Camp directors and staff discuss leadership needs and the value of camps
by Emily Enders Odom | Presbyterian News Service
LITTLE ROCK, AR – Rocking peacefully on a porch at Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center—a broad smile across his face—it is impossible to imagine Peter Newbury as the “angry kid” who says that he went to camp at his parents’ insistence against his will.
“Growing up, I was bullied and beat up at school,” says Newbury, who has cerebral palsy, “but at camp, the counselors didn’t look at me as having cerebral palsy. I grew up wanting to be somebody who saw through everything in people to see what God had envisioned for them.”
Newbury, the camp operations director for the Presbyterian-related Dwight Mission Camp and Conference Center in Vian, Oklahoma, is here attending “Side by Side,” the annual conference of the Presbyterian Camp and Conference Center Association (PCCCA).
The 2016 gathering, held from November 6–11, is a joint event with the Outdoor Ministry Association of the United Church of Christ (OMA-UCC), only the third time in history that two denominations have come together for a conference like this. The 2016 gathering attracted some 170 attendees from the PCCCA and 23 from the OMA-UCC.
Newbury first got involved with the PCCCA in the 1990s. In 2008, he started attending the annual conference every year, and two years ago became a member of its Board of Directors. He characterizes the annual gatherings as warm, inviting, and loving.
“You can walk into a room with the PCCCA family and you don’t even have to say anything,” says Newbury. “They know what you are going through because they are going through the same thing. It was like my first experience at camp—nobody sees your shortfalls.”
The traditional week of retreat, renewal, and relaxation—held this year at the Presbyterian-related Ferncliff in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains—offers camp and outdoor ministry professionals a unique opportunity to worship together and learn from each other through workshops, sharing, and community building. Leadership for the 2016 conference features Bryan Sirchio, Christopher Grundy, Richard Bruxvoort-Colligan and Andra Moran.
“Transformational leadership is needed as we move into new ways of being church,” says Brian Frick, associate for Camp and Conference Ministries for the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “Gatherings such as PCCCA’s annual conference offer networking, mentoring, education, spiritual sharing and renewal for those ‘in the trenches’ of outdoor ministries, which are an essential part of faith formation. Thanks to the PCCCA, we are able to continue to grow and support leaders to carry us into the future.”
As for Newbury, he says that he knew at the age of nine that he wanted to be a leader in camp ministry, first a camp counselor, and then—because he knew being a counselor “wouldn’t pay the bills”—a camp director.
“Camping has opened so many doors for me,” he says. “God has allowed me to see things that I don’t think I normally would have been able to see. I have cerebral palsy, but I’ve been an EMT—all because of camp. I did rock climbing—all because of camp. Everybody wants to rappel off a mountain—I did that because of camping. Would you think that someone with cerebral palsy would ever get an emergency vehicle license? I wouldn’t have thought so, but I did. The small community I was in didn’t see my handicap, they just saw me as someone who was willing to show up and help.”
Newbury, who has worked at Dwight Mission Camp and Conference Center for six years, is a member of First Presbyterian Church, Sallisaw, Oklahoma, in Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery.
He says that Dwight Mission is the most unique facility he has ever served, having previously worked at five camps in four states.
“We are redefining our hospitality and guest services while keeping our classic camp experience,” says Newbury of the camp, which has five full-time staff and currently serves some 3,500 guests per year.
Newbury is also doing his part to raise up future camp leaders.
“My two kids,” he says, “have been immersed in camp life since they were small.”
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