The best days “at the office” in my line of work take me completely out of the office. Outdoor ministry happens outside, and I find myself pulled away from my desk: to the ropes course, to the lake, to the campfire ring.
Silver Lake is a beautiful slice of God’s Creation, and it’s my job to share it with others.
During the summer, the young people who come to Silver Lake get to experience nature unplugged. We have no cell service on site, and we don’t offer WiFi time. I always enjoy reading their end-of-the-week evaluations, where they exclaim, “You CAN live without your phone!”
And when we ask them when they felt close to God, most of the answers name outside experiences: “At the top of the ropes course”; “when I passed the swim test”; “in the Waterfall Chapel”; “on the night hike.”
After the campers went home and camp became quieter, I took some vacation time. I found myself called outdoors again, this time to Maine. My family and I packed up a tiny Ford Focus (two adults, an 8-year-old, and a 3-year-old) with camping equipment and drove up to Acadia National Park, where we lived outside for six days.
After a summer of running around in the heat and the bugs and the rain, you might have thought I would have enjoyed nothing more than parking myself in front of the television for the week.
But in the transition from my outdoor workspace to my more traditional, indoor desk, I discovered that, rather than relief to be sitting still, I was still feeling pulled to go outdoors. Outdoor ministry happens outside, and I found myself finding excuses to steal away from the computer and join our guest groups around camp.
Our vacation to Maine was wholly restorative. I found that we could immerse ourselves in nature in a way that is difficult to do even while spending an entire summer outside at camp. The rocky shores of Seawall in September offered stillness and reflection and a glimpse of the divine.
Many of us find, in our high tech, busy lives, that we have lost our connection to the natural world of God’s creation. We read stories of climate change, predictions that the great coral reefs of the Pacific Ocean will be dead in the next 30 years, shake our heads, and say, “What a shame.”
But when you can draw a straight line from the impact of carbon emissions to the loss of the wild shoreline where you encountered the Almighty, your stake in the outcome becomes more urgent.
Silver Lake alumni often talk about how being at camp as a child and encountering God in creation has impacted the choices they make as adults, whether it’s to remember reusable shopping bags at the grocery store, to buy local produce, or to devote your professional life to studying and preserving the natural world. “I fell in love with nature at Silver Lake,” they say.
God gave Creation over to humans as stewards, and it seems we’ve forgotten our duty to care for it. Outdoor ministry helps us all, young and old, to reconnect with our sacred responsibilities.
Jennifer Kronholm Clark is the Program Director at Silver Lake Conference Center.