Over the last few years Bethany Birches has been committed to partnering with academic organizations researching the benefits of Christian Summer Camps. Last year the Hope Study (University of Oklahoma) measured whether campers experienced increased hope as a result of their camp experience. The Hope Study 2018 found “The results of this report continue to provide support for the positive impact the participating Christian camps are having on the boys and girls attending those camps, not just in terms of Hope and Well-Being, but also in social connectedness and interest in their Faith.” Fifty-six percent of campers had increased hope scores after coming to camp. This was most closely correlated with making friends and having developed some faith.
This year The Power of Camp study (POC) has given us preliminary data about campers’ engagement with faith, relationships with peers, and connection to staff as a result of their camp experience. Based on early data from this summer all of the parents surveyed said their child made friends at camp and 67% of campers said they were strengthened in their faith. Only 24% of parents reported reading the Bible with their children and 87% of parents felt we were “effectively teaching Christian faith.” All of the parents surveyed said they would send their child back to camp and 90% of campers ranked “the entire camp experience” as their most enjoyed part of camp. The initial data we have received from this summer is very encouraging and points toward significant mission accomplishment. We are excited that 100% of parents surveyed were pleased with our “system of addressing bullying/ conflicts.” We see Jesus’ teachings of “Love your enemies” and “treat others as you wish to be treated” in this statistic.
2019 was the third summer in a row in which our seasonal staff participated in The Power of Camp. POC was conducted by Wheaton College looking at how staff of summer camps are affected by the experience. We have received data specific to our staff’s experiences and are able to compare this with the average of camps participating in the study. Participating in these studies allows us to quantitatively identify our areas of strength as well as opportunities for improvement. For example, between the 2017 and 2018 staff studies we saw a significant increase in how staff felt supported by their supervisors. We improved from being on par with other camps with a 4.1 out of 5 rating to a 5 out of 5 average rating from the staff. Also improving in the same period were the percent of staff who experienced growth in the teamwork and emotional intelligence areas assessed by the study. These and others had been identified as areas for improvement by camp leadership and the following year increased by 22.5% and 21.5% to be on par or higher than the average camp in the study. Between the summers 2017 and 2018 we improved parts of staff training, intentionally sought ways to provide more support for staff, and had better and more frequent meetings to improve communication. These improvements have been continued this last summer and we look forward to the forthcoming 2019 research study results.
It is encouraging to have data to inform our decisions and confirm what we are doing is consistent with our mission. We were able to see that staff was improving in areas of spiritual growth, leadership, and resiliency similar to other camps and pinpoint what we could improve the next year. We feel both affirmed by the research and able to identify potential areas for improvement next year. We will continue pursuing these research opportunities because they have been and will continue to be part of making Bethany Birches Camp better at achieving our mission to help young people develop their relationship with God.
~ Patrick “Rupert” Graber,
Office Coordinator and Facilities Manager
I am constantly surprised and sometimes overwhelmed by the generosity of the community that supports Bethany Birches Camp. A past board member and spouse, who was a long time camper, do lots of preparation for the auction each year and even work hard starting early the day of the event. After that they sit down and bid as high as they can. This is just one snapshot of those who are passionate about this place and work.
Another snapshot from Saturday are Sandy and Vernon, the auctioneers. Some years they bring their wives, other years Sandy has come alone. Well this year, Sandy and Vernon left in Vernon’s Prius at 12:02am Saturday morning. They pulled into the camp around 6am to catch the sunset and a couple Z’s. By 8:30 they were out having coffee. They did their usual excellent and entertaining work, and after lunch got back in the car to head home to Pennsylvania.
I have so many snapshots like this from Saturday. Those images range from young Counselors In Training helping with food service to bidders who bid high and traveled from near and far to some of our youngest campers eating LOTS of popcorn. It is all of you, who give of your time, energy, and money who make it possible to provide camp to all. Our unique tier pricing both provides this possibility and also requires significant fundraising. The auction goes a long way toward those fundraising goals.
As you may know, each year we try to include some sort of program in addition to the rest of the festivities. It’s usually something simple. This year, we were curious which Mennonite breakfast treat would be more popular. So, we set out pieces of Old Fashioned Shoofly Pie and pieces of Funny Cake (all donated by Landis Supermarket). Participants placed a ticket in one of two jars signifying their preference. Get THIS! It was a tie! 28 votes for Shoofly and 28 votes for Funny Cake! One of the auction committee members commented “that is so Mennonite. We wouldn’t want to cause any conflict or bad feelings.”
