From the Advocate: Aldersgate Camp & Retreat Center a family affair for the Mantles
May 4, 2016 / By Jennie Mantle
John and I grew up in The United Methodist Church, so it seems like camp has always existed. His family – including his grandfather, the Rev. Miles Hutchinson – encouraged attendance, so John was at camp every year from the time he was eligible at 10 years old until he was 17, the summer between his junior and senior years of high school. John looks back at it now as “a time apart for valuable personal growth and networking with like-minded people.”
The children in my family – an older brother and a younger sister – were sponsored by our church, with the most notable encouragement of Kenneth Lamb and Marion Stevens, Sunday school teachers as well as the principal and English teacher at our school, respectively. Though a bit fearful at first, I was excited to attend because of my brother’s stories of the fun he had at camp.
This was the first time I had ever been with so many people who knew Jesus personally and wanted to introduce the two of us. I fell in love with Him right away. He didn’t care that I was fat, ugly, and ashamed of some things I had done. He accepted me, loved me, and offered to come and live in my heart forever if I invited Him in. It was, and is, awesome!
While at camp, I felt safe and motivated to read the Bible and follow Jesus. I didn’t feel called to become a missionary in Africa, but I definitely wanted to continue my personal relationship with Jesus and live in a way that pleased Him. He is not just a holy Being who lives at church and is unapproachable; He lives in the pine trees, houses, and school. And being a Christian is a lot of fun – it’s not just sitting quietly in a church while everyone else has fun.
I’m not sure how many times I went to camp, maybe three. I have a picture of the group of about 200 people in 1966 when I was 14. Ma Richardson, my first cabin counselor, and Program Dean Ron Short, are in that picture. I remember feeling loved, valued, confident, and secure. Seeing some other kids back home later was a reminder of the promises we made in the pine trees when Jesus whispered our names.
Camp saved my life.
When our children, Brian “Mick” and Benjamin, were old enough to go to camp, we naturally made sure that they had that opportunity. Their experiences were much like ours, and it is a bond that we share. It has been said about the Grand Canyon, “If you haven’t been there, no words can adequately describe it. And if you have been there, no words are needed.” Mick says it’s the same for camp.
And then it was time for Mick’s son, Logan, to go to camp. His experiences started much earlier than ours because of Guardians and Angels camp and the three-day camps for the younger kids. He has enjoyed the grand spiritual walk that camp offers eight times. No matter where he was living or with whom, camp was stable and something he could count on for respite, acceptance, familiarity, stability, and connecting with his Jesus.
In March 2006, I attended a lay servants’ retreat at camp, and the old memories came flooding back. Jesus talks to adults at Camp, too. Even fat, ugly adults who are ashamed of some things they have done ...
The Sulphur Springs United Methodist Church provides full scholarships for any child who wants to go to camp, and John and I have actively supported that effort, assuming that it would always be there. We were unaware that such serious financial difficulties existed at camp until February 2015, when we attended the informational meeting in Watertown. That was a wake-up call for us, and John and I pledged to do all we could to support camp’s continued existence for generations to come.
At the Mother’s Day brunch in May 2015, we met Shari Mudge and caught her passion for how camp could be with some tender loving care. When she learned that John would be willing to help clear trees at the camp, that was the beginning of a beautiful relationship for our whole family.
Mick, Logan, and John cleaned up the grounds by cutting countless trees, splitting the wood, placing it in various campfire sites, and toting the brush to the brush piles. They had the privilege of working with Donn much of the time, and shared a lot of laughs. From wood cutting, we “branched out” to moving refrigerators, pianos, or logs, a little plumbing, landscaping, and cleaning cabins and bath houses. “John and Donn. Big Guy. Little Guy. No job is too big or too small. Give us a call.”
And the chapel became a labor of love, with cleaning, building a new landing and steps, installing new lights, repairing wood trim, and painting – lots of painting. It is exciting to have been a part of the preparation for the upcoming wedding. What a transformation has taken place in the chapel in the pines. God will surely use it in a mighty way to further His kingdom.
Always, for me, whether on my knees in a bath house, on the carpet in the chapel, or painting on a ladder outside the chapel while conversing with the red squirrel in the pines, I sensed God’s presence. Just like the first time I met Him at camp. For Mick and his 17-year-old Logan, it has been precious time together getting tired and dirty with PaPa John, and making a difference in a place they all hold near and dear to their hearts.
John says he has experienced a rebirth, a sense of purpose in his retirement years. God has blessed him with the ability to do some things well, and he is pleased that fruits of his labors are playing a part in maintaining the facilities for the benefit of future campers. He feels that a whole series of life events lined up to bring about our family’s involvement, and it is certainly rewarding.
We pledge to continue to spread the word about all that camp has to offer and to use our abilities in whatever way God leads us.