(The following is a letter from the Fall 2011 Camp Stevens newsletter, written by Executive Director Peter Bergstrom, as he and Vicki prepare to retire after 40 years at Camp Stevens.)
As you may have heard, Vicki and I will be retiring from Camp Stevens at the end of August next year. We are getting ready to move on, but what a joy it has been to spend the past 40 years in this wonderful place! I would like to take this opportunity to reflect a bit on the gift of working here and the evolving ministry of Camp Stevens.
Over the years Camp Stevens has grown from a summer camp serving several hundred children to a year-round education and retreat center that each year enriches the lives of more than 4,000 people of all ages. Our mission has been constant—to help people deepen their relationship with God, live more lovingly with their neighbors, and become better stewards of God’s creation. Over the years there have been many changes to the programs, facilities, operations and staffing to not only dramatically increase the number of people served, but to also greatly enhance and broaden the experience of coming to Camp Stevens.
Summer camp is now much more than a place for children to make new friends and experience the joy and wonder of nature. It now truly reflects the ethnic and economic diversity of our society, and trained counselors and staff help children learn to appreciate and celebrate that diversity and to learn how to form Christian community.
Campers now learn to not only appreciate nature, but also how to care for it. Through guided experiences in the forest and meadows, farm and gardens they learn about the interdependence of all living creatures and the importance of being intentional about what we eat, what we buy and how we live. They experience first-hand the richness of eating a carrot right out of the ground or an apple off the tree, the awe of the night sky from their beds in simple cabins with no electric lights, the miracle of electricity produced directly from sunlight and soil produced by composting organisms, a food service that cares about their health and the health of our planet, and a way of living that minimizes waste and treats the use of energy and water as the precious commodities they are. Best of all, they experience the nurturing leadership of young adults who love working with them, truly care for them and are deeply committed to bringing more love and sharing into a society plagued by fear and greed.
All this is no longer confined to summer—our programs bring church youth groups and school groups to Camp Stevens year-round for environmental education, environmental stewardship education, team building and spiritual discovery. They also discover that it is the Episcopal Church that cares so much about all people and our common environment that it provides this inviting place as a gift to the entire community—for many a very surprising and refreshing contrast to the shrill voices of many “Christians” they hear so often in the media.
Adult and family groups that come for retreats also appreciate the loving hospitality they receive from the staff and are amazed by the number of bright, friendly and dedicated young college graduates who work as interns—not just hosting groups and leading programs, but also washing dishes, cleaning, working in the garden and turning the compost. And they experience an intentional community that is constantly working toward a more sustainable, “permanent culture” by trying to find the best practices regarding food, water, energy, shelter and waste.
What a gift it has been to live here these past 40 years! Can you imagine starting each day with a 20 minute walk through beautiful woods to the top of the Pacific Crest with a view to the ocean and Catalina Island to the west, and around to Mount Palomar, Volcan Mountain and Cuyamaca Peak? And then just walking across the parking lot to go to work with John, Vicki, Kathy and all the wonderful young people! The Camp Stevens Board has also been a joy to work with—there have been many different members over the years, but every one of them has been committed to the mission and ministry of Camp Stevens, and they have developed a strong culture of trust and respect where every major decision has been reached by consensus.
The Board of Visitors is a dedicated group of supporters who give generously of their time, creativity and financial resources to help the Board and the Staff develop new programs and facilities and they have been a crucial source of advice and financial support for the past 15 years. All of the bishops have been very supportive as well, from Eric Bloy, Bob Rusack and Bob Wolterstorff in our early years, to Ollie Garver, Brinkley Morton, Fred Borsch, Chet Talton, Gethin Hughes, Sergio Carranza-Gomez, and now Jon Bruno, Jim Mathes, Diane Bruce, and Mary Glasspool.
I have just returned from Building the Continuum, the Episcopal Church Summit on Camps, Retreats and Faith Formation. It was inspiring to be with so many bishops, camp/conference center directors, youth, young adult and older adult ministers, and Christian educators from Episcopal parishes, schools and seminaries, who were all so invested in a process of working together to identify the most important uncertainties that will affect our society and Christian formation in the Episcopal Church over the next ten years.
This diverse group of 75 leaders from throughout the church envisioned four very different scenarios of the future, but in each of them they saw a very important role for camp and conference/retreat centers in forming and training leaders who will strive for reconciliation, peace, and justice and care of creation. Camp Stevens has been a leader in these areas for many years—there will be a new Executive Director here next year with new ideas and energy, and John, Abbey and all the staff and the Board will be here to work with him or her to continue and further develop that leadership.
Vicki and I are looking forward to our semi-retirement, but we will surely miss being with the staff and our many friends who come to Camp Stevens each year for retreats and family programs. We hope to continue our participation in the High Sierra and Baja trips and to help out however we can. We will move to a small house on a beautiful piece of property in Wynola, just west of Julian and next to our friends Jim and Anne Hubbell. Vicki will continue teaching part-time at Spencer Valley School, and I will continue up to half-time as the executive director of our national association, Episcopal Camps and Conference Centers, Inc. This will allow us to visit and work with more of the 85 Episcopal centers, and they are all in very beautiful places!
I am grateful for all the time so many of you have given to serve as counselors, nurses, chaplains, fire-cleanup, and garden workers at Camp Stevens, and for your many gifts to help build and rebuild, enhance programs, train staff and provide camperships. Without you we would still be serving just a few hundred each year. Camp Stevens is entering a new era, and with your continued and increased generosity so much more will be possible!