The 2018-2019 season of the MN Conference Outdoor Ministry has come to an end. And, what an amazing season we had!
Our season began last October with the fall Conference Youth Event (CYE). Nearly 100 youth and adults gathered at Pilgrim Point for a joyful time with old and new friends. The weekend was facilitated by Bryan Sirchio, a wonderful musician, songwriter, and UCC pastor. It was awesome to have so many new faces join this community of many blessings.
The Small Congregation Retreat in May led to invigorating conversations around leadership, worship, and self-care when working in churches with less than 50 congregants and in small communities. This particular retreat identified the need for more conversations like this, possibly a series of events, which would allow small churches to share concerns and achievements with each other, and, hopefully, identify places where the Conference can help with resources.
Our youth were busy this spring and summer! In April, we had an amazing CYE at Luther Crest, led by Lori Alford. The event focused on helping youth build a toolbox of appropriate responses when friends are experiencing mental health crises, family difficulties, drug or alcohol use or abuse, and physical or sexual assaults. Knowing these responses empowers youth to support the beloved community.
This event led some of our youth to participate in a service-learning trip to Chicago and Youth@Synod in Milwaukee. Twenty youth and eight adults from seven congregations around the Conference participated in this eight day intensive experience. While in Chicago, the youth worked with the Night Ministry, preparing and serving meals to folks who are struggling financially and/or are without housing. Our group also spent a day at the Br. David Darst Center for Justice and Peace, Spirituality and Education, which provided more insight into the root causes of poverty and injustice and how we all play a part in systems of oppression. During General Synod our youth had the opportunity to participate in resolution discussions, took part in an interfaith protest against family separations at the local ICE office, and learned more about the pains of our nation’s history of racial injustice and inequity by visiting the Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee.
Alongside the regular camp and retreat programs, the Conference hosted two one-day farewell celebrations at Pilgrim Point Camp in late-June and late-July. Over two hundred people made their way to the shores of Lake Ida during these two days to say goodbye to this beloved place, to share memories and stories and laughter and tears, and to reconnect with old friends within a sacred community that has provided shelter, safety and belonging to generations of individuals and families. Each day ended with a rich time of worship, singing, prayer, and ritual at Vespers Point, allowing people to mark through liturgical acts this time of loss, transition, and to hope in the future possibility to which the Spirit is leading.
As we moved deeper into the summer, we had opportunity to host programs at two new sites. Summer Youth Camp was held at Carleton College with tremendous success, as we invited youth to delve deeper into creating spaces of belonging, taking the risk of being themselves, and finding their authentic voices. Forty youth and ten adults from thirteen congregations worked throughout the week with actors from The Theater for Public Policy and musician Richard Bruxvoort-Colligan to engage in improv and storytelling through music to build confidence in their unique perspective and God-giftedness to their communities.
We were excited to spend time at beautiful Camp Onomia, an ELCA camp near Lake Mille Lacs, to host August Family Camp, UCC New Brighton’s Family Camp, and our new Men’s Retreat. The camp along the shores of Shakopee Lake gave us fantastic opportunities to relax and reflect in nature. Camp Onomia afforded quiet and tranquil space (only three other developments on the lake), deep connection to the natural world (the camp adjoins Kathio State Park), and needed accessibility. We are very excited to continue partnering with Camp Onomia to host future events.
The 2018-2019 season officially ended earlier this month with our Women’s Retreat at Luther Crest. The theme of the retreat centered on finding hope in the chaotic times and amid our busy lives. The retreat was led by Julie Neraas, author of Apprenticed to Hope: A Sourcebook for Difficult Times, and Claire Klein, 2017 UTS graduate, sharing her wonderful musical abilities that spoke to Hope and Love through the difficulties in our personal and social lives.
Please know that we are already working to develop the 2019-2020 program schedule that will include many continuing programs and some exciting new opportunities. We are also connecting with new host sites and program partners across the state of Minnesota and beyond. Please look for some initial save the date notices that will be sent out within the next few weeks.
On a personal note, I want to thank all the participants, the churches, program facilitators, and the Conference for giving me the opportunity to serve as the Acting 2019 Program Director. I have enjoyed working with congregations and hearing the stories of community and relationship with our Creator. The youth are always an amazing mystery to me of which I can never get enough. Their questions and desires for spiritual growth help me to be a better person and pastor. And thank you to Luther Crest, Carleton College, and Camp Onomia for creating spaces for us during this time of transition.
The Spirit is leading us into new spaces of growth, contemplation, and creative imagination. I hope you will join me with excitement as we look forward to ongoing and newly emerging ventures for outdoor ministries in the Minnesota Conference UCC.
Rev. Sheri Nelson
Acting 2019 Program Director, MN Conference Outdoor Ministry