Amid massive biker rally, Bible camp thrives
DEADWOOD, S.D. — Revving engines of Harleys, Yamahas and Kawasakis…
Just after 7 a.m. on a Saturday, the sweet smell of firewood drifts through a dining room marked by picnic tables, wooden rafters and a bright blue Maine state flag on the wall.
Gene Britton, left, with white cap, joins other men who study and reflect on God’s word around the fireplace in the main lodge of Gander Brook Christian Camp. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)Volunteers flip pancakes in the kitchen as 115 men clad in flannel shirts and hooded sweatshirts pray, read Scripture and sing “He Walks With Me” from faded blue and maroon hymnals.
It’s the third and final day of the annual Gander Brook men’s retreat, an event at which Christians from throughout New England gather to fellowship — and to devour brother Dick Potter’s famous meatloaf, which requires 30 pounds of ground beef and six pounds of sausage to feed this ravenous crew.
“It’s more like a big family than it is a camp,” said Scott Delbaugh, Gander Brook’s board secretary and an elder at the Leominster Church of Christ in Massachusetts.
Like Yellowstone Bible Camp in Montana, Midwest Bible Camp in Iowa and Camp Manatawny in Pennsylvania — just to name a few — Gander Brook plays an important role in a region where Churches of Christ struggle numerically, leaders said.
Russ McConnell, center, leads a prayer before breakfast at the annual men’s retreat at Gander Brook Christian Camp. A Maine state flag, featuring a moose resting under a pine tree, is seen on the wall. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)
Weekend retreats for singles, women and men in the fall bring together adult Christians from throughout the six-state region.
Men, women and children return to Gander Brook year after year to study God’s word, chat by the fireside and spot a deer, turkey or moose moving quietly through the 230 acres of pine and hardwood forests.
“Man, those little congregations that are 15, 20, 30 people, Gander Brook really becomes some life support for them,” said Park Linscomb, the camp board’s president and minister of the 180-member Manchester Church of Christ in New Hampshire, one of the largest congregations in New England.
Mike Coulombe, with beard and Boston Bruins shirt, sings along with Warren Hazelton, middle, and Russ McConnell at the men’s retreat. Seen in the background at top right is Gordon Isleib. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)In all, the New England states — Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont — comprise 108 Churches of Christ with a total membership of about 6,000.
More than three-fourths of those churches report average Sunday attendance of less than 100, according to the 2006 edition of Churches of Christ in the United States.
“The camp is a special place to many people,” said Charlie Harrison, Gander Brook’s vice president and minister at the 25-member Brunswick Church of Christ in Maine.
“I suspect that our Christian camps in areas of the country where the church is not so large numerically provide more of a vital service to the church than do those where the church is more prominent,” said Harrison, who oversees the kitchen and helped prepare a turkey dinner with all the trimmings at the men’s retreat.
Gander Brook shuts down during Maine’s cold, snowy winters, but leaders have discussed locating a church on the property and building a large cabin that could be used year-round, said Bradford Shaw, a camp board member and elder at the Biddeford Church of Christ in Maine.
Young men, and a few older ones, play volleyball during a break at the Gander Brook men’s retreat. Monte Cox from Harding University in Searcy, Ark., spoke at the retreat. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)
Those needs plus the proposed new cabin could cost $500,000 to $600,000, Shaw said.
“We realize that with the current economic situation, our plans may have to be somewhat curtailed, but not canceled,” Shaw said. “If God desires this work to continue, even to expand, it will happen. Philippians 4:19 tells us that our ‘God will meet all of our needs.’”
The camp began in 1956 in Jackman, Maine, about 170 miles north of the current site, on a property that included a stream called “Gander Brook.”
That long driving distance, for most Christians in New England, led to the purchase of the current site in 1959. It’s about 25 miles north of Portland, Maine, 100 miles north of Manchester, N.H., and 125 miles north of Boston.
A New England church member chops wood at Gander Brook during the recent men’s retreat. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)
Drue Clark, 16, grandson of Decker Clark and son of Paul Clark, preaching minister at the Nashua Church of Christ in New Hampshire, put it this way in an e-mail: “Just say it’s where the youth of all of the Northeast expand their love for Christ and that relationships that can last forever are formed there. It helps people to realize that there are more Christians around than we think. It’s just an overall awesome place where memories are created that can last forever.”
Participants at the Gander Brook men’s retreat grab snacks and a drink during a quick break. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)In a region where a single teenager might constitute a congregation’s “youth group,” Gander Brook campers stay connected year-round through instant messaging, cell phones and Facebook, an online social networking site.
Abby Morrish, 16, whose father, John, serves as an elder at the Edgewood Church of Christ in Mansfield, Mass., loves Gander Brook so much that she volunteered to help in the kitchen during the men’s retreat.
“If it wasn’t for Gander Brook, my brothers and sisters and I wouldn’t have the relationship with God that we have now,” said Abby, whose favorite camp memories include shaving-cream fights and motorboat milkshakes (think boat-trolling-motor blender, trash-barrel-size container and gigantic amounts of ice cream and milk).
For Bill and Susan Jenczyk, Gander Brook has served as a place of refuge — a place to feel closer to God — for more than 20 years.
The Jenczyks’ four children — Joshua, 20; Laurel, 18; Briana, 16; and Christi, 13 — consider Gander Brook their summer home, the parents said.
Freda Potter, a member of the Manchester Church of Christ in New Hampshire, flips pancakes for breakfast at the Gander Brook men’s retreat. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)
“It’s a place here in New England where I can come and just get away from the news and the world and just kind of recharge,” said Bill Jenczyk, Gander Brook’s treasurer.
Susan Jenczyk said: “For me personally, when I’m at camp and we’re worshiping and the breeze blows gently through the trees — as it almost always does — I’m reminded of Elijah finding God in the quiet breeze rather than in the earthquake or the storm.”
• New England churches struggle to fill pulpits
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