“Camp truly changed my life,” one teenager said about his time as a camper at Pinelands Center with Next Gen Ministries. Another camper said, “What I liked about the camp was the way we all connected to each other, even though we were all strangers; we were best friends by the second day.” A teenage girl who took part in all that the camp had to offer, said, “I learned what my purpose in life was; not necessarily in ministry but how I can help others without having to do it under the title of ministry but to still know that I’m doing God’s will. I feel like I’m called to be a helping hand and a voice for those that are voiceless or cannot be heard.”
The mention of summer camp has always churned up memories chockful of singing songs, swimming and hiking and gathering around a campfire for smores and a story or two. Camping in Greater New Jersey has also always devoted plenty of time to give youth the space and opportunity to connect to God and each other. Along the way they learn how to be leaders and how to grow in their faith and discover what is important in their lives. They also learn inclusiveness, fellowship with all and how to be a part of transforming the world. Add in a ton of fun, and it’s no wonder why many adults remember fondly their days in summer camp and often pass on the tradition to their children and why many return to be counselors.
Next Gen’s new Camp Program Director Mecan Payne is relishing this new opportunity to blend the wisdom of the past with the hope of the future. “My hope is that camping ministry would continue to live into its legacy of creating new experiences, amazing memories, lifelong relationships and transformational faith journeys into the lives of families and youth throughout Greater New Jersey and beyond.”
Payne brings with her experience as the former director of youth and young adults at Clinton UMC where she enjoyed the journey of trying new things, meeting new people and offering a space to connect. She has also served as an IGNITE small group leader, and in November 2018 she and her husband, Corbin, welcomed son, Braxtin, which gave her a whole other perspective to infuse into her new role.
For the past few years, the Pinelands Center has served as the place where memories and new friends have been made. Nestled in the heart of the Pine Barrens in Burlington County, NJ, the camp and retreat center with nearly 150 acres of forest in the coastal plains of southern New Jersey is home to part of the historic National Pinelands Reserve. It is surrounded by the trails of Brendan T. Byrne State Park, cranberry bogs and preserved forestland.
In 2019 the center began a $200,000 renovation project, which includes upgrades to the cabins and a new multi-media system, thanks to the generosity of local churches through the Miracles Everywhere Campaign.
From theater and photography to music and arts and crafts, campers revel in all there is to do at camp. In between activities, campers have enjoyed making new friends, partaking in archery, learning about Hispanic culture and celebrating the gifts of God. They have even squeezed in some time for hula hooping, kayaking and thoughtful conversation.
Based in Tradition
Many GNJ clergy and laity leaders found their calling at summer camps. Their tradition in Greater New Jersey started in the 1960s with the introduction of a summer campground in the small Sussex County town called Swartswood, on Sprout Hill Road known as Aldersgate, which now holds years of memories for United Methodists who soaked up all that the camp had to offer.
Although the camp closed in 2013 and the difficult decision was made in 2020 to sell the property, the plan is to embrace those traditions and integrate them at Pinelands Center.
From the fireplace room in Wesley Lodge, Dietz Swimming Pool and lemon meringue pies to the music and drama camps, the fire circle with the cross and the talent shows in the dining hall, these memories and many more of Aldersgate Center are intact and ones that many GNJers still see as seminal moments in their lives.
“God moved in amazing ways and raised up pastors, missionaries, church leaders and more at Aldersgate,” said Next Gen Executive Director Eric Drew. “I am seeing and hearing so many people who loved that place and participated in God’s transformational work there raise up and want to recapture that Spirit and pass it forward. I think this is a unique God moment, and we have the opportunity to come together again to be a part of God’s next great move through camping and retreat ministries.”
We want to honor and pass on the legacy of joy, generosity, faith and leadership formation through the years at Aldersgate Center,” Drew said, adding, “We also want to honor and maintain the sacrifice, the prayers and the will of the churches, organizations and individuals who funded the Appenzeller Chapel.”
Drew added that an Aldersgate Legacy Team is working on several projects including an all-encompassing historical piece, with this goal in mind.
The Appenzeller Chapel is still a special place in the hearts of many. It was built and consecrated through the sacrificial donations of about $600,000 from 85 churches including the Methodist churches in South Korea, Korean United Methodist Churches in the United States, many organizations and many individuals to honor the memory of missionary Henry Appenzeller who in the late-19th century dedicated his life to preaching the Gospel in South Korea. The spirit of his ministry will now travel farther and reach more young people yearning for Christ as the Legacy Team brings his spirit to Pinelands.
Looking forward to 2021, the expectations for an in-person summer camp are realistic but hopeful. The Next Gen Team is taking all necessary precautions as they adhere to the state regulations with the safety of campers being their main priority.
For more details about 2021 summer camp, including how to inquire about becoming a volunteer or counselor, and other Next Gen programs, visit http://www.pinelandscenter.org/summer-2021/ or https://gnjnextgen.org/.