The other day my 3-year-old, Levi, tagged along with the intersession campers for part of the day. For my wife, it was a nice small break from a 3-year-old who talks incessantly. For me, it was just another day as a Camp Director - offering wonderful outdoor programs for kids. But when we sat around the table for dinner that night, I realized that it wasn't just another day for Levi. It was a day AT CAMP...
Levi went with the campers on a hike to Big Rock, which is basically a big rock out in the woods that juts out of the side of a hill. The campers like to climb it and sometimes slide down it. Levi described his experience something like this - "We went to Big Rock, which is a REALLY tall rock. At first I had to hold Reese's hand when I slid down. But then I got braver and braver and BRAVER! Then I was sliding down all by myself!" As Levi told me this story, he was very excited and wore a grin that stretched from ear to ear. He was so proud of what he had done, and the courage he had found that day. A simple thing like a rock, when utilized by capable counselors, turned into a tool for boosting self-esteem, courage, and feelings of independence and confidence.
Levi also told me about his experience at tetherball. Levi's description went something like this, "We played that game with the ball on the string that you hit. And I was on Andrew's team. And we were playing against the other team! Mostly Andrew hit it, but my team won!" It doesn't come across well through this typing, but the way that he said "team" and "my team" held great meaning. The most important thing to him about this story was not that he played or won, but that he was part of a team. He felt included, like he belonged - he was part of a community larger than himself.
For me, it was just another day at camp. But Levi's experience reminded me that every day at camp holds potential for positive, life-changing, transformation. Every day at camp, campers are trying new things, learning new skills, and being part of a team. These experiences translate into feelings of positive self-esteem, confidence, independence, courage, inclusion, and belonging - all hugely important tools kids need to live vibrant, healthy, connected lives.
What I've described above is one child's experience of one day at camp. But this process plays out over and over at Chestnut Ridge for thousands of campers and guests almost every day of the year. Some keys that make this experience transformational include:
- Campers don't experience these things stuck inside a building - but outside exploring the natural world.
- They don't experience it through a screen - but in the physical world with their bodies.
- Their friends are not virtual or pretend - but real living, breathing people that they can see, touch, hear, laugh with, and play with.
- Most importantly, campers don't experience these things by themselves - but in community. In a safe, nurturing environment that encourages them in positive ways, and loves them for who they are, not for who they can become.
As a parent, this is exactly the kind of experience I want for my child. My prayer is that all children who come through Chestnut Ridge this year will be positively impacted in both simple and profound ways.
Blog by Rev. Nick Jeffries, Director - Chestnut Ridge Camp & Retreat Center
Fame. In America, it's what everyone wants, and what everyone is striving to attain. Our culture worships celebrities and idolizes the famous. We gawk and scoff at reality shows, but also secretly admire that a "normal person" just became famous on TV. I think part of the attraction of Facebook is that it gives each of us a tiny sense of fame. We post a witty comment, or ironic picture on Facebook and watch to see if anyone will "like" it. We are delighted when the post gains in popularity, and we feel good about being "famous."
This summer at camp we shared the most famous story ever told. The story of God loving God's people. Of God constantly calling to us, longing to be in right relationship with us. Of God, our Creator, who created us in God's own image and intimately knows each and every one of us. Of God that will never leave us. And we talked about how our stories fit into God's story. Of how God works through each of us to bring about the kingdom of God, and how each of our stories is woven into the larger tapestry that is God's great story of salvation.
This summer I saw -
- A "tough," "cool" middle school boy crying his eyes out after the closing dinner celebration at the end of the week.
- A girl camper who left almost an hour later than everyone else on Friday night because she had to hug every last person at camp before she left.
- A staff member who showed up to staff training, unsure of who he was, and doubting his faith, leaves at the end of the summer with newfound confidence, self-esteem, and a renewed faith in Christ.
