by Michael Yoder, Executive Director of Laurelville
This morning, yet another fresh snowfall covers the Laurelville grounds. No matter how you feel about shoveling and spreading salt, or working outside in the cold temperatures, you have to admit it is beautiful. It reminds me of this image in Psalm 51:
Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean;
Wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
Hyssop is an ancient natural cleaning plant. In ordinary life, a housekeeper would use it to
clean her house. It was also used in the temple to represent symbolic cleaning, merging the spheres of the mundane and the sacred. The past few months, our housekeeping staff has taken the opportunity of the slower season to take care of some annual cleaning projects and extra deep cleaning in a few places. There is something refreshing about walking into a clean place or cleaning up after a long day (or a long season) of work.
The other visual reference in this psalm is that of the snow. Snow can be a nuisance when it disrupts our plans but a fresh coat of snow is beautiful. Snow covers everything with white. The world is indiscriminately white. When two cars are sitting outside—whether it’s my coworker’s Mustang or my old Honda with over 200K miles on it—they both look white. Snow doesn’t care what something looks like—it just makes it look white.
I think this verse is telling us about how God acts in his cleansing grace to all people.
Brennan Manning tells the story of his own encounter with God’s grace in the book The Furious Longing of God. He comments that using the word “fury” connotes anger but when you think of the fury of an approaching storm, it morphs the meaning of fury into the idea of “intense energy.” He writes:
The morning I woke up in the alcoholic boozy fog, I looked down the street to see a woman coming toward me, maybe twenty-five years old, blonde and attractive. She had her son in hand, maybe four years old. The boy broke loose from his mother’s grip, ran to the doorway, and stared down at me. His mother rushed in behind him, tucked her hand over his eyes, and said, “Don’t look at that filth. That’s nothing but pure filth.” Then I felt her shoe. She broke two of my ribs with that kick.
That filth was Brennan Manning, thirty-two years ago. And the God I’ve come to know by sheer grace, the Jesus I met in the grounds of my own self, has furiously loved me regardless of my state—grace or disgrace. And why? For His love is never, never, never based on our performance, never conditioned by our moods—of elation or depression. The furious love of God knows no shadow of alteration or change. It is reliable. And always tender.
God’s grace is indiscriminate of our condition, just like snow. Most people I know, myself included, sometimes miss this important piece. So, I want to encourage you, especially those of you who have snow outside your window, to see the snow as the Psalmist did. Perhaps you’ll just be grateful that God washes our sins whiter than snow. Perhaps you’ll be grateful that, like snow, you and I are much more beautiful when covered in God’s grace. Perhaps you’ll find yourself praying for God’s grace to wash and make you white in a particular way. Or maybe all three of these.
God’s grace is indiscriminate. Your performance or goodness doesn’t change God’s grace to you.
photo: Laurelville Ballfield by Derek Yoder
by Angela Dietzel, Program Director at Laurelville
Imagine the footsteps of your life— stepping nervously into a new place, crunching a fall leaf underfoot, trudging up the stairs (yet again) to retrieve a forgotten item, crossing the finish line of a race, leaving a fleeting print on a sandy beach, running into the arms of a loved one, dancing to a beat all your own, and on and on. Step-by-step we walk, run, shuffle, and even skip through our lives. In the midst of it all, we’re given the tremendous gift of not going it alone. There is one who goes with us through all of life.
In this season of Advent we prepare our hearts to receive the gift of Jesus—Emmanuel, God with us. Similarly, the vision of our 2014 summer camp theme is to take us on a journey of preparation. By walking with Jesus through his life in the book of Luke, we hope to better prepare our hearts to continually receive the gift of Jesus throughout our lives.
Jesus invites us to a journey. Summer camp is a place where all are invited to journey together—campers, counselors, Bible teachers, and staff alike. Together we explore how we might choose to follow Jesus individually and as a community of faith. We trust it is a safe place to encounter the living Christ as expressed in creation and in the faces of one another.
