A year of ‘boondocking’ builds bonds
November 21, 2018
When you hear about a congregation’s hospitality, you might picture people greeting one another after Sunday services.
Or you might picture people chatting around a table in the fellowship hall during a church potluck. Chances are, you wouldn’t picture people delivering dog toys and dish towels to a camper parked in the church’s parking lot.
But that’s just what my husband and I experienced when we stumbled upon the incredible hospitality of Dailey Ridge First Presbyterian Church in Norwood, a historic church nestled in a bucolic village of just 1,592 people in upstate New York.
In late June 2017, the small congregation, with an average Sunday attendance of 12, grew their population by two — well, three. The members — who included veterans, retired teachers, homemakers and farmers — opened their arms to welcome my new husband, Kyle, me and our
friendly canine, Chaco.
I was in upstate New York attending graduate school at Clarkson University in Potsdam, and my husband was completing his university courses online while working as a substitute teacher. It was my notion to spend our first year of marriage in a camper, and my husband supported the idea. We anticipated a challenging winter but decided we would take it week by week. Kyle and I had been attending worship at Dailey Ridge for a couple of months when we first shared our plans of living at a campground.
Shortly after, the ladies of the church began crafting other plans for us. The summer and fall seasons in upstate New York are beautiful, but the winters can be long and brutal. The church members knew we were bound to run into severe dilemmas over the winter months.
The members of Dailey Ridge invited us to relocate our camper and park on the church property. We were soon going to be church “boondockers” — people who camp without hookups in a remote area.
The congregation was excited and threw us a surprise party. They showered us with gifts to make our camper a home: a welcome mat shaped like a dog paw, camp chairs for around the fire, dishes, homemade dishcloths, some American flag solar lights and a wooden sign that read “Mr. & Mrs. Miller.” Even Chaco was included in the gift-giving, receiving treats and new toys.
Our camper sat on a grassy knoll behind the church building (circa 1853). We had no sewage hookups. Thankfully, the church allowed us to use the restrooms and kitchen inside their fellowship hall and gave us a key to access the church day and night. This gesture is truly what made living in the camper year-round possible. We joined a local gym to have access to showers and for an occasional workout as well. We chose not to install internet and instead utilized the university library as much as possible.
Winter arrived. New York had a record streak of low temperatures. Condensation from our breath froze to the inside walls of the camper. When we entered the camper, the snow that was stuck on our shoes would freeze to the floor. The humidity in the camper built up and damaged our textbooks.
Our church family helped make the harsh winter pass by quickly. They invited us over to have dinner, or to just hang out, or to attend community events and sometimes just to use their internet or watch TV. Our frequent visits to their warm homes provided enough stamina to get through the cold nights in the camper. Kyle and I kept looking forward, acknowledging that this was only a short-term living experience. We stayed positive and grateful for everything the church had provided us with.
I grew up in Texas and have lived in a few states where I attended church, but my experience at Dailey Ridge was one-of-a-kind. It was also my first experience with a Presbyterian church, and what I found was a beautiful example of Christ’s servant heart, hospitality and love.
The time Kyle and I spent living in Dailey Ridge’s parking lot will be held close to our hearts forever — and Chaco’s too. The examples of faith and service in this spirited country church have taught and encouraged us beyond words.
Nette Miller, completing her field work in occupational therapy in Houston and graduating in December 2018, plans to pursue a career in neonatal therapy and enjoys rehabilitating wildlife and spending time outdoors with her husband, Kyle
Today’s Focus: Dailey Ridge First Presbyterian Church in Norwood, NY
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Lord Jesus, thank you for calling us and giving us the strength to respond, not only with words, which fade, but with our lives. We are grateful that you allow us to be your hands and witness in our communities and throughout the world. Help us to hear your voice for the direction you want us to take. Amen.