All of these things happened because these campers and counselors encountered a community, and a God, who loves them just for who they are. In a culture that focuses on the famous, we who are not famous often feel left out, or unworthy. But at camp, the staff attempts to share the love of Christ with the campers. A love that is unconditional and knows no bounds. A love that embraces your imperfections and just loves you for who you are. In a world that is quick to point out flaws, we attempted to point out gifts. The staff worked so that the campers may know that God, the One who created all things, also loves them - not for who they used to be, or for who they can become - but God loves them just for who they are.
It's not always easy to see the fruits of your labor during the week at camp, but luckily, we receive hundreds of survey comments from parents every summer. I am honored and humbled by God's ability to transform lives through camp. Here are just a few examples of what parents had to say about this summer.....
"Camp feels like home! thanks for always making us feel we are where we belong!"
"Both of my kids felt very "at home" and important as campers there."
"Our son struggles a bit with peer friendships, but the counselors give him so much love and friendship that he feels very much loved. They set a great example."
"My son did say that he knew his counselors were his friends after the encouraging words that allowed him to have the best experience of his life. The counselors are just gems. They always have been but for some reason, the group this year is just even better. This means so much to our son."
"Our daughter just returned from her first trip to Chestnut Ridge as a day camper and I am pleased to let you know she enjoyed her time immensely. The counselors were wonderful and you have set it up wonderfully for the children to feel loved, supported and as a special child of God. Thank you."
"All of the staff have been such a gift to my son and I. His afterschool and camp experience increase his self confidence, encourage growth and generally improve our overall QUALITY of life. I can't imagine trusting him to anyone else. I have been so impressed with your program I recommend it to everyone I know"
"Our daughter enjoyed every aspect of the camp. She developed new friendships, independence and a great deal of knowledge!"
"The counselors in his cabin even knew ME from just seeing me once at drop-off. They recognized me 5 days later and called my son right away when I pulled up to get his stuff. GREAT young men!"
"My camper is excited each year to return to CCR. She enjoys the total experience because it is a positive place for her to unplug from the craziness of the world and plug into to the Lord and all of His wonderful creations. This is a rare find today. Thank you."
"My campers experience with you all is just what we are looking for as part of her summer activities. We picked her up tired but full of life and happiness. You provide a safe, nuturing, loving and spiritual environment..What more could we ask for."
"I cannot say enough about my son's experience these past 2 summers. He has attended other summer camps in the past, but Chestnut Ridge is by far his favorite program and he's very sad his summer camp is coming to an end. My wife and I would like to personally thank your entire staff for nurturing him and allowing him to grow into the person he is today- confident, independent and fun-loving."
These are just a few examples, but time and again you see those same words. My child felt ...... Loved. Cared for. Nurtured. Important. Special. At Home.
We may all think we want to be famous, but what it really boils down to, is that we want to be known. We sometimes settle for the superficial ways of being known, like through Facebook. But if we are honest, our true desire is to be deeply and intimately known. We want to be able to be in a place where we feel safe enough to let people know our true self. Where we feel loved just for who we are.
For many children, summer camp is that place. Thanks be to God.
To give the transformative gift of summer camp, please join me in donating to the campership fund by going to this webpage and clicking on the donate button.
Guest blog by Chris Burtner, Equestrian Programs Director at Chestnut Ridge
It’s hard for me to believe that just a year ago the staff at Chestnut Ridge Camp and Retreat Center was waiting in anticipation to find out if we would continue our equestrian programs beyond 2011. The pastures so graciously loaned to us for 8 years will no longer be available starting in March 2012, and a decision had to be made to make our horses a new home or to end the equestrian programs at Chestnut Ridge. Because of the big dreams of friends like you, and the commitment of camp leadership, the decision was made to timber, clear, grade, and seed 33 acres of pastures so that horses could continue to play an important role in the ministry and mission of Chestnut Ridge.
So much has happened since then!
Maybe you have met Duchess, Chief, Reba, or Snickers? They are just a few of the new horses purchased or donated last spring to support the big dreams for the future of the equestrian programs. During summer camp 2011, over 170 children learned riding skills and made friends with the horses, each other, our staff, and God. In the fall, riding lessons were held weekly, and families and friends enjoyed trail rides through the autumn splendor each weekend. Horse Slumber Parties, and the first ever Cowboy Camp Out, hosted girls and boys for overnight horse experiences. And the Chestnut Ridge horses were the hit of several birthday parties too!