We don’t know where our paths will lead, but step-by-step we can choose to walk it with Jesus as our guide and companion. We invite you to join this journey with us.
We asked Amy Yoder McGloughlin, pastor of Germantown Mennonite Church, about her new role as a Resource Team member for Laurelville’s Music and Worship Leaders Retreat. Amy will join longtime contributors Ken Nafziger, Marilyn Houser Hamm and Ted Swartz in exploring this year’s theme,"A Re(New) Covenant," which will challenge participants to hear God’s word for the 21st century church.
Q: What is your past experience at Laurelville’s Music and Worship Leaders Retreat?
AYM: I've been attending as a participant for about 12 years. I missed two years--once we didn't get our church's registration in on time, and once because I had just given birth. Participating in this weekend is always a highlight of my year.
I've helped with the weekend in very minor ways--reading, sharing a 100 word reflection, and last year, participating in the Sunday morning drama with Ted for the first time. So, I'm completely honored to be asked to be on the leadership team of this event.
Q: What is it like getting ready for the Retreat as a leader instead of a participant?
AYM: It's strange to think so far ahead, and to be on the other side of this experience. I've enjoyed working with Ken on the theme, thinking about speakers we want to include, and thinking creatively about how to create open spaces in worship.
But my creative juices have been flowing. At the end of October, [I observed] a three day silent retreat, in part for reading and sketching out service ideas. Planning and preparation for worship is my idea of a good time--seriously. I'm a total worship geek. I love good, well planned, spacious liturgy.
I've been experimenting with using as few words as possible with the Morning and Evening Prayers (because--let's be real--no one has words that early or that late in the day!). And I'm beginning to work on visuals around the theme.
Q: Are there particular things that challenge you or excite you this year?
AYM: The biggest challenge is following Marlene Kropf's brilliant leadership in this role. Marlene has really enhanced worship for a generation of Mennonites, and I'm grateful for it.
But I'm obviously not Marlene. And I'm going to approach this role differently than she did. I'm hopeful that folks with be gracious about my transition to this new role and not expect the weekend to be exactly the way it was in years past.
The other challenge is planning ahead, but also being flexible for the work of the Spirit in this weekend. The weekend needs to be planned well, but we also need to have an openness to toss things out if something changes and not be so married to plans that we can't listen to the Spirit's prodding.
This weekend always excites me--the opportunity to be with other Mennonites, the singing, and the opportunity to try creative worship ideas is what makes this weekend so special.
Q: What aspects of this year's theme spark your interest?
AYM: I'm intrigued by Phyllis Tickle's assertion that the church makes a major shift every 500 years or so. Church historians are beginning to see some signs that might be the case--the increasing lack of prominence of the church in society; the increase in religious apathy and atheism; and the desire for this generation to do and be church differently. If these things are true (and even if they are not), God is calling the Church to something new. God is always calling us to something new. So, what is that exactly? I'm looking forward to our preachers sharing from their own perspectives and traditions about this topic. We have three generations of pastors from three different parts of the Church speaking into this, and I can't wait to hear what God has to say through them.
Q: Where is your favorite place to spend time at Laurelville?
AYM: I'm ashamed to say that I've never been to the labyrinth! I am usually swept up in conversations over coffee in the dining hall, or in the worship space.
Q: Any other thoughts to share?
AYM: I am so excited about this weekend! (Have I said that yet?)
There’s still time to register for this year’s Music and Worship Leaders Retreat, which takes place January 10-12, 2014. Come join Amy, the other members of the Resource Team, and worship leaders from many congregations for a weekend that will inspire your worship leadership. For information on the program and to register click here.
Fellowship, friendship and fun filled Fall Gathering as the Association family celebrated 70 years of Laurelville’s ministry. The weekend brought together generations of families and welcomed new friends with a warmth that reflected the movement of God’s spirit. People of all ages shared stories of how their lives were shaped through Laurelville.
