Creativity, collaboration and adaptability are stimulating growth in Ohio Conference Outdoor Ministries program and participation over the past three years.
So far in 2016, Outdoor Ministries has increased program offerings and is on track to possibly show a slight increase in numbers of participants through the efforts of creative volunteers who are exploring partnership and collaboration to offer faith formation opportunities for all ages, throughout the year.
After a dip in participation when programming at Templed Hills was put on sabbatical in 2014, participation and programs have steadily increased at Pilgrim Hills Camp. In 2014, the Ohio Conference registered 790 participants in its program and 860 in 2015. These numbers increased even without the addition of new programs, but with vibrant volunteer-led summer camps and retreats such as fall and junior high youth events and Lantern women’s fellowship retreats.
“I really appreciate the dedication of our many volunteers during this long period of transition. Our directors and counselors carried on as they always have to assure our campers of quality summer events. The leadership for the Senior High and Junior High events have also done a great job,” said Shirley Weyrauch, chair of the Division of Outdoor Ministries. “And I’m so thankful that the Division members have stepped into new roles admirably. Now we are in a more stable position to look ahead to the future. We’ll be seeking additional volunteers and ‘out of the box’ thinkers to help us envision what God is asking of us next.”
In 2016, program offerings, both on and off-site began to grow. Leaders from North Congregational Church UCC in Columbus offered the first-ever Love is Love Retreat. The retreat created space for intergenerational faith sharing for LGBT people and allies. Participants ranged from age 13 to 92. Event Organizer and Division of Outdoor Ministry Member Chris Isaacs said that they are already beginning plans for the event in 2017. The theme will be “Love Is Love … We Are One.”
“When we started dreaming about the Love Is Love weekend gathering years ago, we really didn’t know what it would look like,” Isaacs said. “In February 2016 our dream became an even better reality than we could have imagined because of the response we had and the diverse participants who attended. Our hope for 2017 is that it continues to grow in numbers and provide a safe, welcoming place for LGBT and allies in the Ohio Conference churches to share our faith and be in community.”
UCC Ministry Partner Heidelberg University initiated a partnership with the Ohio Conference to offer faith formation opportunities on their campus. The initiative has resulted in IDEA U — a camp that will be designed by a group of high school youth specially chosen for this task. Five extremely bright and creative youth met at Heidelberg University this summer for the first time to begin the planning process for this 2017 camp. They will meet again — with additional youth — in September to continue planning.
“Idea U grew out of our motivation to serve the churches that founded this university,” said Heidelberg Chaplain and Director of Religious Life Paul Sittson Stark. “We hope that this camp and other conferences and camps will follow. With state-of-the-art facilities, we provide a beautiful setting to retreat, to renew and to resource the youth and adults of the church and the broader community.”