We are just starting our fourth week of overnight camp. Camp this summer has been exciting, a little bit chaotic, and definitely required some flexibility (spoiler alert, we have the best program team- they’re working hard, making changes as needed, and coming up with all the ways to keep camp fun, engaging, and safe).
We continue to be pleasantly surprised! First by the staff, who are diligent in upholding protocols and attentive in helping campers following the covid guidelines. This is no easy task! Second by the campers, who are so excited to be here. Even with some activities missing this year, campers are creative- one cabin built their own mini golf course! (see video here)
Everyday we’re learning what works and what doesn’t. We’re thankful for your prayers and encouragement throughout this journey!
Ask those who were on staff or came to camp as campers in the 1960s and 70s about their Bethany Birches experience and they will almost certainly reference the rustic and challenging moments that became so deeply engraved in their memories. Back then, the Bethany Birches experience had to be rustic and challenging. Camp was just getting started and there were minimal dollars being invested and limited machines and tools to use to carve the camp out of a grown-over farm. Those missing dollars and machines weren’t important to Nevin Bender. He and his family were called into action by a sense of vocation, faith, and by Lloyd and Alice Moyer. Quite literally, when the Moyers had the idea to open Bethany Birches they asked Nevin to run the camp. He said yes and was the first camp director serving from 1965 to 1980.
Nevin J. Bender passed away this summer. His willingness to forge Bethany Birches with minimal resources created a lasting culture and while he has recently joined the great cloud of witnesses (see Hebrews 12:1), his mark was made and is still visible today, here at camp. You can see his personality and work in the Core Values of BBC. We named our core values just last year after conducting research with many different stakeholders (over 150). The core values are found in this word picture. Interestingly, in 2010 Marcia Bender (one of Nevin’s daughters) was asked what she felt was important to her father. In her reply she touched on community building, learning to trust each other, nature, building consensus and trying new ideas. Here we see the values she saw in her father’s behavior match some of the camp’s core values. At a dinner in 2008 Nevin was honored at his place of work and his colleague, Will Hairston said of Bender, “Nevin’s passionate faith, intense work ethic and model of service have been an inspiration to all.”
Weaving these two comments we get a sense that our core values are closely linked to who Nevin was. Here at BBC we use the phrase “With Over Watch.” It was coined by Michael Brandwein and is a comment about leadership, influence, and how to have a relationship. You don’t “watch” a 10-year-old from afar and expect to have much influence, or connection with each other, you go to be “with” them! It is by being together that individuals get to know each other, have shared experiences, and influence one another. Nevin was a “with” kinda guy! You see that in Marcia’s comments about her father and the stories that abound of Nevin connecting with others, leading from among the various camper and staff groups. I have met many people who shared about the influence Nevin had in their life.
Here we are today, still working with fewer resources than many organizations have, still cooking over the fire as they did that first year, and still our Directors spend a lot of time “with” people. We see relationships and community building as central to how we go about our mission just as Nevin did. We trust that God enters in the midst of this special camp experience, just as Nevin did. Today we are thankful that God (and the Moyers!) called upon the Bender family and thankful for their service. Nevin, please continue to be “with” us from the great cloud of witnesses!
When Nevin passed, his wife Lourene requested that gifts be made to Bethany Birches in lieu of flowers and gifts to the family. Please join her and many others in giving to the camp in memory of Nevin. Learn more about Nevin at www.bethanybirches.org/Nevin
As Tex eloquently described in her article God of every season, this place is filled with love and joy and meaningful experiences any time of year. That’s one of the reasons we are so excited about winter camp. Other reasons we are excited: this winter will bring 6 winter weekends. One of those is Summit High which is a weekend for teenagers to relax, hang out together and be at Bethany Birches. See dates in the program chart within this newsletter. We are also excited about our developing skills track which will include the improved back country ski experience and ice fishing. New for this year within the ski program is expanded terrain! We have cleared some woods areas and can ski more of the property more safely. Ice fishing will be brought to us by a local expert and long-time camp family. We hope to see you at a winter camp as a camper or volunteer! Bring this article along with you this winter to get half off a winter sweatshirt!
Below is a guest blog post written by Will “Creek” Williams, the shepherd during the first week of camp this summer. Creek has been coming to camp for a number of summers now and had some really incredible messages to share with the campers as well as some great response from the campers. I asked him to share about one message in particular that received a wonderful response from the campers.