Michael Yoder, Laurelville’s Executive Director, was the speaker for the weekend. He called us to examine our “hinge moments”—those times when we have faced choices which had the power to swing the course of our history. The disciples experienced a hinge moment when they heard and responded to Jesus’ call to follow him (Matthew 4:12-22). Laurelville’s founders experienced a hinge moment when they decided to invest their time and resources in creating a Mennonite camp in western Pennsylvania in 1943. Ordinary people (just like us!) experience these hinge moments when we respond to God’s call in our lives and persist in the long process of “walking it out”—carrying on God’s work in the world.
From “Amazing Grace” to “skeet-deet-doo-bop-pop-WOW”, Mark Williams of Pittsburgh Kids Foundation (PKF) led worship times. His bluegrass style guitar and harmonica complemented the singing of the congregation, drawing all ages into God’s presence in worship. This is a special time in the history of PKF and Laurelville, as PKF celebrates 50 years of “mud weekends”. Williams noted that for these kids, “Laurelville is sacred ground.”
In the week leading up to Fall Gathering and throughout the weekend, volunteers helped with many tasks on grounds. Eighty-seven volunteers of all ages contributed 329 hours of work, including clearing rhododendron thickets, cleaning, raking leaves, board work, and other tasks. Jane Rittenhouse, volunteer coordinator, was thrilled with the response, noting the children in particular: “I love seeing these children offer to help! It didn't seem like the parents had to prod them to do so.”
Matt Cameron, food service Director, and the kitchen staff put together mouth-watering and ample feasts, described by one attendee as “the best food ever!”
On Saturday afternoon, Program Director Angela Dietzel challenged us to Laurelville’s first ever “Amazing Race”. Teams, in a spirit of friendly competition, raced throughout the grounds following clues and completing challenges. The short afternoon drizzle wasn’t enough to put off Guest Services Hosts Brad Bishop and Derek Yoder with their giant iron kettle full of popcorn up on Gazebo hill. Maintenance Director Gene Hartzler drove the new People Mover and tractor, carrying 40+ passengers up to Sunset Hill and back. We are grateful to association member Terry Burkhalter for constructing the new trailer, and the group of generous donors who provided supplies and the new (to us) tractor.
Over the course of the weekend, stories of the past 70 years were told and re-told. Saturday evening’s gathering focused on hearing stories of how God has been at work in people’s lives through Laurelville. Photographs from Jan Gleysteen’s collection reminded us that while the buildings change very little, the trees grow taller, car styles evolve, and new faces become family.
Even in the midst of ever-present changes, God’s faithfulness has remained a clear thread, connecting generations of campers and retreaters to the sacred space of Laurelville. We are grateful for the way God has blessed Laurelville, and we pray for God’s continued guidance as we live out the call of the one true “Hinge of History”, Jesus Christ.
View Photos of Fall Gathering 2013 here.
Autumn has officially arrived. Here at Laurelville, it’s the season of long sleeves, deep blue skies and flaming golden trees. Now that the rush of summer activity is over, the pace slows around our grounds. It’s the perfect time to come to Laurelville for a day or two of relaxation, quiet retreat, or nature appreciation. Did you know that we offer a 30% discount on weeknight lodging during the off-season*? Call the office at 800.839.1021 to reserve your date.
What can you do during your visit?
Here at Laurelville:
Enjoy a private stay in one of our Family Cabins, or gather some friends for a reunion in one of the Cottages.
Relax beside a campfire on a chilly evening.
Walk the labyrinth atop Sunset Hill.
Add a few birds to your life-list.
For outdoor enthusiasts: Bring your bicycle and ride the GAP trail. Hike the Laurel Highlands Trail. Later in the season, check out the mid-week ski packages at Hidden Valley or Seven Springs.
Visit local sites of interest:
Flight 93 Memorial
Quecreek Mine Rescue Site
Hope to see you soon at Laurelville!
*30% off discount applies for stays Sunday through Thursday, August 15 through June 15.