While the preferred breakfast treat may not be clear, we do know that this year’s auction raised a whole bunch of money for campers who need it. Initial tally shows more than $54,000! Here’s the list of items with winning bid prices. We are humbled by this result and deeply grateful for each person in the room that day as well as those who bid from afar. Mark your calendar for the end of September next year. We hope to see you there!
On behalf of the camp board and auction committee,
Brandon “Tuna” Bergey
In October 1965, Pastor Nevin Bender, Bethany Birches Camp Director from 1965 to 1980, submitted a report to friends and supporters of the camp about the very first camping session held during the summer of 1965. “The primary purpose of the camp” Bender wrote, “is to provide opportunity for children and youth from Vermont to participate in camping that has a Christian emphasis. This year a total of 83 boys and girls, ages 8—15, participated in the camp life. Bender listed three objectives for the camp that year: “First … to provide a good time for these children…;” “Second, to strengthen their ability to cooperate with each other…;” “Third, to undergird the entire camp program with a spiritual emphasis…” Bender ended his report with this request: “Pray for the continued work of the camp.” Today, we continue to ask for your prayers for Bethany Birches Camp, the staff and, most important, the campers. “We’re not that far away from 1965,” said Steve Moyer. The Camp’s mission is still the same—helping young people develop a relationship with their creator.
It is not possible to think of the early days of Bethany Birches Camp without thinking of Nevin J. Bender, the first Camp Director. Those who worked with Nevin at Bethany Birches Camp or attended services at Bethany Mennonite Church, where he served as pastor, hold many different memories and images of Nevin. But, when we think of all the good work that Nevin did, a passage from Isaiah (Chapter 58:12) comes to mind. “…you shall raise up the foundations of many generations…”
Nevin was born in Greenwood, Delaware and graduated from Eastern Mennonite College with a degree in Education (now Eastern Mennonite University). Nevin and Lourene (Godshall) Bender were married in June 1961. He started seminary at Eastern Mennonite Seminary but before he finished, the conference contacted him about going to Vermont to preach, so he left without completing his degree. Nevin and his wife Lourene came to Vermont in 1963. In 1968, Nevin and Lourene moved temporarily to Hartford, Connecticut where he studied at Hartford Seminary for a year in order to finish his degree and, at the end of the year, earned a Masters of Divinity degree.
When Lloyd Moyer first came to Nevin with the idea of donating land to start a summer camp for children, Nevin apparently jumped on the idea and was off and running. According to his daughter, Marcia, the camp was Nevin’s passion. There are many records from the early days at Bethany Birches which indicate the tremendous amount of work that Nevin and Lourene put into organizing and running the camp in those first years. Thought had to be given to facilities, however rudimentary they may have been, program, camper meals, as well as volunteers to help run the camp. At the same time, Nevin was shepherding the Bethany Mennonite Congregation, while he and Lourene were raising two very young children.
In the beginning, the idea and the reality of Bethany Birches Camp came together fairly quickly. In an article entitled “Camp and Servanthood, Vermont-style,” Richard L. Benner wrote: Bethany Birches Camp, sponsored by the Bethany Mennonite Church, Bridgewater Corners, was conceived in a handful of adventurous minds only in April, 1965*. From the generous hand of one of these, Lloyd Moyer, came the grounds, from some others came both reservation and enthusiasm, and from the pastor, Nevin J. Bender, Jr. [came] lots of plugging and sweat.” (Mission News, September/October 1965, page 6)
*Four months later, on a hot, humid August morning, the first week of camp began with 35 girls in attendance.
To help carve the camp out of a grown-over farm was no easy task. The help received from a Mennonite Youth Fellowship work camp from the Salford Mennonite Church in Pennsylvania was invaluable. The group worked for a week to clear away waist high brush, build a fireplace, construct an eating area and build tent platforms. In addition, the group worked on a volleyball field as well as building a latrine. One member of this group recalls her memory of Nevin Bender.
“Along about 9:30 every morning Nevin Bender, pastor of the Bethany Mennonite Church, would appear with his Rambler, bumping toward our campsite. While the scheduled crew got breakfast cleared away, we all headed in the direction of our tent for Bible study materials.” (Notes from Barbara Landis, Harleysville, Pennsylvania, published in the Franconia Conference “Mission News” September/October 1965.)
