Wesleyan Heritage

by Rev. Kevin Witt General Board of Discipleship, Director Camp & Retreat Ministries

Kevin is a the former director of camping for the OR-ID Conference, now serving on the National Board. Still a clergy member of the OR-ID Conference, he continues to be an active camper and an avid fly fisherman.

It is no accident that the United Methodist Church has developed a large network of Camp and Retreat Centers. The grass root visions that launched nearly 250 sites operating in the United States today (and more in other nations) represent a natural extension of a unique heritage and gift to society. From the days when John Wesley and his colleagues made the bold choice to take faith formation into the outdoors through field preaching and teaching (and they noticed that Jesus had done the same), God has confirmed the power of various forms of Christian outdoor education and retreats as a strength of our denomination. Wesley found the response of the people and their changed lives a remarkable testimony to the undeniable movement of the Spirit. This movement reaches to the present through circuit riders venturing into the North American wilderness in the 1700s to huge camp meetings and assemblies of the 1800s to modern camp and retreat centers, as we know them today. Millions have been touched, renewed, and inspired over the last three centuries to trust God more deeply and to embrace lives of Christian love and leadership.

Camps and retreats are only one important way that the United Methodist Church lives out its legacy of building bridges between the sanctuary and life beyond its doors.

I am so grateful to God and the United Methodist Church for investing and providing such meaningful camp and retreat settings and experiences. It has made all the difference. Many personal milestones of dedicating myself to Christ, renewing my soul, and being equipped for a life of spiritual leadership occurred in these places. It has been equally pivotal in the faith formation of all three of my daughters. What greater gift can a parent receive than to have one's children more deeply connected with God?

As I ponder the reasons for the effectiveness of these temporary respites from daily responsibilities and routine, four factors come to mind. Intentionality - these centers invite persons to seek God and to grow spiritually as the primary purpose of the site and its ministries, which distinguishes them from other camps and conference centers with different priorities. Christian Community - camps and retreats go beyond talking about Christian love to actually practicing it and making decisions based on faith. Strangers become friends living together 24 hours/day sharing the responsibilities of community, new adventures and reflecting on the meaning of life. This is a very special and unusual opportunity. The Natural World - the Scriptures affirm the goodness of creation and its role in revealing the Creator. Nature reminds us of the presence of the Source of Life in the midst of all life. The outdoors can greatly enhance our awareness of and love for God. Partnerships with Local Churches - part of the intensity and power of camps and retreats is that they are temporary.

Lessons are learned and spiritual renewal gained so that people can deliberately return to their communities of faith and society at large to inspire and lead others. Those returning need on-going groups for nurture and accountability - always a part of Wesley's Christian formation practices.

Finally, the beautiful, yet fragile, surroundings of our camp and retreat centers call immediate attention to an essential aspect of Christian discipleship and Wesleyan teaching that is too often overlooked or forgotten. We are God's representatives meant to care for the whole community of creation - people and the natural world as a whole. John Wesley, affirmed the salvation of the individual, but insisted that it cannot be separated from God's intention to save all of creation. This was a main point of his sermon on "The General Deliverance". We should, therefore, be working now toward God's ultimate intention by doing all we can to be caretakers and preservers of life in its magnificent diversity - not wanton destroyers of species and ecosystems. Wesley was distinct from many of his contemporaries, for he appreciated a sacredness and value innate within the natural world that goes far beyond the limited view of creation as meant only for human consumption and production. In his understanding of Biblical teaching, nature reflects and speaks to us of God and is deeply loved by God.

All aspects of creation are expressions of the "Word" - a communication from God if we have the ears to hear. Camp and Retreat Centers are ideal settings to help persons experience, listen to, relate with, and learn to be caretakers of creation. This recognition of the oneness of all creation is especially relevant for our generation and generations to come.

"The great lesson that our blessed Lord inculcates here...is that God is in all things, and that we are to see the Creator in the glass of every creature; that we should use and look upon nothing as separate from God…but with a true magnificence of thought survey heaven and earth and all that is therein as contained by God in the hollow of his hand, who by his intimate presence holds them all in being, who pervades and activates the whole created frame, and is in a true sense the soul of the universe."

--From John Wesley's notes on the Sermon on the Mount - Discourse III (1748).

© 2014 Camp and Retreat Ministries:

A partnership between The Oregon-Idaho Conference of The United Methodist Church
and The Episcopal Diocese of Oregon