SHARON (05/20/2014) -- Silver Lake Conference Center has formed faith journeys for fifty-six years. Hundreds of pastors credit their summer camp experiences at the Connecticut Conference's outdoor ministry center with informing, nurturing, or sparking their call to ministry. Last week, twenty-six of them took just a couple days to be conferees again: canoeing, climbing, painting, playing, praying, biking, singing, and exploring the special sense of wonder that's found in Connecticut's "God's Back Yard."
"I've had great experiences here at Silver Lake, usually with younger people," said the Rev. Rhonda Myers, pastor of the United Congregational Church UCC in Torrington and a member of the planning team. "Brainstorming ideas for what we might do with the clergy, with the adults, was actually pretty easy: because we just thought of all the things the kids have fun doing."
Some of the pastors took paddles in hand to canoe around the Lake, while others took the blank canvas (well, cotton) of white shirts and turned them into artistic masterpieces with tie-dye. Some brought their bicycles and explored a nearby rail trail, while others tested their bodies and spirits on the challenge courses. Cries of encouragement rose up with such enthusiasm that every single person who attempted the Catwalk -- a walk along a log suspended high in two trees -- completed it successfully.
Singer, storyteller, and shaman in the Peruvian mountain tradition Valerie Tutson led the group through a ritual of balance on the first night, giving the preachers a sense of release and refreshment. They weeded and planted in the Silver Lake garden. Around a campfire they sang songs from across the centuries, and found that some of their new friends knew and loved the same music they did. And, of course, they sighed with appreciation at every meal, and a few helped prepare the closing night's feast.
The pastors arrived on Tuesday morning May 13th, and headed home after breakfast on Thursday the 15th.
"I found that when I was out in the canoeing time that we had, it was really refreshing to me to talk about the work that I do with a true depth of joy," said the Rev. Erick Olsen, pastor of the Church of Christ, Congregational UCC in Norfolk. "I was able to do that with a colleague that I had never met before. Building those relationships is also a key part of being here at Silver Lake."
The idea for Clergy Camp is credited to the Rev. Liz Miller, associate pastor at the Congregational Church of South Glastonbury UCC and a member of the Silver Lake Board of Directors. Searching for a way to encourage people to experience Silver Lake, particularly clergy, Liz said, "Why don't we take 'em to camp? Give them the space where, instead of being in charge or facilitating for other people, they can just go and experience the wonder of summer camp."
And so they did.
On Thursday morning, they bundled up the sleeping bags and tidied away the camp clothes, returning to their lives of service: renewed, refreshed, and revived.
The Rev. Eric S. Anderson is Minister of Communications and Technology for the Connecticut Conference UCC.