Q&A with camp director Russell Davis
On Aug. 1, Russell Davis began his new role as Director of Camp and Retreat Ministries for the North Georgia Annual Conference. The North Georgia Advocate recently posed questions to Davis about his new role and the vision for camping ministry.
NGA: In 2010, the Annual Conference endorsed a vision to significantly expand camping opportunities in North Georgia. What is your long term plan for implementing this vision?
Davis: The vision endorsed in 2010 is to double the number of campers we serve each summer by 2020. We plan to do that by expanding Glisson’s Outpost program by 500 campers and our Day Camp program to serve 1,000 campers at 32 church sites over that time. In addition, we plan to add two residential summer camp programs between 2015 and 2017 that will serve at least 1,000 campers by 2020.
NGA: With all the important mission and ministry efforts taking place in North Georgia, why is camping taking on a higher profile?
Davis: I believe it has to do with North Georgia’s long-standing commitment to our youngest church members as the current and future church. Both studies and anecdotal evidence indicate that more commitments to Christ are made in camping and retreat ministries than in any other single ministry. Significant numbers respond to God’s calling to church and lay ministry at camp as well. Three aspects of camp and retreat ministry contribute to its effectiveness significantly above others.
Being away from the busyness of daily life means that participants are more available to hear, to consider and to respond to God’s voice and leading.
NGA: You have been involved with youth ministry and camping for many years now. What are the benefits for kids attending camp that you have personally witnessed?
Davis: This past summer was my twentieth summer serving as a camp director. Over those years I’ve seen so many ways that camp has transformed campers’ lives – if there is one place our church is “transforming the world” it’s at camp…one camper at a time! Here are only a few: the various commitments of faith made; parents reporting that campers return home better behaved and more willing to help with chores unasked; youth group leaders claiming that camp has deepened the community in their youth groups; and I’ve seen campers arrive scared and unwilling to participate volunteer to lead songs and prayers on the closing day of camp with tears of sadness at having to leave.
This summer I watched an eighth grade girl who volunteered preach at morning chapel and inspire over 300 of her peers and our staff.
NGA: You have been serving as director of Camp Glisson since 2007. How are your priorities shifting in your expanded role as Director of Camp and Retreat Ministries and will you still be involved at Camp Glisson?
Davis: It has been an honor to serve Glisson and I am excited to hand day-to-day responsibilities to the new, very capable Director/Manager, Bradley McEntyre. Glisson continues to be a part of my responsibilities and I will continue to be involved in its ministry.
Even as I turn my attention to expanding camp and retreat ministry to reach as many North Georgia United Methodists as possible, especially those churches and people not currently reached, the priorities that have guided me the past five years will not change.
NGA: What kind of partnerships are you hoping to you form with local churches?
Davis: We would like for all of the churches in our conference to think of us as a partner with them in their ministries. If they have children, youth and young adults, we want to find ways to serve them that complement what they are doing already. And if the congregation doesn’t have children and youth in their membership, we want to be a ministry resource that the congregation can offer to the families in their neighborhood and town.
Obviously we will be establishing close working relationships with the congregations that host day camps with us. In addition, as we begin to lay plans for new resident camping programs, we hope to spend time with churches and leaders to ensure that the programs we develop will meet their needs and they feel invested in our plans.
NGA: Do you foresee developing permanent, full-time camping facilities on other sites, sort of smaller versions of Camp Glisson?
Davis: Yes…and no. There are no plans currently to develop permanent facilities on sites. Our plan is to develop new residential camping ministries using leased and/or borrowed land and, as the ministries become financially viable and as facilities are outgrown, to consider the development of facilities to support them. We don’t believe “if you build it they will come.” Concerning those future facilities - as tempting as having other ‘Glissons’ would be, if and when new camps are developed, they will not be “smaller versions of Glisson. We think that attempting to clone Glisson would be a mistake. New camp and retreat ministries and any new sites developed will have their own identities.
NGA: Can you provide examples of the kind of camping activities, apart from Camp Glisson, that might be made available to youth in the conference?
Davis: There are so many outdoor opportunities in our annual conference it seems that any attempt to list activities is limiting! We have been blessed for 88 years to have a beautiful mountain property with a waterfall and mountain stream and have offered camping, backpacking and kayaking among other activities. What if we were located on a lake and could offer a sailing-based program? What if we developed a program at a site that allows campers with physical disabilities to do activities they could previously only imagine? What if we developed an organic farming program that allowed campers to learn how to garden and where food comes from? What if we found ways for church groups to sign up for camp together? The ways of engaging our children, youth and young adults in Christian community and in God’s creation are limited only by our imagination.
NGA: What areas of the conference are highest on your priority list?
Davis: It is our mission to support all congregations in the conference. And our Day Camp program makes it possible to take summer camp into every corner of the conference. That said, we currently serve fewer residential campers in the Augusta and LaGrange districts than any other. Those two areas would be targeted first for developing residential camping ministries.
NGA: What are your short-term goals for the next year or so?
Davis: We’ll be busy this year opening eight new day camp locations and expanding Glisson’s Outpost program offerings. The Glisson Board will be completing its structural transformation into the board of North Georgia Conference Camp and Retreat Ministries before annual conference next June. I plan to spend as much time as possible this year in the Augusta and LaGrange areas getting to know people and congregations, listening to needs and dreams. And I’ll be working with our staff and Board to identify partner site locations for launching our new residential camp programs targeted for 2015.
NGA: How can churches or individuals who want to help in this effort get involved?
Davis: We can’t support churches or families who aren’t aware of camp and retreat ministry. Helping your church and neighbors know about opportunities at Glisson is a way you can help this fall. Make sure folks who can’t afford camp know there is financial help available. Be a part of listening sessions in the Augusta and LaGrange areas in the next year or so and tell your pastor if you want your church to be involved. Help get the word out about Day Camps that may be in your area. And keep all of us in Camp and Retreat ministry - Board members, staff and summer staff - in your prayers as we endeavor to be faithful stewards of the vision and opportunities before us.