creation.

Five benches have also been added to strategic spots along the trail, both for viewing and for resting. 

A trailhead sign honoring Jim, which will also highlight a map of the area around the lake, will be placed at the main entry of the trail prior to our Grand Opening on May 15th.

We are pleased and very grateful for David Ash, an Eagle Scout who rebuilt one of the bridges on the east shore and saved us much of the initial estimated cost.

Funds are still needed to refurbish the currently-accessible section of the trail in this first phase of the project. This part of the trail will be wide enough for wheelchairs and will consist of material which will make it easy for individuals with limited mobility to use the trail safely.  Our hope is to do the work of renovating this section “in-house” as soon as we have funds in hand, in order to reduce the cost of the labor. 

Make your gift today to help us continue to develop what will become a premiere walking trail around Sky Lake, and then join us for a small reception prior to our Open House event on May 15th.  A number of Upper New York’s Camp & Retreat Ministry staff members as well as Sky Lake staff will be present to express their appreciation; Jim Krager will also be present to officially cut the ribbon; and as a way of saying “thank you” to those who have given a financial gift to this project, we will open the trail so that you are formally the first walkers to enjoy the improvements we have been able to make.

Please plan on joining us at noon on the South Porch of Founders’ Lodge and let us thank you in person for what you have made possible. RSVP to Joan Newlon, Executive Assistant for CRM, by emailing or by calling 315-424-7878 ext. 309 to let us know that you will be joining us.

You may send a check made out to “UNYAC-Sky Lake Trail” to UNYAC-CRM, Attn: Joan Newlon, 324 University Ave., 3rd fl. Syracuse, NY 13210.  Or you can give onlinePlease be sure to note “Sky Lake Trail” in the box beside “Camp and Retreat Ministries.”

Thanks in advance for your generous support. We’re very much looking forward to seeing you on May 15th.

Donate to the Nature Trail Project

Posted on April 26th by Matthew Williams

A Different Kind of “Wired” Connection

A Different Kind of “Wired” Connection

Providing intentional opportunities for campers to play a leading role in building a supportive community is an integral component of most any camp experience, but especially here at Sky Lake. We make it a habit to continually dream of new ways to enhance this experience and estimate that we use approximately 47 pounds of scrap paper each year just jotting down ideas. (Okay, so we don’t really know for sure how much paper we actually use to document our hopes and dreams, but we know for sure that it’s A LOT!)

One of our long-standing dreams started to materialize in 2015 when we broke ground for a new low-ropes course. We began by inviting our friends over at Project Adventure to come visit, help provide focus for our dream, and scout out locations for the various elements we wanted to include. From that visit, we decided on three elements that Project Adventure would build in 2016 and a few elements that we were able to safely build ourselves in 2015.

The elements we currently offer are no more than a foot off the ground, but as Jenna Amberge (who counts Challenge Coordinator amongst her many duties as a year-round member of the Sky Lake team) puts it, “we look for that element of safety before a camper takes the first step step off the ground. It’s important for them to know they are fully supported.”

Safety holds a prominent position in all we do at camp and factored heavily into the placement of the course itself. Building it in a lightly used patch of woods off the Lakeside Trail near the East Shore means that we’re able to limit access to the elements while still allowing for easy access in the rare circumstance that emergency services are required. (So far, minor bug bites account for the majority of band-aids used from the dedicated first aid kit!) The placement of the course also meant that the crew from Project Adventure was able to spend less time getting their equipment to the site and dedicate more time to installing the Wild Woosey, the Team Triangle, and the Mohawk Walk. The time savings also partly factored into their being able to install a rare sixth segment to the Mohawk Walk challenge.

“Last year, campers were excited to use those first elements on the low-ropes course. Some were scared, but ended up loving the challenges and were able to come away with a positive feeling about how the experience helped them grow closer as a group,” says Jenna.

Anyone who has ever met her knows that Jenna is passionate about facilitating team building, so it will come as no surprise that she is really looking forward to campers getting to enjoy the newest additions—especially one of her all-time favorite challenges: the Mohawk Walk. “We take them to an area in the woods where we’ve created physical challenges for them to complete. [This natural setting] encourages them to think about how in using these elements, they have to work work with each other, have safe physical contact with other humans, and have to communicate—sometimes in very unique ways—in order to accomplish any challenge. You can’t do that looking at a screen or holding a phone! And they learn to rely on each other, which is what God wants for us to do.”

Our low-ropes course is also available for group bookings from May-September (weather permitting.) contact us

Posted on April 26th by Matthew Williams