But there is more that needs to happen now!
Our Equestrian Program is growing right along with the grass in the new pasture. As March draws closer, the final steps of making these pastures livable loom large. To create a happy and healthy home there, we still need to install fences, gates, water, electricity, and shelters. A barn and a cover with lights for the arena would allow the program to grow even more. Spring riding lessons, trail rides, and Summer Camp 2012 are coming up - and filling up - fast, so time is short.
Please join me and my family in supporting the big dreams for the future of the horse programs at Chestnut Ridge by donating today.
Blog by Rev. Nick Jeffries, Director - Chestnut Ridge Camp & Retreat Center
The other night my son and I built a campfire, roasted marshmallows, and ate smores together in the backyard. Was it a special occasion? Birthday? Friends over for dinner? Nope. We made smores just because it was Wednesday. We had no better reason than that. So we had a special evening together, collecting sticks, being mesmerized by the fire, and getting marshmallow goo all over our hands and face. Just my son and I. It was not a special occasion, but it was an occasion that we made special by spending quality time together.
Summer camp is full of ordinary occasions made special.
- An ordinary Tuesday at lunch becomes memorable when counselors dress up like super heroes attempting to "rescue" the squash.
- A normal day at the pool quickly turns into a party with a little music, a few pool games, and some energetic counselors.
- A climb in a tree becomes a self-esteem boost when that tree happens to be part of the high challenge course
- Digging in the dirt turns into a learning opportunity when a camper says, "oh! that's what a broccoli plant looks like!" and realizes where their food actually comes from.
- Time spent grooming and riding a large horse becomes so much more when a camper who is struggling to connect with peers and won't talk to her parents, connects with the horse she's riding and starts showing affection, love, and displaying a smile not seen in a while.
- A simple walk around the lake turns into a pivotal faith formation moment through the sharing of Biblical stories and God's love.
Summer camp is not about celebrating life's special occasions. It's about celebrating life and making occasions special. It's taking the simple acts of living in community - eating, worshiping, living, laughing, farming - and making them into special memories that last a lifetime. That's why our interviews with potential summer staff contain questions like, "What do you do for fun?" and "Tell me about the silliest, goofiest thing you did this past year" and "You've got a 30 minute time slot to fill with the youngest campers, what do you do?" Yes, we're looking for mature, responsible young people, but we also want to be sure that they are engaging, energetic, and have the ability to make any moment special. That's why so many campers come back year after year. It's not because we have a pool, some horses, and food. It's what the creative, energetic, imaginative staff does with those things that makes the moment, and thereby makes the memory.
Don't wait for a special night, go make this normal night special. Get those marshmallows out and go make a campfire with the family tonight.
Join us for Father/Son or Mother/Daughter Camp to make a normal summer special this year
Blog by Rev. Nick Jeffries, Director - Chestnut Ridge Camp & Retreat Center
Camp Directors all have big dreams. We have big dreams of new programs to create, new facilities to build, and new populations to reach. We churn away every day working to get to the top of that mountain, to make those dreams reality. The problem is that we never reach the top of the mountain, because the target continues to move and we continue to dream new dreams.
But in the midst of the daily churn to reach that summit, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on the accomplishments of 2011 and share with you where our dreams may take us in 2012.
- Chestnut Ridge served more summer campers than ever before. 2011 saw a 20% increase in residential campers over 2010.
- Thanks to generous individuals and churches, Chestnut Ridge gave away over $15,000 in camperships to provide financial aid for summer campers. One college age summer staff member even donated her entire summer paycheck to the campership fund because she didn't want any child to be turned away due to financial hardship.
- CR hosted the 1st annual Valentine's Daddy Daughter Dance and the 2nd annual Trail Run in November.
- CR completed construction of phase I of the Natural Playground - the wavy lawn in main camp.
