Pardon the interruption. A few weeks ago we began a series highlighting each of our site directors, and we will pick that up again next week. But this week I want to devote most of this newsletter to share stories and poetry from Strength for the Journey, an annual retreat that was held at Suttle Lake United Methodist Camp August 17-20. Like the quilts that are given to each camper at the event, this gift to you has been pieced together from the writings of many of the volunteers and participants.
Holly Fowler, volunteer:
Strength for the Journey (SFTJ) was a concept conceived around 1988 by the Rev. Burt All, who was living with AIDS in California at the time. Persons with HIV/AIDS really had nowhere to turn, no acceptance at that point, and the epidemic was out of control. Gay men were watching their friends and partners die in large numbers. Pastor All wanted to create a space away from the city for men living with AIDS to come together for support, sharing, healing, connecting, and play in a caring and safe atmosphere. Two leaders of our United Methodist Annual Conference, Rev. Kevin Witt and Barbara Sawyer, heard about the camp and went to see what it was all about. They came back convinced that we could provide a similar retreat in the OR-ID Conference through our camping system. Rev. Karen Crooch was invited, along with a few others including Terry Crawford, to be on the initial design team in 1992. The OR-ID version was modeled on the California version, and has morphed over the years. We gradually learned that folks mostly just needed to have a safe and loving place to be together and the structure became more relaxed.
A grateful camper:
I have had the pleasure of attending SFTJ since 2009 at Suttle Lake, OR. When first diagnosed with HIV, I felt guilt, shame, and of little worth. By attending SFTJ and meeting many other individuals with HIV/AIDS, I came to understand that this was a bump in the road and that there were support systems available.
Over the years I have become cherished friends with many campers, camp staff, and United Methodist Church staff. Each summer when I pull into the parking lot, there is a sense of peace and belonging. From the smiling faces at the welcome center, to Jane and Daniel, the camp directors, to the staff that cooks the meals (best food ever!) there is a sense of "being home."
The highlights of the camp are seeing old friends and making new friends. Each year there are those who are attending for the first time, and it does not take long for them to feel welcome and soon they are smiling and laughing. Each year there are a variety of small groups: writing, yoga, cooking on a dime, helping with camp chores, choir, and many more that rotate each year. In addition, there are "free time" activities: boating, swimming, archery, arts and crafts, hiking, or just making friends and deepening friendships. Each morning there is time for spiritual centering, where various writings and thoughts are shared with opportunities for prayer and meditation.
Strength for the Journey truly takes a village to happen. From the camp staff that meets monthly, to the generous individuals who help fund the camp and the campers who cannot afford it on their own, to the incredible United Methodist Church and all of its staff at every level that will do anything to make campers feel loved and accepted. Thank you for all that each of you do to make this incredible weekend happen each summer.
Raymond Petit, camper and volunteer
For me what comes to mind every year as SFTJ approaches is the idea of a respite. Living today comes with a certain amount of stress, no matter what you do. I do everything I can to keep my personal life stress-free. However, one can't help but be affected by the daily events going on at the local, state, national, and international levels. Outside events weigh on everyone, it is inescapable. So even though I don't work, by the time August rolls around I am truly ready to get away from the daily grind of just living in Portland and the larger world. Going to camp is a much-needed relief! I enjoy being able to take a few days of not being responsible for anything while getting myself out to take advantage of the healing power that being in nature affords. This benefits me both physically and emotionally. I sleep better and get much-needed physical exercise by walking and hiking. It is also nice to enjoy the company of others as we create art together, share meals, and spend time in conversation. A few days not burdened by anything works miracles. I come back to Portland truly recharged and ready to face the many unpleasant aspects of living in a modern, dysfunctional world.
David Flynn, camper and volunteer
I got my first quilt when I came to camp nearly 20 years ago. My experience with quilts was in auditoriums where they’re spread out on the floor, stitched by people who had lost a loved one to AIDS. The people that provide the quilts for camp have taken what was once a symbol of death and grief and transformed it into a symbol of love and compassion, as well as a source of warmth, comfort, and security.
I don’t know if that was intentional, but my quilt has been one of my cherished possessions and I use it all the time.
It’s with the deepest gratitude that I thank those who provide these quilts, stitched with love for people they are not likely ever to meet.
Two campers who participated in writing sessions offered these at the talent show:
Myranda: What Kind of Day am I Having? (writing prompt)
Unplugged, recharged, and void of distraction. This is the moment of my merging of thought, word, and action.
Keeping it simple, and a time of rest. Staying in the moment and being at my best.
Thank you Earth, Elements, and Ever gifts. Thank you, Sound and Senses and all sentience.
Thank you Source and Silence. Thank you Guides, Guardians, and Guidance.
Thank you all of us – all of Me. We are in alignment. We are free.
Thank you Ancient ones and Mysterious Beings. Thank you all Divinity, and Immortality.
Thank you Ancestors, an’ Sisters, an’ Brothers, an’ Others. Thank you all Elders, Thank you all Mothers – from every blade of grass to every Grain of Sand, Thank you for all that We are. Thank you for all that I am.
Danny: Living Your Best Life (writing prompt)
Today, I give myself the opportunity to live a better life. To broaden my horizons, to reach my full potential, and to strive for greatness is my new goal. Before, I would let the world define me, my mind limit my progress and my feelings trump my truth. Fear would creep in and make me doubt myself and others. I set on myself to be better. Now I can do more because I cripple myself less. Because of this I get to experience new things, I get to meet new people, go see new places, live in the present and recognize I can do more than I thought I could do before.
Todd Bartlett, executive director of camp & retreat ministries:
Because of you, this life-giving, life-changing, and life-affirming ministry provides a place for campers to experience wonder, encounter a loving community, and find justice for their lives.
By the way, Bishop Cedrick (who attended the first day of SFTJ this year) has made it a priority to be a part of this camp next summer in a volunteer capacity. As the Bishop asks us to walk the M.I.L.E, we note that Strength for the Journey is a great example of the M: Ministry that Matters.
On the road to wonder, love, and justice,
Rev. Todd Bartlett
Executive Director of Camp and Retreat Ministries
*PHOTOS: Various campers' faces reflect the joy of being at SFTJ (Todd Bartlett).
The quilt pictured above is just one of the dozens of handmade quilts donated each year to Strength for the Journey. Each camper receives a quilt as tangible evidence of the support and nurture that surrounds them at Suttle Lake. We welcome your quilts for 2024 (contact Holly Dolan at email@example.com) but we are also in need of financial donations to support this amazing ministry of love. Clicking the green button below will enable you to be one of those tangible pieces of support that are stitched together into a life-changing "quilt" of love at SFTJ. From the donation link, choose "one-time donation" then scroll down to find Strength for the Journey Fund.
*PHOTO: One of the many quilts donated each year to Strength for the Journey; this one was created by Northwest Quilters (Holly Dolan).