One of the hardest things in youth ministry is coming across youth who feel like no one cares for them or loves them. Often times it can be the youth that you would least expect to have these feelings. Self-worth is something that we find in three places – we find it in ourselves, we find it from the positive affirmations from our friends, family and community, and ultimately we find it from God. As our youth continue to grow physically, mentally and spiritually, we as a Christian community need to find ways to build our youth up in ways that will help them find their self-worth by showing them what God’s love is truly all about.
One example of this is through a shepherding experience I had at Bethany Birches camp. Late in June 2018, my family took a week to go up and serve at camp. My eleven year old son and my six year old daughter were campers and my wife served in various roles throughout the week. I was asked if I could be the “Shepherd” with my background in youth ministry and having previously served at the camp. Immediately I jumped at this opportunity as it is my passion to serve in various roles in camp ministry and share in the community experience that Bethany Birches provides.
On Tuesday night that week at the evening devotional, “Fireside”, I wanted the youth that were attending to understand what it meant to be made in the image of God and to see what self-worth is supposed to be through God’s eyes. With the theme of the week being water, I thought it would be a cool idea for us to spend time at the pond and look at our reflections. Looking at your reflection can be a simple exercise of seeing your own face or it can be an eye-opening opportunity to see just how much God loves us and how we are created in a unique and special way.
Most people when they look at their reflection are looking to see the negatives that are staring back at them. Even if it is used as an attempt to fix their hair, makeup, shave or wash up, it is to remove any blemishes that they may have. That is only on the surface. Some people, when they look closer, see negatives that are much worse and can be very damaging. Youth and adults alike can see things that other people never see and never hear from that person. Things such as “I am not pretty enough”, “People don’t like me”, “I am being bullied and no one even cares”, “No one loves me”, “My family hates me” and the list can go on and on. I have heard youth speak these words when looking at their reflections and I wanted to find a way to turn it around.
My challenge to the campers was to find one good quality that they could see in themselves. Once they found it, I asked them to go to a picnic table or spot around the pond to share that quality with their cabin. This is a great way for the youth to begin to see that God has planted something inside of them and that they just need to take the time to find it. Then I wanted the other campers to affirm and share a quality that they see in that person to help build them up. So thoughts could turn from “I am not pretty enough” or “I am not good enough” to hearing other people share that they are beautiful, that they are kind, that they are helpful, that they are awesome and that they are a part of a community that loves them. Hearing the counselors join in to affirm and lift up each of their campers allowed the reflections that were seen by each individual to be fully realized by seeing the true image of God the way that it was intended to be seen – one of hope, one of love and one of a positive self-worth. We need that in today’s world and it was amazing to see God working in that way.
Maybe it is time that we all sat around a picnic table, thought about the good things that God has blessed our lives with while surrounding ourselves with people that will be there to lift us up and love us when we need it most. If we can find a community to do that, then we will begin to fully realize the image of God as it was truly meant to be. At Bethany Birches Camp, we intend to shaping the lives of the young people and the community we serve to fully see the person God made. I pray this will happen ongoing for generations to come!
Each summer, as I talk with parents, the thing I hear most often is that parents wish they could come to camp. Well now you can! This year, come spend 4th of July at Bethany Birches with your child! If your camper is signed up for Core B (July 1-6) you are officially invited to join them for a special 4th of July Family Cookout! Come to camp and swim in the pond, jump on the Water Trampoline, enjoy some hamburgers, and attend a BBC Fireside all with your child! The day will end in the evening with a Sparkler Party!
Check out the general schedule below:
3:15 Parents Start Arriving, head down to Pond to play games, go boating, fishing, swimming, etc all with your child, their friends, and their counselor
We were very glad to host the Woodstock Union High School Prom here at camp last weekend. Thanks to you juniors and planning committee for selecting Bethany Birches. We hope to see you back again next year!
Greetings this Thanksgiving holiday! I am thankful for you and for all the ways God prompts people to engage at camp. I am thankful for the ways God can be seen here. One way I’ve seen God this past year is in the ongoing growth at camp. Allow me to give a handful of examples.
Our program director, Chick, continues to grow and learn and seems to not weary of the learning process. This is a great model for all of us to push through the challenges that come with the learning process.
