Thursday, August 23, 2007

Outdoor Ministry Ambassadors

It was an incredible summer for those who paved the way in our pilot program of connecting seminarians with outdoor ministry settings. Here are some of their words and photos:

Tom with campers at Lutherdale
Elkhorn, Wisconsin

Tom with campers at Camp Carol Joy Holling

We also had OMAs travel to Sky Ranch, Ewalu, Camp Kirchenwald, Pine Lake, Camp Shalom, Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministries--it was a great summer!
Holly Philips said this:

My week at Sky Ranch was phenomenal. It was a great camp to have vocation conversations. The on-site program director, Andy, gave me 1 1/2 hours of staff meetings a day to talk about vocation, theology and LSTC. It was a gift. I built relationships with the counselors during each day, through hikes, low and high ropes, Bible Studies. I then was able to use those experiences to talk about Christian vocation. Many people were interested in seminary, were surprised by the various programs and were excited to have the opportunity to voice their opinions and questions in group discussion. I followed up with many of them in one on one conversations.

I think this is an important ministry. I think it is vital that our seminary participates and exposes people to camping and youth and family ministry. I would love to be part of continuing to make things like this happen.

Here are a few words from Matt Ley, MDiv:

This summer I worked for LSTC as an Outdoor Ministries Ambassador (OMA) at three different camps in the Midwest during the month of July. At each camp I would arrive on Sunday morning, be greeted, shown around camp, introduced to the people working there at a group meeting and then would instantly be set to work welcoming parents and campers. I would then spend the next five days getting to know the ministry style of each camp, the relationships of the people working at the camp and the rhythm of the week all while trying to figure out how I fit into all of it. My job description was pretty open. Basically I was called on to “do ministry” and to have conversations with staff about vocation and seminary, though none of this was structured. I found ways to do this through the traditional means of leading Bible studies and speaking at campfires but also through washing dishes, weed eating, walking campers to the bathroom, eating meals, working at canteen and various other day-to-day activities. Then each Friday evening, I was invited out to eat with the staff after all the campers had gone home, say my good byes and travel back to Chicago for a 30-hour break. It was the most engaging, exhausting and rewarding ministry I have ever been apart of.
What struck me the most with the whole experience is how much like parish ministry it was. I was an individual with a somewhat ambiguous title (What is an OMA?) that enters a pre-existing community as an outsider who is looking to be not just an insider but a leader and resource within the community. I had to learn the lay of a new geographical location, peoples’ names and roles, the relationships between these people and the way the term “ministry” was understood all within the first 24 hours. During all of this, I had to try and explain my purpose to people who already had preconceived notions of my identity based solely on my title as either an OMA or, more often, as a future pastor. If this doesn’t sound what coming into a new church is like then my first call we be more of a shock then I already assume.
That is why I wish everyone who hopes to work in the church would take advantage of this opportunity. Not only is it a great trial run for future ministry, but many churches see their relationships to a particular camp as a major portion of their youth ministry. So to be able to enter call scenarios with the ability to say you have familiarity with camp ministry will be a big bonus. Also, for those who are nervous about youth ministry what better opportunity will you find to observe youth ministry without having to be in charge. You could probably spend the whole week just attending bible studies, campfires and just walking around without ever having to lead if you really wanted to.
For me though the greatest benefit was getting to engage with the counselors and staff, who are some of the strongest church leaders we have, and to watch them in action. This experience is as close to “cloud of witnesses” and I think one can ever get. It was amazing to see young adults sharing their faith with children and each other day in and day out for peanuts in salary (usual pay works out to about 50¢/hour). After a year of getting burned out and beat up in academic and theological study at seminary, it was a blessing to be bolstered and lifted up by these people. It really put what I am doing at seminary into perspective, which is something I believe all of us need a healthy dose of from time to time.

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