Clearly, Nevin was a “well rounded” director. “He could do a bit of everything,” said Steve Moyer. He was involved with worship, recreation and fireside programs; in rainy weather he walked around to every tent site to make sure campers got their camp fires going. There’s even a report of Nevin operating a bull dozer, loaned to the camp by the Jenne family, when work started on construction of the old pavilion. He and many others laid down the original outlines for the camp which are followed to this day. We are not that far away from 1965, as Steve Moyer said.
In a 2010 interview, Marcia Bender commented on her father’s work. Responding to the question: “What was important to Nevin?” she cited the following themes: community building and learning to trust each other, people and relationships and nature, building consensus, and trying new ideas. All of these themes can be seen in a report Nevin sent to the Franconia Mennonite Board of Missions & Charities (September 1966) in which he reports on the second year of Bethany Birches Camp.
“We feel greatly encouraged as we see the day-to-day working out of plans and are convinced that God planned this camp long before we became involved in it. We were better organized this year and provided a program of hiking, swimming, nature study, other recreation plus Bible study and campfire services. Some encouraging attitudes have been registered by community persons who talk about this camp as “Our” camp rather than the Mennonite camp. They are eager to identify with it.”
“Nevin was very civic-minded,” said Warren (Bud) Jenne of Bridgewater Corners. Bud and Nevin were contemporaries in Bridgewater, both involved in their [respective] church work and both involved in community activities. Bender served as the Chair of the Board of Civil Authority and Bud was a committee member. “Nevin was a very nice man,” Jenne said, “He’d do anything for anyone.”
In 1983 the Benders left Vermont and returned to Virginia where Nevin went to work for EMU on the grounds crew. He retired from that position in 2008 and, along with five others, was honored at a recognition dinner in April of that year. His colleague, Will Hairston said of Bender, “Nevin’s passionate faith, intense work ethic and model of service have been an inspiration to all.” (From Eastern Mennonite University website, EMU News, posted April 30th 2008).
Excerpt from Stories From The First 50 years, Volume 1
Marcia Bender, Nevin’s daughter, who still lives near the camp, sent a message to Bethany Mennonite Church saying that Nevin had passed away. As part of her email she wrote “He visited with mom in the afternoon, ate dinner, then died at the table – very peaceful and quiet. I got to spend three lovely days with him earlier this month. To have been able to talk with him and sing with him and do puzzles with him was such a privilege, and it makes me smile and remember his loving, peaceful and steady presence.”
As the first director here at BBC, Nevin left his mark in many ways. The core of the camp program still looks similar to what he created including community and fun and rustic camp living. We will highlight some of the stories about him from Stories From The First 50 Years: Volume 1 in a coming blog post.
Nevin James Bender, 81, died on July 22, 2019 at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community. Nevin was born on July 13, 1938, the son of Nevin V. and Esther Lauver Bender.
Nevin grew up on a small dairy farm in Greenwood DE. At a very early age he was eager to learn the skills needed on the farm and spent many long days planting and harvesting baby lima beans. Nevin attended Greenwood Mennonite School and graduated from Greenwood High School in 1956. He was the director of the Greenwood Mennonite Youth Chorus and was an active youth leader and congregational music leader at Greenwood Mennonite Church.
On June 24, 1961 Nevin married Lourene Godshall. They celebrated 58 years together this year.
Nevin graduated from Eastern Mennonite College in 1961 and went on to earn a Master of Divinity at Hartford Seminary. He became pastor at Bethany Mennonite Church in Vermont, and a few years later he established Bethany Birches Camp where he was also the camp director for 15 years. The camp continues to this day.
Nevin’s pastoral career ended in 1979 when he suffered a brain aneurysm. He and his family moved to Harrisonburg, VA in 1983 where he began working in the maintenance department of Eastern Mennonite College. This second career lasted for the next 25 years; he was known as a positive, reliable, and energetic member of the grounds crew. Nevin and Lourene were active participants at Broad Street Mennonite Church, where Nevin was on the music team, playing guitar and leading music.
Following Nevin’s retirement from EMC, he spent 10 years at Friendship Industries, working in contract packaging, and did volunteer work at Gift and Thrift.