I am experiencing similar growth. As camp grows I am stretched to get better at strategic and future thinking. 1 Cor. 13 comes to mind, that famous passage about love. Picking up at vs. 8 “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” This is relevant to me right now. I am growing up, yes. I am also increasingly aware of the need for love. Over doing a good job. Over getting it right. Over everything.
On the topic of growth, this summer was the most attended in our 53 year history. I chalk this up to the movement of God’s spirit in three people, among others.
Jane Glick, school nurse at Rochester who asked the school board to promote the camp among all the students. After getting their permission, we offered BBC’s tiered pricing as well as additional subsidy from Taftsville Chapel. Over 30 new campers attended camp this past summer through her efforts.
A second woman named Beth Ann Maier, leader of Camp Agape (CA), made a way to send CA campers too old for the CA program to the BBC sessions that would be age appropriate. That accounted for 30 additional attendees.
A third person contributing to the attendance growth this summer is a young camper named Nick. He hosted his birthday party at camp in January. Facebook ignited after we posted a video of the party and 20 registrations were received the three days after the posting of that video.
It’s partners and champions like this that fill camp with people. I believe each of these three are responding to inner promptings they experience from God. To be clear, I am not trying to promote a type of prosperity gospel, but rather an image of a God who longs for our presence and desires each of us to be in tune with Himself.
Join me in sitting still for a moment this holiday. Consider meditating on how God might be prompting you.
Summer and Winter Camps are the focus of Bethany Birches. A lot of people contribute to make camp happen. The BBC Board of Directors (BOD) is a group of 9 folks who think about the broader vision of BBC and where it’s heading into the future. Stacy Selbo is a member of the BOD. What follows are her reflections on how she got involved with BBC and what the Board is currently working on.
Our family moved to Vermont from Atlanta in 2004, and settled in Bridgewater in 2005. While we were active in our Atlanta church, our 3 boys also had meaningful, Christ-centered summer camp experiences from first grade until they could no longer be campers. We didn’t know what our Vermont experience would hold for our family spiritually, but shortly after being in the Woodstock, Bridgewater area, our youngest son had opportunities to visit Bethany Birches camp with the First Congregational Church of Woodstock Youth Group. We were thrilled to learn about this magical and special place just 15 minutes from our home!
Simultaneously, Amber (Cheeks) Bergey and I were involved in a women’s bible study with a small group from a variety of churches. It was a familiar connection and we stayed in touch. Then, I joined the Board in 2015.
The Board is active and meets throughout the year beginning with an annual retreat (January) to review and coordinate the direction of camp with Brandon. As a Board, our main focus is to consider the resourcefulness and sustainability of BBC, which continues to head in a very positive direction. Enrollment is up to nearly record attendance, thanks to proactive marketing and consistent fundraising. In 2017, BBC is debt free which is a remarkable accomplishment, with gratitude to Brandon for driving that goal.
While the Board continually reviews strategies, we are primarily focused and thoughtful about the spirituality that BBC represents and conveys to our campers – living the Mission.
I am especially thankful that an extraordinary camp like Bethany Birches exists here in the secular mountains of Vermont. What a special place for young people to learn about Christ!
The first (small) snow fell yesterday at BBC! The snow fell on leaf cleared grass, newly built pallets and freshly felled trees. Saturday Nov 4th was a busy day at BBC. Thirtyish folks came from Rutland, Bethel, Woodstock, Plymouth, Bridgewater, Brandon, White River, Randolph, etc to help BBC get ready for winter. A big thanks to all you from Calvary Bible Church who came and joined the fun!
Volunteers brought different skills. All brought smiles. Volunteers were different ages with different familiarity with BBC. Some were at BBC for the first time. Others were campers who were attending their first work day. And still others have been coming to BBC in some capacity for the last 50 years! Over the course of 6 hours the group raked ALL the leaves, cleared the garden, built a number of pallets and fell trees to clear space for pallet storage and pond beach expansion.
Each October I try to focus on the beauty of the changing leaves but always find myself distracted by the knowledge that all the leaves will drop. And then need to be cleared. And how exactly will that get done? Along with all the other pre winter work 100 acres of forrest requires?
And each fall a group of people show up to help. This year was no different. This year people joined in the leaf raking, pallet building and falling trees. God continues to bring people to do the work of God and I am grateful to be part of that.