With grateful hearts, we praise God for the many blessings received at Laurelville over the past seventy years. We celebrate these blessings as we mark this significant anniversary. At the upcoming Fall Gathering of the Association, “Hinges of History: Celebrating 70 Years” we will share stories of the past and look toward the future of Laurelville's ministry. Michael Yoder, Laurelville’s Executive Director, will be the keynote speaker. Mark Williams, Director of Urban Ministries for Pittsburgh Kids Foundation, will lead worship times. Other highlights will include a rubber-ducky race on Jacob’s Creek, rides on the new People Mover, superb food, volunteer opportunities and spending time with friends amidst Laurelville’s stunning fall color.
Much has changed since 1943 when Laurelville’s founders, with a vision of providing summer retreats for Mennonite youth, purchased a Methodist camp in southwestern Pennsylvania. Seventy years later, that original 45 acres has grown to more than 600 acres, and hosts over 30,000 "people days"* throughout the year. Churches, pastors, youth groups, families and community groups all come for refreshment, renewal, learning and play.
These days it’s hard to imagine that the once privacy-fenced swimming pool was not available for “mixed bathing”. And today’s comfortable air-conditioned lower cabins are a world away from their rustic predecessors.
Perhaps more important than the advancement of modern comfort, though, is what has remained the same: a vision to provide Christ-like hospitality to guests. By providing programming and space for fellowship, prayer, reflection and play, Laurelville is a place where people continue to meet God.
Come and gather with friends and family for this special Association meeting, share your stories and be blessed by God.
Register online for Fall Gathering at http://www.laurelville.org/programs/family-youth/association-weekends/fall/
*a "people day" means one person for one night
By late summer, Jacob’s creek often slows to a trickle over the waterfall beside Metzler cabin. This year’s overall wet summer along with particularly heavy rains in late August brought a completely different scene, however, as raging creek waters spilled over the banks and eventually caused the wall supporting the overlook to collapse.
The first storm, on the morning of August 23, brought over 2.5 inches of rain in the span of two hours. The water level at the falls rose to three feet--to the top of the measuring stick! The patio of Metzler cabin and the lower back deck of the office were covered with water, but both buildings
were spared flooding. The campground entrance, driveway in front of the small dining hall and office, and playground were also under several inches of water. The flood receded almost as quickly as it came up and there was a collective sigh of relief that the grounds were spared from major damage.
Only five days later, overnight rain and an afternoon cloudburst brought similar rainfall along with a flash flood of similar proportions. This time, however, the stone wall supporting the overlook gave way, pulling down the railing and eroding several feet of the bank. The upper stone wall protecting Metzler cabin and the office was slightly damaged, but it held back the flood and spared the buildings from harm.
Members of Laurelville’s staff and neighbors from the community stood together behind the office watching the powerful scene. One youngster commented that it reminded her of lots and lots of foamy chocolate milk. The sound of the crashing waterfall was layered with the thunder of heavy boulders being stirred on the creek bottom. Large tree trunks made their way down the creek and shot over the falls. Michael Yoder, executive director of Laurelville, was one of the onlookers. "Watching the torrent of water topping the wall at Metzler and toppling the overlook retaining wall into the creek reminded me of the immense power of water. Water, like many things in life, is powerful for good or bad. It all depends how it's channeled."
The Jacob’s creek channel has changed in Laurelville’s backyard and the task remains to decide how to best repair and rebuild this iconic area of the grounds. Yoder commented, “I'm grateful that God spared the buildings from damage and people from injury. However, resolving the damage will not be easy or inexpensive. We already had a significant financial need for Campus Improvements funds without this crisis event! But these are moments to pause and reflect. For 70 years, God has provided staff, supporters, and finances for incredible ministry at Laurelville. I'm confident that the God who has been faithful to Laurelville for 70 years will continue to guide us through these challenges.”
The hill between Emental and the Dining Hall recently received a facelift! Our maintenance staff was hard at work these past four weeks taking out the old and bringing in the new.