- The dam was repaired so that Lake Fellowship will remain in place for years to come
- And probably the biggest event of 2011 had to do with the Equestrian Program. At the beginning of the year we had a decision to make. Chestnut Ridge was no longer going to have access to pastures we have borrowed for the last 8 years. Without a home for the horses, we were faced with a decision - 1.End the equestrian program at Chestnut Ridge or 2.Create a home for the horses on camp property. The leadership of the camp decided to keep the equestrian program, which has been one of the flagship programs of Chestnut Ridge since the beginning. Over the course of the year, 33 acres of pine forest were timbered, smoothed, and seeded for pasture. Special attention was given to protecting watersheds and old growth hardwood areas. The new pastures will give our horses a beautiful new home, and allow us to expand the equestrian program offerings at Chestnut Ridge.
Looking ahead to 2012...
- Improved Equestrian Facilities. We are currently raising funds to put a fence around the beautiful new horse pastures. The desire is to add run-in shelters, lights for the arena, and a new barn as funds are available.
- The Natural Playground is designed to be a natural space for kids and adults to reconnect with nature using their creativity and imaginations. Our hope is to begin implementing Phase II and adding safari huts, a sound garden, vine tunnels, a water element and so much more. The additions will occur as volunteers and funding are available.
- Joseph Eaton (a former camper and now summer staff) constructed a new Gaga Ball court as his eagle scout project, and we are currently installing a new Human Foosball court next to it, providing some unique new activity options for summer campers and after-schoolers.
- New Summer Camps for 2012 include Cooking Camp, where kids will learn cooking techniques using healthy whole ingredients from The Community Farm. And AT40, which is a high school camp featuring a 40 mile hike on the Appalachian Trail.
- Look for more info on the Mother-Son Day of Fun coming in May.
As I reflect on the accomplishments of 2011 and the dreams for 2012, I am struck by the relational nature of all these ventures. Folks riding horses together through the woods. A dad spending a special night dancing with his daughter. A church group gathering by the lake to worship. Campers spending time hiking an ancient trail together. These are memories that will last a lifetime, and experiences that go a long way towards forming, shaping, and strengthening the community in service to God and one another.
No one knows what the future holds or where our dreams will take us next. But I feel confident that at Chestnut Ridge, our dreams will continue to bring us closer to God, and closer to one another in community.
*If you feel led to donate to camperships, the equestrian facilities, or the natural playground, you can mail donations to 4300 Camp Chestnut Ridge Rd. Efland, NC 27243*
Guest blog by Terry L. Hackett, Chair of the Natural Playground Task Force
Some of my fondest childhood memories came from unstructured play time outside. Playing in the dirt pile in the yard, exploring the woods across the street, wading the stream below the house, building forts in my neighbor’s hemlock tree, getting our drinking water from a mountain spring, climbing trees to get a better look, and endlessly staring at clouds on a warm summer day trying to decide what each cloud was shaped like.
I never really knew how important those simple, childhood experiences in nature affected my development as a person. Sure, these activities helped guide me towards a forestry education and a career in environmental science, but I didn’t realize that “nature play” had such a strong influence on my emotional and spiritual health. That is until I read the book “Last Child in the Woods…Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder”, written by Richard Louv. In that book, I learned that my efforts to help our local youth experience nature, through my involvement in scouts, Camp Chestnut Ridge, and local schools, was not just a good thing to do, but it was the right thing to do.
According to author Richard Louv, “Nature-deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses”. Lack of time in Nature is linked to childhood obesity, attention deficit disorder, and depression. Spending time and free play in nature increases physical activity, relieves stress, aids in sensory development, encourages creativity, and helps to focus attention.
After reading this book, I realized that many of the programs I supported also promoted the notion of nature play. That’s why, from the first time I found out about the natural playground at Chestnut Ridge, I knew I had to become involved with the project. When completed, the natural playground will spark imagination, creativity, and spirituality all the while keeping kids active. I believe the natural playground will also help connect children to the environment by allowing them to experience nature “up close and personal” giving each a unique experience, every time they play there.
