The lands of a United Church of Christ outdoor ministry in the Oregon forest will be forever protected from development, as a sanctuary and tangible sign of the denomination's 3 Great Loves — love of children, love of creation and love of neighbor.
A mission, according to director Natalie Becker, that is "Forest First and Kid Focused!"
Becker, with her husband Bob, oversees Camp Adams, a nature preserve and youth camp owned and operated by the Central Pacific Conference (CPC). The property, 216 acres of mature Douglas Fir forests, has been run by the Congregational Church and then the United Church of Christ since 1938.
The facility has housed church retreats, outdoor environmental education programs and a flourishing summer camp program. Currently, Becker said, Camp Adams serves about 200 kids every summer. Daily activities — swimming, nature walks, arts and crafts, and evening gatherings around the campfire — all celebrate God's creation.
"Our camp program is designed to provide a traditional sleep-away camp experience for youth wrapped within the fundamental ideals of the United Church of Christ faith tradition — extravagant welcome for all and the building of community life that supports a more just and sustainable world," said Natalie Becker, co-director of the Central Pacific Conference Outdoor Ministry. "Summer camp at Camp Adams is about experiencing the beauty and power of our beloved mature forests. All together the mission of our youth camps is to provide a place where kids are safe to explore who they are, how they matter, and that they belong."
But now the Camp Adams community is also heavily immersed in forest conservation and eco-justice. Last September, the Central Pacific Conference finalized a conservation easement agreement to forever protect and preserve the acreage of the outdoor ministry site.
"While retaining title and ownership of all 216 acres, the Central Pacific Conference of the United Church of Christ agreed to the terms of a conservation lien on 181 acres of that property," Brown said. "The terms of the lien will be held and monitored by the Clackamas County Soil and Water Conservation District and will be attached to the property title in perpetuity, regardless of any future change in ownership. These terms strictly prohibit subdivision of the property and any activity that would degrade the current natural conditions of the forests."
The Conference, which received a one-time payment to compensate for lost profits on timber sales and the creation of potential subdivisions, established an endowment with United Church Funds to finance the future of Camp Adams, along with its new, emerging mission.
"We stopped searching for the way to chase the dollars that would save our camp and started imagining what might happen if we first focused on the forest," said the Rev. Molly Carlson, designated term conference minister, Central Pacific Conference. "This seemingly simple paradigm shift was absolutely transformative. We now have a purpose that follows our core values of creation justice and the money to sustain these values into the future."
"As our attention has become more forest focused and community oriented, we have reached out in partnership with local scientists and community organizations to participate in the protection and health of our forest ecosystems," Brown said. "Conversations centered around scarcity (declining summer camp enrollment, aging facilities, and shrinking budgets) slowly changed to conversations about the abundance of creation that generations of Camp Adams stewards have protected and the excitement of a ministry that intentionally contributed to social and environmental justice in the local community."
The new financial resources provide Camp Adams the opportunity to focus its ministry on preserving the earth and developing good stewards of the environment.
"We are no longer worried about ‘saving’ or camp or trying to change it into something else to appeal to corporate dollars to sustain our outdoor ministry," Carlson said. "We can focus our fundraising on providing scholarships to children in our communities that can come and experience God in this sacred space."
"We will put these new stores of time, energy, and resources into our summer youth camps, the development of an outdoor education program for surrounding rural public schools, community conservation workshops, and the hosting of all-church retreats for our conference churches," Becker said.
Carlson noted this new mission at Camp Adams epitomizes all the UCC's 3 Great Loves – Children, Creation and Love of Neighbor. "New development is so rampant throughout our area that to set aside this beautiful forest as an ecological conservation site in perpetuity is a blessing to our local neighbors," she said. "We have worked with local conservation organizations, local scientists, local schools, local towns and cities, to share this unique and special spot — we are not just keeping this for ourselves."
"Our guiding mantra through this entire process was ‘Forest First and Kid Focused,’" Becker said. "We are celebrating the amazing things that can happen when faith and hard work and kids and community collide!"