Back in November, we shared about a unique opportunity given to employees at Laurelville, Tithe Time. Recently, Brad Bishop took a day to serve his Alma Mater, and its community, during Earth Day. Brad is on our Guest Services team and also takes care of the majority of the lawn maintenance on Laurelville’s grounds. We sat down with Brad to talk about his recent visit to California University of Pennsylvania (CUP).
LMCC: When did you take your Tithe Time and where?
BB: On April 22, I celebrated Earth Day at California University of Pennsylvania to clean-up California, Pennsylvania.
LMCC: Tell us about the project.
BB: During my time at CUP, I was a part of the Student Conservation Association (SCA). While on the SCA, we took notice of the litter and debris that students added to the town. Along with the SCA, I was also a member of the SDCA’s River Town Program. This unique program focuses on the natural resource that the river is to the community and capitalizes on this to boost tourism and the economy.
The jobs varied. I was busy cleaning under grates around street trees. This was great because it connected students and volunteers with the borough street workers, bringing them together for a great cause. What was interesting were the connections found through conversations sparked during the day. By the end of our work day, we collected a large amount of trash and recyclables. It was also nice to see residents taking notice of the college students giving back to the community.
LMCC: Were there any challenges during your time?
BB: A few minor challenges were quickly resolved. I was originally asked to lead one of the projects around town, but upon checking in with the group, there was some confusion as to which project I was to lead. Once I was headed in the direction of cleaning the tree grates, we were faced with a number of trees that had grown into the grates. A number of steel grates had to be broken and replaced in order to clean under and around them. It’s amazing how strong a tree’s roots can be.
LMCC: Why did you feel called to help with this particular project?
BB: As mentioned before, CUP is my Alma Mater. This Earth Day clean-up was created by me and some cohorts in 2011. I am passionate about reducing, reusing, and recycling. Wherever I plant my feet, I care about the landscaping of that community. That was no different, even as a college student. So, to return and give back was really exciting to me. I also wanted to see the progress on the program two years down the road.
LMCC: What is unique about Tithe Time? Would you have participated in this project if you were not offered this time off?
BB: I think Tithe Time is another thing that makes Laurelville unique. When I shared about my time “off”, people were very intrigued and impressed with our organization. When a staff is given the opportunity to put action to their words, it always stands out. I work with so many volunteers who give up their time to come along side of Laurelville to serve, and it’s nice to be able to do the same in other communities.
Of course I would have still served on Earth Day, however it was nice to be given that day. As I am passionate about sustainable living, it’s refreshing that Laurelville actively recycles, when many towns in Western Pennsylvania don’t. I take pride in wherever I live and by being an example to others, hopefully we can continue to clean up and grow every community we care about.
*Brad lives on Laurelville’s campus full-time. He grew up in Bucks County and is passionate about music and radio. When he isn’t serving on the Guest Services team, he is a DJ on WMBS 590 in Uniontown, PA and hosts “Sinatra Under the Stars” on Sunday nights at 9:00 PM.
Every April and May, many people across the world, find a weekend to do their spring cleaning. Going through closets, drawers and boxes, belongingss are piled up and prepared to give to various donation centers, or tagged for the upcoming yard sale. At the end of the cleaning up and clearing out, many stand back and wonder where on earth it all came from!
One of the hard parts of a spring cleaning is cutting the sentimental tie to the various items individuals hold on to so dearly. The set of hand towels, a very large conch shell or that set of untouched golf clubs, a reason can be found for not letting go. People find new reasons, daily, to hold on to the “stuff” that can weigh down moving on.
The next step would be to decide where all of the items collected should go. Of course, the local donation bin, the Salvation Army and Good Will are all at the top of lists. However, consider other non-profits like the local food pantry, a crisis pregnancy center or a retreat center. Often times, when visiting their websites, a wish list can be found in the navigation bar of their homepage. Listed there are various items that could be useless to the average individual, but are priceless for their needs.
Finally, get those piles out of the house! There is nothing like getting a job done, almost all of the way, and then it sits there. Make a plan and stick to it. Get those piles into the car and delivered that day.