SHARON – Summer begins in March at Silver Lake with the annual Deans Retreat weekend. The volunteer program leaders gathered March 3-4 at camp, along with chaplains, guest speakers, and Silver Lake staff, to begin to create the community that will welcome close to 1,000 young people over the seven weeks of summer conferences.
“This is my favorite weekend of the year,” said Jennifer Kronholm Clark, Administrator, who is responsible for recruiting and training deans. “I love having all you amazing people in the same room.”
The Rev. Ryan Gackenheimer, Executive Director of Silver Lake, welcomed the deans and spoke of the importance of outdoor ministry in the faith formation of young people. He emphasized the “outdoor” part of outdoor ministry, challenging deans to use the physical site creatively during their week of camp.
The format of the weekend included a mix of guest speakers, workshops led by deans, required trainings on Safe Camp policies and emergency medication administration, and discussion and planning sessions.
The guest speakers this year focused on the justice work of the United Church of Christ. Silver Lake has a long and proud tradition of standing up for social justice issues, from supporting the Freedom Riders of the Civil Rights era to sparking anti-war activists during the conflict in Vietnam.
The Rev. Dr. Peter Wells, former coordinator of Justice and Witness Ministries for the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, kicked off the conversation with a discussion of the Lord’s Prayer, asking the group to brainstorm what “thy kingdom come” refers to. The group threw out images of peace, hope, love, equality, and inclusion. Wells charged the group with the responsibility to work to make God’s kingdom a reality on earth today.
“The mission of the church is to build, create, usher in the realm, the reign, the kingdom of God,” Wells said.
Wells encouraged the deans to think about how their work at Silver Lake with young people was helping to usher in the kingdom of God on earth. The deans had the opportunity to discuss justice imagery in scripture (Isiah 58 and Micah 6:8) in small groups. Wells kept returning to the idea that we do justice “because the Bible tells us so!”
Workshop topics included “The First 24 Hours,” a discussion led by Amber Bigley, dean of Rock of Ages, on how to make conferees feel safe and cared for at camp; “Welcoming Trans* Youth,” led by Missy Sturtevant, dean of My So-Called Life, on how to welcome young people of all gender identities to camp; “The Co-Dean Team,” led by Debby Page, dean of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., on how to get the most out of your co-dean partnership; and “The Care and Feeding of Counselors,” led by Brad, Rev. Susie, and Libby Craig, deans of Hammer & a Nail, on how to build a strong counseling team.
Logan Stern, a summer nurse, trained deans who will lead off-site trips on how to administer epi-pens and inhalers in emergency situations. Pam Arifian, Director of the Northeast Center for Environmental Justice at Silver Lake, spoke about the programs she offers during the summer and the environmental justice work being done at Silver Lake. Debby Kirk, Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Connecticut Conference of the UCC and dean of River of Dreams, spoke of opportunities for young people to deepen their faith outside of Silver Lake, including the Thinking About Working for God program.
Other discussions included an opportunity for first-time deans to ask questions of Silver Lake staff and a round table session, led by Brian Lapis, dean of Fun in the Son, on how to help conferees bring Silver Lake home with them.
Betty Geiling and Maureen Montrose, deans of Counselor-in-Training and Silver Lake Sings, provided training in Safe Camp policies aimed at
protecting campers from sexual abuse.
The Rev. Da Vita McCallister, Associate Conference Minister for Leadership and Vitality for the Connecticut Conference, provided training in racial justice, calling on the deans to create a radically welcoming community for youth of color.
The deans wrapped up the weekend with some scheduling, an exercise to help them practice working with the other leaders of their week to start planning the summer.
Over the two days, the deans gathered intentionally in worship three times. Emily McKenna, dean of Faithbook, led Friday evening vespers. Rev. Jane Rowe and Rev. Jill Terpstra, deans of Silver Lake Sampler, led opening chapel Saturday morning. The summer chaplains, represented by Rev. Diane Monti-Catania, Rev. Mary Nelson, and Rev. Chris Mereschuk, led closing worship.
The volunteers enjoyed an appreciation dinner with special appetizer hour before returning to “the real world” energized to create opportunities for young people to encounter God’s love in creation this summer.