A simple love for God, the forest and camping led Jim Krager into a 45-year career.
Come June 30, 2015, Krager, Director at the Sky Lake Camp & Retreat Center in Windsor, will retire and turn his attention to his wife, children and grandchildren. He said he’s looking forward to his first Fourth of July off in decades.
“One of our college staff members asked me what I did for Fourth of July (that year),” he laughs, “and I realized it had been over 40 years since I had a Fourth of July.”
Not that he begrudges missing the holiday; his experiences at Sky Lake – first as a volunteer, then as a lifeguard, assistant director, camp manager and executive director – have been rewarding and humbling, he said.
“The thing that kept me coming back was seeing the work of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives,” he said. “Seeing how children, youth and adults were open to possibilities of faith and building a personal relationship with God.
“People come here because they have a yearning to understand their spiritual life and their relationship with Jesus Christ,” Krager said. “Sometimes, when we go to church and we hear a sermon and it just becomes words. Here, those words are something you can see and experience. It’s not just books, sermons and lessons. It’s being part of God’s creation.”
An inspiration to others
Known for his gentle leadership style, Krager has inspired many of the people around him.
“Jim’s humble approach has always held a particular place for me in comfort and welcome,” said Mike Huber, Executive Director of the Upper New York Conference’s Camp & Retreat Ministries. “He has a genuine sense of hospitality. When we were in neighboring conferences, I always had respect for what Jim was doing at Sky Lake – managing the forest, raising funds for building an impressive dining hall among other things.
“He’s been a rock for me since I became his direct supervisor and I can draw from his wisdom often,” Huber said.
Bishop Susan Morrison, retired, said, “So many of my fondest memories are from (the former) Wyoming Conference Center on Sky Lake ... retreats, clergy sessions, the Bish Bash for youth, music camp when I spent the week and ate my first peanut and butter sandwich, all the fine folk I encountered there. Jim made it all happen … his commitment, enthusiasm, leadership, and spirit enabled it all.
“He was a joy to work with and a gift to the Church,” she said.
Upper New York Resident Bishop Mark J. Webb agreed. “Both the length and the quality of Jim’s ministry is awe inspiring and a testament to Jim’s heart for God,” said Bishop Webb. “Those he has touched through this ministry over the years will continue to transform the world and touch others with the love of Jesus. I give thanks to God for Jim’s faithful service.”
One of those people Krager’s ministry has touched is the Rev. Beth Jones, the Williamsport District Superintendent for the Susquehanna Conference. Rev. Jones was a volunteer director at the Backpack Camp for 10 years and a four-year member on the Sky Lake Board of Directors. She said witnessing Krager’s ministry was an honor.
“I had the wonderful privilege of experiencing the effects of Jim’s work through the camping ministry of the (former) Wyoming Conference,” said Rev. Jones. “His efforts, combined with the work of the great staff and volunteers that surrounded Sky Lake with love and prayer, led so many into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Jim’s work touched so many aspects of this ministry over the years as camping and retreat ministries formed and transformed us all in the faith.”
Matt Williams, Program Director at Sky Lake, said Krager has taught him how to remain calm in the midst of turbulence and an appreciation for gentle leadership.
“Jim rarely takes credit for the amazing things he does,” Williams said. “He has a tendency to quietly pass off leadership without telling someone that’s what he’s doing. It’s only when you look back that you realize what he’s done. He sees the gifts in others and allows them to blossom without being blatantly obvious.”
Forest stewardship is spiritual
Krager has brought another skill set to his work at Sky Lake. Trained in forest and resource management, he brings a strong sense of forest stewardship to his work. “How you interact with those resources is analogous to the care of the soul and your spiritual relationship to God,” Krager explained.
That’s a lesson that Huber said he’s found very inspirational.
“I knew how to take down a dangerous tree or one that was encroaching upon a building, but Jim has taught me much more, how to thin a shoreline only enough so there are views of the lake that draw people outside. I’ve learned how we can accent our sites to best inspire people, using the natural settings to enhance our guests’ experiences and evoke wonder in God’s creation and our place in it.”
Another ministry that has grown under Krager’s leadership has been the outreach to those considered developmentally-challenged or differently-enabled.
“He has a real heart for special needs programming, and under his leadership Sky Lake has grown in its outreach to the differently-enabled,” Huber said.
“Seeing how these campers respond to our programs, witnessing their deep spirituality has been truly humbling,” Krager said. “It’s taught me that it’s important not to judge people, to take them as they are. Every person is a person of sacred worth.
“We need to be gentle with one another,” he said.
Despite retiring this summer, Krager said he doesn’t feel like he’s finished working with campers. “I’m sure I’ll be doing something in a volunteer capacity later on,” he said.
In the meantime, he’s looking for to a great Fourth of July with his family.
To celebrate Krager’s years of ministry, an open house will be held 1:30-4 p.m. on April 11 at Sky Lake; Bishop Webb will make a special presentation at 3 p.m. If you are unable to attend and would like to send notes of encouragement, a fun photo or share a story, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail them to Krager Celebration, c/o Joan Newlon, 324 University Ave., Syracuse, N.Y. 13021.
Originally published 2/5/2015 at: http://www.unyumc.org/news/detail/2062. Written by Sandra Brands