HELPER for September 2018

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The Mindset List: Class of 2022

At the beginning of every school I go looking for the new edition of the Mindset List. The list was initiated in the early days of the internet and has been a popular component of back-to-school talks, faculty orientations and sermons for two decades.

This year the following items caught my special attention:

“Among their classmates could be Madonna’s son Rocco, Will Smith’s daughter Willow, or David Bowie and Iman’s daughter Alexandria.”
– That makes me feel really old! I mean seriously, the Fresh Prince is old enough to have a college-aged daughter. Ouch!

1. They are the first class born in the new millennium, escaping the dreaded label of “Millennial,” though their new designation—iGen, GenZ, etc. — has not yet been agreed upon by them.
– Labels! Isn’t interesting how we find it comforting to put everybody in a tiny little well-defined box? How do you talk about yourself? How do you talk about others?

3. They have always been able to refer to Wikipedia.
– Truth! What is wisdom and where do you find knowledge? Yes, Wikipedia has done a great deal of making solid information available to the masses. But where do you find solid education and profound critical thinking these days?

14. They’ve grown up with stories about where their grandparents were on 11/22/63 and where their parents were on 9/11.
– Shared trauma! Every generation has its shared trauma. This one brings home what generation you belong to. Our common pain is what defines us.

18. The Tower of Pisa has always had a prop to keep it leaning.
– Resilience! The tower of Pisa has been leaning forever. But for this entire past generation it just could not hold its own weight anymore and needed to be propped up. Every person’s perennial wounds are like that. We may need pain management, crutches, anti-depressants, anything, to keep us going. And that’s okay.

34. Starbucks has always served venti Caffè Lattes in Beijing’s Forbidden City.
– Openness! I must admit, this one convicted me of closed-mindedness. I still have this image in my head of China being a protectionist totalitarian regime. The mental image of coffee in the Forbidden City opens my mind. This generation has only seen an opening culture in China for their entire lives. Let me learn from them how to see goodness.

42. Mass market books have always been available exclusively as Ebooks.
– Newness! I love my Kindle but for me it still feels like a recent thing. College freshmen grew up on Ebooks. It takes time to adjust to a new normal. The Mindset List is a powerful tool to bring awareness to what has been normal for an entire generation. Is surely changes my perception and I hope it changes yours.

State of Slumber Falls Camp

Submitted by Jeremy Albers & Rev. Dr. Don Longbottom

Slumber Falls Camp had an incredible summer of excited campers, amazing programming, and focus on God, creation, and spirituality. Reading through the evaluations, many campers felt that this was one of the best summers that they have experienced. Outdoor ministries and summer camps began in 1958 and have continued every year since then. In addition to retreats, camps, conferences, and meetings, the camp has also hosted individuals displaced by natural disasters and special ministries supported by our churches. What started out as an outdoor ministry program for the United Church of Christ, has grown to enhance the church universal, many secular organizations, and the well-being of our neighbors in need at a time of crisis in their lives.

In the past year and a half, there has been a lot of talk about the state of the camp and the future of Slumber Falls Camp. While the camp was in financial crisis at the beginning of 2017, when I came on board, the Board of Directors, Dr. Don Longbottom, and the Camp Council were in complete support of the camp, outdoor education ministries, and the importance of having a facility and programs like Slumber Falls Camp offers to the church and community. As a result of many groups canceling in 2016 (most due to new priests who reflect for a year before engaging in existing programs), the camp was hit hard financially. Fortunately, the camp had reserves which covered the loss of revenue for that year, but 2017 started without a reserve and group rentals did not pick up until February. It was clear to the leadership that we needed to get the camp in a position to be viable and withstand situations outside of our control that affects our finances.

We were proactive in setting goals to turn around the camp. The first step was to be transparent to our associations, churches, and connected parties. The next step included a hard look at financial spending, contracts, and other services to see if we could save money with different options, which we did and were able to save over $30,000 from our budgeted areas. We increased marketing to our pastors, churches, and local communities of the programs, facilities, and opportunities. In that time, we also lost campers, supporters, and revenue from those who felt that we should not be as inclusive to LGBTQ individuals. During this time, we were also combing through evaluations and suggestions on how we could improve the camp, which led to facility improvements such as road and parking lot repairs, cabin cleanings and remodeling, landscaping, new programming amenities such as Frisbee golf and the updated volleyball court, and new mattresses. The newly renovated pool and John’s Cabin were also needed additions. We were able to fund many of these projects through private donors, grants, and support from the South Central Conference. Earlier this year with the support of a long time camp supporter, we engaged in a process with the Business School at the University of Houston to help us create a strategic business plan. This plan has hundreds of hours researching other camps, interviewing key camping individuals throughout the United States, financial analysis, and idea gathering. The end result will be a solid plan for how we will operate for years to come.

