Don't think the UCC's national staff members just sit at desks all day. They can get out and rough it with the best of 'em.
A few folks from Cleveland demonstrated that this summer as they volunteered to spend a week each in various Conference summer camps. The outings are intended to bring local churches and the national setting together in an intimate way and expand the value and richness of outdoor ministry.
The Rev. Joan Ishibashi, executive associate of Wider Church Ministries, visited Pilgrim Pines, a UCC camp in San Bernadino, Calif. During her stay the camp hosted 250 children as well as 35 mentally challenged adults, called Pinesters.
"I was particularly struck by how young people and Pinesters interacted," says Ishibashi, "without having to form a committee to study each other's differences. God's love for all people was embodied by this diverse and caring group."
The Rev. June Boutwell paid a visit to Silver Lake Conference Center in Connecticut, where she acted as pastor for four different camps on site. In Cleveland, Boutwell is minister for youth, young adults and outdoors with Local Church Ministries.
One night at family camp, she led a hiking exercise where campers had to climb a short slope to a chapel site for evening prayers. One young mother was particularly apprehensive, but with her sixth-grade daughter's moral support she overcame her anxiety and, stumbling through the darkness, made it to chapel time.
"As we walked back along familiar, well-lighted paths, she was just beaming," says Boutwell. "She had learned from her daughter and accomplished something she'd been afraid to do."
Dana Fisher, director of Silver Lake Conference Center, helped place national staff with various Conference camp sites.
"The nice thing about having national staff on the grounds," Fisher says, "is the ability to see a real face and make that contact. It's not just a group of people in an office in Cleveland, it's a group of people that will reach out, and who obviously care a lot about us."