So when asked to chair the committee that will oversee completion of the natural playground, I couldn’t say no. How could I? Clearly God has been preparing me for this opportunity since I was a child. I didn’t realize those days spent lying on the grass looking up at the shapes the clouds made, God was looking back, shaping me so that I would in turn help shape our community’s youth…youth that are bombarded with too many electronic stimuli and are disconnected from their natural environment.
That’s why the natural playground is important to me. So how about it? Interested in helping my cause? Do you want to see the youth in our community, grow up to be physically, mentally and spiritually healthy? If so, then join me by helping Chestnut Ridge make the natural playground a reality for our youth.
Blog by Rev. Rhonda Parker, Director - Chestnut Ridge Camp & Retreat Center
I turned 41 this week. I expected turning 40 to be traumatic, but no...for me it's been 41. It takes a while for some of us to adjust to getting older.
I also needed more than 1 day to consider what being 40 meant. For me, it's been a mental half-way mark. I may live longer, or shorter, than 80 years, but in my head, 80 seems a ripe, rich age.
So, as I close out my 40th year, here are my thoughts:
Life is short...so enjoy! 40 years flew by, and I've just begun to learn about myself, others, and our world. Life is richer and deeper than I'd ever imagined. I've never felt more passionate about learning to love others and live in community. I dream about traveling and exploring - both near and far. I can't wait to get out on that next hike, step onto that next plane, or celebrate that next meal around the table with family and friends.
Children are wonderful teachers. The adult world of performance, busyness, and productivity fails the child-friendly, life-friendly test. My children find the adult world less interesting than theirs, and it's been a blessing to me to be retrained to live in wonder and in awe and, most importantly, in the present. Dr. Seuss says much of life is a waiting game. Children have taught me patience, but also courage to live boldly. Each day offers a new opportunity to co-create with God.
Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. So, perhaps Conan said it first, but I've learned in 40 years that I'm stronger because of life's challenges. My 40th year brought with it immense brokenness that I could never have predicted. I could never have been prepared. In it I have learned to seek grace and wisdom, and to hold fast to my prayer for "good courage." From brokenness, God heals and rebuilds. Relationships grow and deepen when challenged.
Cancer isn't the worst thing that can happen. This month marks the 5 year anniversary of my father's journey with melanoma. From the start, I prayed for more time...time to adjust, to spend together, to say and do all those things too precious to leave undone. God's given me that gift of time, and I celebrate it every day. To know and love my father through this journey has given me perspective and joy I couldn't have imagined. It won't change the outcome (that is set for all of us), but to share life and light so fully along the way is a tremendous joy.
Marriage rocks. 18 years into this journey, I think (hope!) that I'm beginning to understand what it means to love and be loved. Marriage is a people-building machine, a daily course in discipleship and call. It is a blessing to share my life with someone who challenges me, laughs with me, and loves me all the same.
God is. Perhaps this is the greatest truth I've found. No matter where I've been, God has been there too. To live aware of God's presence and love is the greatest gift of all.
So, thanksgiving for these 40 years - which in Biblical language is "a really long time" - I'll have my cake...and eat it too!
Blog by Rev. Rhonda Parker, Director - Chestnut Ridge Camp & Retreat Center
Facebook is an interesting phenomena. Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook with his college roommates and fellow computer science students while he was a student at Harvard University. The website's membership was initially limited by the founders to Harvard students, but was eventually expanded to other colleges in the Boston area, the Ivy League, and Stanford University. It later expanded further to include any university student, then high school students, and, finally, to anyone aged 13 and over (including my newly 13 year old daughter!). The website currently has more than 400 million active users worldwide.
And, those users doesn’t end with teens and young adults. Millions of full fledged adults are on Facebook. Recently I “friended” my elderly neighbor – at 88 years old, she had started her Facebook page as a way to keep up with her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
I joined Facebook with some trepidation. Would I be able to think up witty statuses? Would I be able to find a decent picture of myself to post on my page? More importantly, would anyone be my FB friend? I’m still not sure about the witty statuses or decent picture, but I have to say, I’m amazed at the number of people who have chosen to friend me on FB.
