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!