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Johnsonburg Camp & Retreat Center to launch social justice cohort this fall

High schoolers will come together to explore issues of racial and social justice as well as Creation care

by Johnsonburg Camp & Retreat Center | Special to Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Building on the success of the current youth retreat model and utilizing the value of virtual programming, Johnsonburg Camp & Retreat Center in New Jersey will offer a Social Justice Cohort beginning next month that will provide a forum for high school students to come together to explore issues of racial and social justice and Creation care as a vision and practice within a life of faith.

Framing the cohort in the context of “Me, My Community and My World,” the program will focus on conversation, learning and growth, incorporating opportunities to meet on site at the camp and retreat center, continue as a cohort virtually, and also give back locally in participants’ communities.

“Social justice is a lifestyle commitment,” Johnsonburg said on its website. “It requires dedication and sacrifice; but perhaps most importantly, it requires relationships … We ask our participants to be fully engaged online and to prioritize attending our in-person gatherings so that these kinds of supportive relationships can grow and flourish.”

The program includes three parts:

  • The experience at Johnsonburg, including two teambuilding retreats with speakers and small group reflection
  • A virtual cohort with speakers, small group check-in, conversation and learning
  • Hands-on experience in the local communities of the participants, whose service will be supported by mini grants.

Conversation and accountability will also occur between gatherings via social media. The full program will run from October 2021 through May 2022.

As a place of inclusivity, those who participate in the Christian community at Johnsonburg will have a greater appreciation and understanding of other-ness, which Johnsonburg calls “the Jesus in me meeting the Jesus in you” by seeing the image of God and the goodness of humanity in the people we encounter.

Participants will gain increased self-awareness of the political, social, gender, economic, religious and racial barriers to inclusiveness. Cultivating a love of others no matter what they look like, as well as a love of God’s Earth and all that is in it, will transform cohort members’ communities to be more harmonious, inclusive and ultimately successful.

This program is supported by a grant from the Greystone Legacy Fund from the former Elizabeth Presbytery prior to the transition of the presbyteries in New Jersey to new entities. The goal is to run the cohort for three years. Additional funding will be needed.

This cohort experience is adapted from models across the nation intended for adults. It’s designed to reflect the focus of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Matthew 25 invitation to dismantle structural racism and build congregational vitality.

Elise Bates Russell

According to Elise Bates Russell, Johnsonburg’s executive director, “Ultimately, the development of leaders with broader vision around issues of social justice will benefit our world, as they seek to answer God’s call in their lives.”

Galatians 5:13-14 reminds us of this, she noted: “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Learn more about Johnsonburg Camp & Retreat Center’s Social Justice Cohort here.

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