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    The Upper New York Conference of The United Methodist Church


    news article

    Church in the Wild worship kicks off joyfully

    June 28, 2021 / By Shannon Hodson / .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    On a balmy Sunday afternoon, earlier this month, a new kind of worship service began at Sky Lake Camp & Retreat Center. Two years in the making, Church in the Wild had its inaugural worship service.

    The pastor, Rev. Corey Turnpenny has a deep connection with Sky Lake. She first visited the camp for her confirmation retreat and immediately found it to be a special place; she then attended summer camp there and later joined the staff for five summers. For the past eight years, she has served as a director for various camp weeks, leading bibles studies and Vespers services.

    Rev. Turnpenny was called into ministry at an early age and she considers Sky Lake to be her spiritual home. After returning from a UM Next Conference in 2019, Pastor Corey (as she likes people to refer to her as), began talking to God. She enjoyed serving at a local church but felt like she needed to be where she could be her whole authentic self.

    Pastor Corey said, “God suggested to me to that I start my own church.” She began pondering what that would look like.

    A couple months later when talking with her clergy covenant group, Pastor Corey said, “I just want to be the pastor at Sky Lake.” It was a light-bulb moment, a God wink.

    Pastor Corey said, “Then the ideas started flooding in my mind. I had a lot of one-on-one meetings and then met with Dave Masland (then UNY Director of New Faith Communities) Then COVID arrived”

    COVID did not stop Pastor Corey from creating a vision of the future of what she would call “Church in the Wild.” She also had a team of board members to support her:

    • Matt Williams (Director of Sky Lake)
    • Rev. Jan Clark (Pastor of Fairfield United Methodist Church and long-time leader of retreats at Sky Lake)
    • Marcia Focht (a former licensed local pastor)
    • Marthalynn Sweet (a UNY delegate who has had a deep connection with Sky Lake)

    She also thought it was important to included non-Methodists as part of her board and these members include:

    • Valerie Spiller (a member of an Episcopal church)
    • Zach DuBord (from the United Church of Christ)
    • Natalie Sterns (a former camper at Sky Lake)
    • Kate Miller Corcoran (a community activist in Binghamton).

    The team began Church in the Wild by developing an online presence, creating get-togethers on Facebook; Pastor Corey said, “Our intention was to build community.”

    They created a fundraiser to help launch the worship services and the created a wonderful inaugural in-person service on June 6, 2021.

    A light breeze gently cooled the crowd of nearly 50 attendees from all ages, young and old, many in shorts and t-shirts, and some in sundresses, as they sat in camping chairs along the lake,

    The service began with Kristen playing Mumford & Sons; “Roll Away your Stone” on an acoustic guitar.

     As Kristen transitioned into the song, “The Tide is Rising,” Marcia asked the crowd to help build an altar of items representing nature. Pinecones, dandelions, pine branches, twigs, lake stones, and all sorts of natural treasures were placed on an altar next to Pastor Corey with dimly lit lanterns.

    Pastor Corey shared her hopes of Church in the Wild to be a place to make connections with each other in the midst of God’s creation. She said, “We are reminded of the existence of God when we pause in nature.” To best be able to practice pausing in nature, she asked attendees to turn off their cellphones.  

    Matt read Job 12: 7-9, to describe how God’s creation of the natural world provides so many lessons.

    “But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
        or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
     or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
        or let the fish in the sea inform you.
    Which of all these does not know
        that the hand of the Lord has done this?”

    The attendees were asked to breathe and listen for three minutes to the nature around them—to soak it in. Cardinal and finch songs could be heard as well as tree branches lightly swaying in the gentle breeze.

    Rev. Turnpenny’s message was an introduction to the intention of Church in the Wild; She said, “As we continue to live and grow together as a community, if you feel a sense of a dream or a vision that you are being called to make a reality, know that this group is here to help you do that.” She explained that the beauty of nature “inspires us to think bigger or deeper thoughts.”

    Throughout the service, attendees worshipped with various songs as Kristen played guitar and were guided through a meditation led by Valerie.

    Jan recited a Rumi poem:

    Is the sweetness of the cane sweeter?

    Than the One who made the canefield?

    Behind the beauty of the moon is the MoonMaker.

    There is Intelligence inside the ocean’s intelligence

    Feeding our love like an invisible waterwheel.

    There is a skill to making cooking oil from animal fat.

    Consider now the knack that makes eyesight

    From the shining jelly of your eyes. . .”

    ― Rumi, The Essential Rumi

    Each Sunday, Church in the Wild will have a service component. On June 6, there was a flyer with hanging tags to rip off, each with items needed to help fill youth bags for the local Relocation Assistance Program.

    Over the next couple of months, Pastor Corey will be preaching on the core values of Church in the Wild:

    • Spirit-led
    • Inclusive
    • Ecological
    • Alternative
    • Service-minded
    • Margin-centered
    • Communal
    • Supporters of Sky Lake

    Pastor Corey is ecstatic about starting her Church in the Wild journey; she said, “I’m so excited to not have to wake up early on Sundays, to be able to be casual and comfortable. And to BE OUTSIDE!”

    She is also so grateful for the financial support this New Faith Community has received.

    People from all backgrounds are welcomed to attend a Church in the Wild Service at 4 p.m. on Sundays at Sky Lake. If attending is not possible, you can help Church in the Wild fund its 2021 budget with a donation.

    Learn more at churchinthewild.org.

    TAGGED / Camp and Retreat Ministry (CRM)


    With more than 134,000 members, the Upper New York Annual (Regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church comprises 865 local churches and 85 new faith communities in 12 districts, covering 48,000 square miles in 49 of the 62 counties in New York state. Our mission is to “live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places."