Because of FB, I know that Nicki hurt her foot at a concert (but still had a great time), Lydia had a volleyball tournament yesterday, and Alex is up to his neck in papers and exams. I know when folks are feeling a bit down, and when they are celebrating. I know when they’re wrestling with life’s big questions, and when they’ve found some of the answers. Occasionally, I know a bit too much – such as what time Valerie went to sleep last night, or what Mike had for dinner.
Although I have my critiques of FB – and all social media that relies on technology – I’ll save those for another day. For today, I want to share the role FB plays in our camp community. The camp community is really made up of 4 groups of people: campers, the summer team, camper parents, and church leaders. Campers, camper parents, and church leaders make up what I call my elective FB camp friends. In other words, they are welcome to “friend” me and I enjoy keeping up with them. Joining the summer team, though, and you are required to be my friend on FB. Why? Because you are asking to live as part of a covenant community in which you are dedicating yourself to God and others – and you are agreeing to be accountable for that commitment. Your life is no longer a private affair that you can conduct in any way you see fit. Your life now represents something greater than yourself – it becomes a model for what life in Christ looks like, and our community becomes a group of people figuring out what it means to really love God and one another.
Because FB is one of the ways we present ourselves to others, it is an important consideration as Christian to consider what we present. When we list our favorite music, books, movies and quotes, we reveal something about ourselves, and our Christian walk. When we post our statuses, join causes, and become part of other groups, we reveal something about our Christian walk. When we comment on other people, we reveal something about our Christian walk.
Most of the time, FB is a positive influence in my life and among our team members. It’s a great way to keep in touch and to communicate about upcoming events and opportunities. We use it to recruit, to ask for volunteers, and to give updates about Charlie the Pig and the rest of the camp community.
During the year, I enjoy perusing FB pages of our team members. Here’s what I learned recently:
Nick likes hanging out in the woods, climbing trees, summiting small mountains, eating food and chasing Levi, his son. His favorite music is Cowboy Mouth (who's that?), but mostly he listens to NPR and Sports Talk Radio.
Leigh has a quote by William Feather on her FB page: “One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure.” She says her interests are trying new things, playing tennis and soccer, painting, acting, reading, singing…well, it’s quite a long list…which she ends with “having a good time in general.”
Graham – who always keeps me laughing – says in his about me section: pirate, poet, parrot, procrastinator, and periodic peon. Appreciative of alliteration. Also a fan of the Oxford comma. Former wordsmith and scholar of destructive statecraft. Poker of people with bendy metal sticks. Mad archer. Canoe guru and kayakapult specialist. Occasional dessert ninja. Longtime aficionado of cruel and unusual geography, exploration of same. Inland Pirate Scourage of the Scottish Isles. OJ impersonator. Unwilling friend of rodents. High functioning introvert. Lucid daydreamer. Class “A” nerd. World’s worst ice skater. Compulsive doodler. Obnoxiously optimistic. Work in progress.
Usually, spending time looking at the FB pages of our team is fun and entertaining, occasionally, it’s inspirational. One such moment happened for me when I was perusing Elizabeth’s Info page. Born October 29. Hometown: Vienna, VA. Relationship status: single. Religious views: Giving my life away to God.
Sometimes, FB leaves me smiling. What a blessing our summer team is to me - and to the campers they serve. Thanks be to God!
Blog by Rev. Rhonda Parker, Director - Chestnut Ridge Camp & Retreat Center
I was 7 years old the first time I saw Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer on our color TV. Besides the always enchanting story of Rudolph's acceptance into reindeer society, I enjoy the characters created for the television special that I had never heard of in the song. One, the the abominable snow monster, Bumble, can be held responsible for several nights of less-than-sound-sleep for me. Another, Hermey, the Elf that wanted to be a dentist, inspired me to follow my dreams. Of all the Christmas specials, this one was my favorite as a child. These days, what I appreciate about the movie is the inclusion in the story of misfits, specifically those on the Island of Misfit Toys.