From lima beans to pastoring to groundskeeping to volunteer work, Nevin demonstrated a remarkable ability to adapt to his evolving capacities, reinventing himself repeatedly to take advantage of his skills and talents.
Nevin was preceded in death by siblings Lura Benner, Titus Bender, and Mildred Bender. He is survived by his wife Lourene Godshall Bender; siblings Miriam Jantzi, Paul Bender, Hilda Swartz, Emma Myers, and Don Bender; children Nevin Bender, Conrad Bender, Marcia Bender and Angela Bender; grandchildren Miguel Garcia-Bender, Nikki Garcia-Bender, Marisol Garcia-Bender, Trinity Bender, Anna Hepler, Adaija Bender, Calef Hepler, and Shanta Bender.
The family will host a time of visitation on Monday, July 29 at 3:00 PM, followed by a memorial service at 4:00 PM at the Detweiler Auditorium at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community, 1501 Virginia Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22802.
In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Bethany Birches Camp, 2610 Lynds Hill Road, Plymouth, VT, 05056 or make a donation on their website: www.bethanybirches.org
Hi. I’m Flora, or at camp I’m Gigi.
This summer I’m the Day Camp and Leadership Training Director. Every summer I’ve worked here I’ve seen God clearly in the campers, in nature and the community among the staff. This summer I’ve seen him in each of those places, but I’ve also been challenged by the scripture- “Be still and know that I am God” in Psalm 46. If you’ve never been here when there are campers, still is not the word you would come away saying. Camp is great with campers, and it’s energetic, and loud and a little crazy. Not still. During orientation Cheeks had us do a practice where we found somewhere quiet and repeated “be still and know that I am God”, then reduced the phrase to “be still and know that I am”, and then “be still and know”, slowly removing words until we were just repeating “Be” to ourselves. I really enjoyed this practice, but had trouble thinking about how that scripture could be true for me this summer. This scripture kept coming up for me the next couple weeks, friends would send it to me or it would come up in my devotionals but it didn’t seem possible. When I decided to listen to a sermon from my home church in Burlington, VT, and the sermon scripture was “be still and know that I am God” I felt like God was yelling at me to obey that scripture.
That sermon changed my idea on what being still looks like at camp. My pastor talked about the Hebrew word Rapha, which he described as a calm confidence in God. Being still became more attainable to me as he described peace coming from posture of Holy awareness, instead of what had been in my mind, which was being alone and finding long periods of time for God, which this job doesn’t always allow. Since then I have been able to find Rapha in some of the least still moments of the summer, by expanding on the scripture. During the many times when it feels like my patience is running low when I’m with campers who may require extra attention I remind myself to be still and know that God is God who provides patience and love. I don’t need to be all those things, because God is for me. And on the days when I get woken up by the radio in the night and don’t get the sleep I need to make it through the day I am reminded to be still and know that God is God who has energy and is the life in me. When I’ve had this posture I’ve seen myself being more full of what I should be empty of and more aware of God giving me what I need.
This summer I had the opportunity to lead a three day backpacking trip with seven campers, and two other staff. The morning we were leaving for the trip I woke up at 4am with every worst case scenario running through my head. Thunderstorms. Medical emergencies. Behavioral issues. No logic could solve the stress I was feeling. I had solved these problems when I was planning the trip earlier that summer; we had extra tarps, I have wilderness medical training, and I know how to deal with campers, yet I was still stressed. I was physically still in bed, but my mind was not still. As I laid in bed I knew what I needed wasn’t more backup plans, but rather the peace of Christ. That week as we hiked along the Long Trail I experienced God not just in the stillness of nature, but in the conversations and riddles that kept us hiking. As I led with a calm confidence in God I found myself knowing that He was there, and providing for each need of each person on that trip.
Flora “Gigi” Dewar
Greetings friends! Been a while since you’ve heard from us via the blog. That’s because in April, our Program Director, Courtney, fell ill and could not continue her duties! Please pray for her health and healing. Where did that leave us at camp? Restructuring! In terms of the summer camp leadership team, the restructuring seems to have worked. We were able to shift leaders around and call Amber “Cheeks” Bergey back into service as Camp Director. She is mentoring some newer leaders including the Day Camp Director and Resident Camp Director. All are learning and growing and doing good work.
Come June, it started to feel like we were going to make it through the summer excelling and hosting the many campers as good as always. As that feeling set in, a second crisis struck in the male counseling team. We lost an assistant to a broken leg, another to a change in heart. We lost a male counselor to anxiety and another to a concussion. We are still down all four of those guys. How could we go on?!