As a result of all these new things occurring at the camp, we have heard that there is some confusion as to the direction of Slumber Falls Camp and that we only have a few more years so why support the camp. If the camp, board, and camp council had set idly by and did nothing, Slumber Falls Camp would face the same fate as many other denomination camps. We are not there yet, and we do not believe that we will be there anytime soon. Yes, the South Central Conference supported the camp with over $70,000, but half of that was for camp improvements such as the road, repairs to the director’s house, office computers, programs, and equipment, which was greatly needed. This year our camper numbers were similar to last year’s numbers, but we have also seen an increased interest in our facilities from larger retreat groups which are booking for this year and next year. We are already implementing parts of the business plan even though it is not quite done (mid-September). Ideally, the camp will be self-sufficient in a couple of years with a stronger financial position to help weather unforeseen storms.

In short, Slumber Falls Camp is in a much better position than the start of 2017, but we still have a way to go. We need advocates who recognize the life-transforming power of a week at church camp. We need our churches and families to spread the word that there is a place where all are welcomed, affirmed, and celebrated as children of God where we teach them what it means to be in an intentional Christian community. We need financial supporters of all levels to help with all aspects of the camps from giving as a Friend of the Camp, to supporting Scholarships and Mattresses, and those that are visionaries and underwriters for the big projects and development of this unique, outdoor ministry in the heart of Texas. Slumber Falls Camp has grown as a ministry over the past six decades and changed countless lives by bringing them to a stronger relationship with God. Slumber Falls Camp is a gem, and I love to give tours, talk history, and imagine the future. I hope that you can make a visit here; follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and our newsletter; and/or share our story with your family, friends, co-workers, and anyone that you meet. Blessings and peace to each of you as we journey together, celebrating as one body and bringing God’s light, love, and transformation to the world.

In Peace and Grace,
Rev. Jeremy Albers & Rev. Dr. Don Longbottom

August Food Drive

Last year Hurricane Harvey made blatantly obvious why the church needs to hold a food drive. We even felt the need to extend our August food drive through the end of September. We also collect non-perishable food items in February. All the proceeds go to Rosenberg-Richmond Helping Hands. It was founded in 1985 by churches in the West Fort Bend County area, as a non-profit organization that helps people in crisis by providing basic needs on a short-term basis. They strive to provide assistance until the individual or family becomes self-sufficient. As a covenant church we signed a pledge promising financial support and agreed to hold at least two yearly food and/or clothing drives.

Summertime is often neglected for food drives, but it is most crucial. In the Lamar Consolidated School District 42.2% of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. That means they depend on school to provide them basic nutrition. A lot of them have their only meal of the day at school. That means that for the three months of summer these kids and their families have to struggle even harder to put food on the table. That makes ministries like Helping Hands so crucial and that’s why their shelves tend to run low in the summer.

St. John’s UCC has supported Helping Hands from the beginning. Please join us in this effort and bring non-perishable food items to church on Sundays at 10 am or during office hours, Monday through Friday from 08:30 to noon. Be part of a proud tradition.

Is there a United Church of Christ in Nigeria?

During Vacation Bible School last week I got a call from a number with the country code +234. If you don’t know where that is, don’t worry, I also had to wait for the person to tell me where they were. Turns out this gentleman was in Nigeria. On our voicemail he left a simple question: Is there a United Church of Christ in Nigeria?

Well, sort of. The United Church of Christ as we know it is a 501c3 organization in the United State of America. However as part of the body of Christ we belong to larger ecumenical bodies that cover the entire planet. The World Council of Churches (WCC) has member churches in eight regions:

So, looking for Nigeria, I went to Africa and found WCC member churches based in Nigeria:

Now these denominations are not technically UCC but they will feel and look and believe somewhat similar. You may expect familiar liturgical elements and beliefs. So, yes, feel free to call our church office in Rosenberg, Texas. We truly have connections all over the world. Remember that case when we retrieved school records through ecumenical partners in Germany?