Perhaps you too recall these toys? Charlie-in-the-Box, the island's sentry, is a perfectly good jack-in-the-box, except for his name. There's the cowboy that rides an ostrich, a train with square wheels, and a toy boat that sinks. By far my favorite is King Moonracer, the lion with wings that rules the island. Each night, he flies around the world looking for unwanted toys and brings them back to the island to live together.
How appropriate that the creators of this holiday special chose a lion - a symbol of Christ - as the island's ruler. While King Moonracer keeps watch for misfit toys all over the world, the Lion of Judah keeps watch over each one of us. Lion lore says that the lion sleeps with one eye open, always watchful, even at rest. How about that? Solid theology in a Christmas special: God is always watching and looking for us. The beginning of Advent this week calls us to join the Lion, alert and watchful, joining in as the whole world longs for the gift of Christ.
I lovingly think of Chestnut Ridge as my own Island of Misfit Toys. Here, I reside with persons from all walks of life. Some stay but a few hours, others make this their home. For a time, we reside together, an eclectic bunch gathered by the Lion's lavish hospitality and call. We're not without square wheels and ostriches, but we're also not without hope and dreams. Together we share the gift of community. When someone struggles, we bring support. When someone celebrates, we all cheer. In the midst of life together, we discover our gifts and claim our calling. We're figuring out what it means to love another. We are united in our worship of the Lion who watches over us...and calls us to watch over each other.
In this season of Advent, I am grateful for the many ways in which watchfulness pervades my life. I am always watching for the active presence of God, manifest so often through the people - young and old - who form the ever-changing community at Chestnut Ridge. Community - the gift of life together - is something to value.
Anybody know where we can get a egg-laying, milk-producing flying pig?
A year ago my nose was pressed deep into the pages of The Leadership Challenge. Not being one to read a lot of books on leadership, I found affirmation within these pages. Affirmation that, at least by someone's standards, some things were very right here at Chestnut Ridge.
For starters, the diversity and unity of our team found loud affirmation. Not that I ever recall setting out to create such a team, but I do recall setting out to create an environment that felt more like "team" than "hierarchy." We're all in this thing called ministry together, and everyone pitches in to make it work.
Chestnut Ridge is a work environment like no other. It is a non-profit business, a ministry of the church, and a community of people banded together around the great goal of making the love of Christ visible in our world. This environment attracts a wide variety of people who come with an even wider variety of reasons. Some are tired of working for "the man" and want to do something meaningful with their life - make a difference in the world. Some come here to be in a community where feeling God's love is, perhaps, just a bit easier than other places they've been. And, others come because they need a job to make ends meet and find, sometimes to their surprise, what a healing and restorative place Chestnut Ridge can be.
At the risk of embracing one of the seven deadly sins, I am proud of the community of folks who serve at Chestnut Ridge - those who are paid and those who volunteer. Together, we create a team, a real community, that is making a difference in our world. It's hard for me when people want to give me the credit for their child's summer camp experience, their retreat group's successful event, or their student's incredible field trip. It's not really modesty - I'll take credit when it's due - it's more the realization that Chestnut Ridge is now so large that I cannot be intimately involved with each camper, each retreatant, each afterschooler, and each student. I long to be. I miss being that stage in our ministry's life-cycle. But, something wonderful has happened. A vision and a mission unifies former strangers, creating friendships, community and common purpose. The few have become the many and more continue to join in. What was a spark has become a fire. We all enjoy it's warmth.
The leadership challenges are different now. From my early days here where my hands were directly in every program, every family, and every meal, I've had to step back. Up may be a better description. I find myself in the balcony these days, looking out over the varied thriving ministries here, led by people who share a common love of God, others and the outdoors.
And, from the balcony I can see the whole of the ministry and glimpse it's future. And, it's exciting! I see where we're going - new programs, new spaces, and new people - the result of the gifts given by countless persons who have served and who continue to serve at Chestnut Ridge.
In the next blogs, I'm going to focus on the values that this community shares...the values that have brought us this far and that will take us even further in making the love of Christ visible in our world.