Many summer staffers talked with friends and one of those friends came to BBC for the first time and did a great job the first week of camp (and will be back twice this summer). We reached out to other Mennonite Camps and uncovered two brothers who were trusted counselors and could give us a few weeks. A long time counselor said he could return for a week or two. Our facilities manager who used to counsel, said he could counsel as needed. Things are starting to look up! I was reminded of the “Body of Christ” and how together we can function as a cohesive community and in so doing Jesus would meet us and help meet our need for “daily bread” (in this case, having qualified counseling staff for each camper). Keep an eye on our youtube channel this weekend for how we made the picture of a body at the top of this post.
Personally, this pair of crises stretched me and my family quite a bit. I found early morning wake ups common, some tears in talking with God, and challenges at home as the kids got used to their nanny (so thankful for her and my strong wife, Cheeks, who is leading the program team in her third pregnancy!).
I find myself stretched, challenged, thankful and looking forward to uncovering who the next camp director will be. If you know someone who would be a good fit, tell them of the opportunity to live and serve in the Green Mountains!
Brandon “Tuna” Bergey
Well that was fun! Each winter and summer we host a family fun day to highlight all the good stuff the Bethany Birches program has to offer. This winter we will host 5 weekends of winter camp for grades 3-11. Find your session here: bethanybirches.org/winter
About 80 folks enjoyed winter family fun day this year. The youngest in attendance appeared to be less than a year old and the oldest seemed to be nearing 80. That’s what we like to see!
As the founder of our back country ski program I enjoyed leading that very much. We had some skiers who never skied before and a couple who were seasoned.
Of course there was lots of tubing! Due to the recent snow the run was a little slower the first half of the day. Waxing the tubes helped. Big thanks to neighbor Bob Lambert who faithfully drove the truck and trailer all day so people didn’t have to walk the steep 1/4 mile hill after each run.
Lunch was great! Thanks to Wonder Woman, Batman, Wendy, and Joanne for making great food and lots of it. I’m still wanting those brownies.
On top of the skiing, tubing and lunch we roasted marshmallows, painted snow, had an epic broom ball tournament in which there were 5 overtimes, knitted, played carpet ball, gaga and 9square among other things (including a very artistic drawing pictured here). Thanks to all of you who came out for the fun and I hope to see you up here for a winter camp!
Brandon “Tuna” Bergey
What do weddings and sweaty pre-teens have in common? They both fit well at Bethany Birches! Honestly! Weddings have been held at Bethany Birches since the earliest years. Since the construction of the new pavilion we’ve been able to host weddings at any time of year. Many folks who get married here have a special connection to the place. Jane decided to get married here because, as a young girl, camp was filled with meaning and life and God. When she got married, she wanted that meaningful moment to happen in a meaningful place. For Ben and Megan, it was similar. “We chose Bethany Birches as the venue for our wedding because camp has been a special place for us throughout our relationship and in our lives. We met at camp, began our relationship there, and got engaged there. It has a special sense of safety and serenity found in few other places.” Perhaps you haven’t had those powerful experiences here, or have a friend who’s looking for a wedding venue. Megan pointed out that camp “has all we need to have a lovely wedding – excellent facilities, lodging included, and breathtaking scenery everywhere you look.”
Regarding the sweaty pre-teens, we caught up with Nicole, a middle school teacher who recently brought the whole Hartford Middle School to camp! She says, “We were looking for an outdoor spot with access to facilities and a trained staff who could plan some team building activities for us. We are a newly formed team of middle school teachers with about 75 middle school students who needed to bond and get to know each other outside of the traditional academic setting. Your staff was so flexible with planning, and it suited us perfectly. While we were at BBC, we participated in structured team building activities, free time and group meals. Our students, being middle schoolers, get very little self-directed outside play time, and this was one of their favorite parts. They loved the 9-ball game and the gaga-ball. It was an amazing experience where they could just have fun and be kids. Anyone looking for teambuilding activities and experiences should consider BBC and the staff!”
Other school groups have spent time at Bethany Birches. Let us know if there’s a way we can support you and your group whether it’s a school, family or church group. Or maybe, we can provide a special place for one of the most special days of your life.
-Brandon “Tuna” Bergey, Executive Director