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Letter from the OMA Board President

Dear Beloved Outdoor Ministry Association Leaders and Friends,

We just returned from an historic joint ecumenical Outdoor Ministry gathering, with Presbyterian Church Camp and Conference Association and OMA-UCC, and some United Church of Canada camp leaders joining with OMA in good faith, at Ferncliff Camp and Retreat Center in Arkansas. As election night turned into ‘the day after,’ the reality of the divisive climate and profound transition our country faces began to sink in. We were indeed grateful to be supported in a sister camp and place of natural beauty and retreat, in this place, at this time. Somehow being reminded that we are all connected, to the earth especially… helps me face what lies before us, and helps renew my determination to reach out to communities that are struggling, hurting, those lost or those especially vulnerable. What is the work we are called to do now?

Well, being together with our Presbyterian Outdoor Ministry counterparts, learning together, witnessing and worshipping together, gives us a clue. Our community of faithful leaders is bigger than just us, than just OMA-UCC. And we learn so much from each other…. Both what we can do better, what innovations work, what others’ trials and failures have been like, and what we do well (check out the presentations, handouts, and resources from our Side-by-Side workshops).

What became abundantly clear to me, and what we spent some time discussing as a Board of Directors, is that the same ‘elements’ that we as OMA-UCC bring to the table…to our ecumenical partnership with PCCCA, are the same things that are desperately needed expression in our nation…and to the world, now more than ever:

1. Offering and celebrating meaningful, inclusive participatory worship experiences, rooted in the encounter with the Divine, Christ in Creation.

2. Empowering safe sanctuaries, hospitality and spaces of radical welcome and acceptance for marginalized people, especially youth that may not have found such acceptance in churches, schools or at home: LGBTQ communities, survivors of sexual assault and violence, African American, Latinex and historically oppressed communities, veterans, special needs groups from across multi-cultural, socio-economic, abilities and religious sectors. Some of our camps and retreats centers host these groups that have not found Christ’s welcome elsewhere.

3. Equipping our leaders, staff and volunteers and campers with specific training and awareness with inclusive, justice-conscious tools like Racial Justice training, UCC White Privilege/Let’s Talk resource, Our Whole Lives Curriculum, competency for extending welcome to LGBTQ youth and families, and equipping leaders and sites for Environmental Justice-centered modeling and educating, as the core expression of our commitment to working for justice, equality and sustainable planet stewardship. Micah’s charge is our charge, ‘To do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God,.’ as well as our mission to “Love God, Love our Neighbor and Love Ourselves… and the Earth’.

This kind of gets to the root of our UCC identity as Outdoor Ministry leaders, and we may be in different places in our striving to live these 3 things out, but we are bringing bold witness, hard-earned experience and some really excellent tools to the table to share, and I believe that we must accelerate and empower these efforts while recommitting to doing the work across our sites with our partners and in the world wherever we are, because our lives, our future depends on it- Not just of Outdoor Ministry, but the future of the world that the young people we serve are now inheriting.

To this end, Pilgrim Lodge Executive Director Bryan Breault announced to the Side-by-Side gathering that Pilgrim Lodge will be hosting an LGBTQ conference for high school youth this summer, open to high school students everywhere, Aug. 6-12, 2017. Immediately Director Natalie Becker from Camp Adams pledged scholarship support to help young campers get there. Other PCCCA leaders and OMA leaders signed up to serve as counselors or offered resources and referrals for training and leadership for this conference.

This example manifests the momentum that’s building from our joint gathering. One of OMA’s offerings at Side-by-Side was Pam Arifian’s workshop, Director of Northeast Environmental Justice Center at Silver Lake, to lend resources and enthusiasm around making every outdoor ministry site a living, empowering, education center and model of environmental justice and stewardship for all guests. Indeed, we are changing the world, one life at a time, one encounter, at a time, one young beloved camper or retreat guest at a time, one site at a time… and that’s a good thing, because the world needs a lot of this change, right now… the world needs, our country needs… a whole lot more of what OMA-UCC, Outdoor Ministry can and does offer.

The other night, I had a dream…. kind of a nightmare, really. I dreamt that all my pants were ripped, torn and riddled with big holes. All of them. I was horrified. I had no pants to wear. So yesterday, I went shopping, and bought 3 new pairs of pants. Today, I put on my new Big Girl Pants, and I’m getting to work.

I invite you to join together with your peeps, as the work ahead looms large, we are in beloved community, yet and still. And our OMA community just expanded, to include our new friends of PCCCA. I can’t wait for you to laugh and cry and learn and worship with them again, in 2019 at the great OMC Camp Gathering. We are planning our joint Board meeting in Feb. to explore what we can resource well and offer to each other as communities in Outdoor Ministry together, and in preparation for Consult 2017 at Silver Lake. (Yes, I’ll be wearing my new pants.) Meantime, let’s stay in good communication. We need each-other… to help us live out Loving God, Loving Our Neighbors, and Loving Ourselves.

Anne Hughes, President of the OMA-UCC Board of Directors