Tag Archives: anniversary

Mystery woman sets tone for ministry at Spruce Lake

Spruce Lake 50th Anniversary
A Wilderness Camp counselor sits with a camper by lantern light in 2007. Gerry Clemmer, pastor of Souderton congregation, said he recently went to that same spot behind the pavilion, remembering his own experience. “Forty-five years later, I knelt and thanked God for his faithfulness and love that became real to me for the first time that night,” he said.

by Grace Nolt, Spruce Lake Retreat

Al Detweiler took the call.

A woman said she had something to bring them. “I hope it’s a big check!” he joked with his wife, Kass, as he put down the phone.  Al was one of the first pastors in Franconia Mennonite Conference to serve full time. Money was tight. The young couple also oversaw Allentown Mennonite’s children’s camping program.

A middle-aged woman arrived carrying a drawstring bag.  Al and Kass had never met her before. What was her name?

But she avoided the question. Instead, she said, “I’m on my way from New York City to Cleve­land and had a layover at the bus terminal. Coming here was something I ‘had’ to do. I have some­thing to give you!”

She pulled a stitched plaque out of her bag — dark purple with white letters and three words: Watch God Work.  “Now keep this where you can see it every day,” the woman said.  “If you continue to serve God, you will see blessings in your life you never dreamed of!”

Then she looked at her watch. “Oh, I need to go now!”

“Do you want a ride to the bus station?” Al asked. (It was about a mile away.) “No,” she said, “I’ll walk.”  She went out the door and down the flight of steps, never to be seen again.

Kass turned to Al. “Was she an angel?”

“Yes,” Al said, “I think she was!”

Then they put the purple and white plaque on the kitchen counter where they could see it every day.

The mystery woman’s plaque is no longer on the counter. It disappeared, most likely during Kass’s move to a new home following Al’s death several years ago.  The words, however, have become forever stitched into the fabric of Spruce Lake as Al and Kass became the wilderness camp’s first directors in 1963.  Those words remain a testimony to God’s faithfulness as the camp celebrates 50 years of God at work in the most amazing ways!

The Spruce Lake story begins with the flood of ‘55. Land was devastated along the entire Brodhead Wa­tershed from northern Monroe County to Phillipsburg, New Jersey.  Norm Good and others from Blooming Glen Mennonite Church mobilized a large volunteer effort, catching the attention of Mr. Dalton, a Jewish gentleman with a habit of seeking ways to help others.

Seven years went by.  Franconia Mennonite Camping Association had formed (1961), and soon sent out a search team for land to start a children’s camp in the Poconos.  A For Sale sign without a phone number caught their eye.

When they stopped at the Canadensis post office to inquire, the postmaster said, “Oh, there is Mr. Dal­ton now, getting into his car!”  Practically grabbing Mr. Dalton by his shirttail as he was about to drive away, the men told him what they wanted.

Spruce Lake 50th anniversary
At Spruce Lake’s May, 2012, groundbreaking for the new hospitality center, Executive Director Mark Swartley, Dan Schantz, and Norm Good faced the future with satisfaction and anticipation. Norm has been behind practically everything over the past 50 years at Spruce Lake. He went to be with his Creator five months after this picture was taken.

Mr. Dalton remembered “the Mennonites,” their help during the flood. He said, “You are the kind of people I want to sell my property to!”  He made an offer — half the original sales price — and in addition offered 240 acres of woodland (Spruce Lake’s forest and Wilderness Camp area).  Settlement took place April 30, 1963.

Later that same day, Mr. Dalton went alone to Wilbur Lapp’s real estate office, holding out a check for $18,000 to pay for half of the additional acres the Camping Association had bought that day.

These stories from the past form our foundation for watching God at work at Spruce Lake! And so we repeat them often.  The miraculous timings, spiritual encounters that defy explanation, the uniting of the right people with specific needs, the profound changes in people’s lives over the years — we can’t begin to begin name them all.

We’ve tried to convey snapshots of these holy encounters through the storybook, Watch God Work: Tracing the Movements of God at Spruce Lake, Fifty Years, 1963-2013. It will come off the press just in time for Spruce Lake’s 50th Anniversary Open House Sun­day, May 19 — free copies will be available for anyone who wants one.

What else can you anticipate at the 2:00-7:00 p.m. Open House?  Executive Director Mark Swartley will lead tours of the new Spruce Lodge (hospitality cen­ter), projected to be finished by the end of October.  Motorcyclists in the Ride into New Horizons will roll in throughout the afternoon. Their regis­tration fees help fund the New Horizons campaign for the new building.  Guests will enjoy a 5:00 chicken barbecue dinner and lots of hearty fellowship.  Details and sign-ups for Open House and the motorcycle ride are on Spruce Lake’s new website, www.sprucelake.org, or by calling 800-822-7505.  A Wilderness Camp staff reunion June 16, new entrance signs, “birthday parties” throughout the summer, and more will be part of our celebrations in 2013.

Then, on December 13, vocalist Steve Green will present a 7:00 p.m. concert at Franconia Mennonite Church. Music will help us express what words can’t as we honor how God has worked through Spruce Lake over the past 50 years.

The future belongs to our children as they return and return to this place of blessing …  Watch God Work!

Bethany celebrates 60 years with stories

On August 12, Bethany Mennonite Church in Bridgewater, Vermont, celebrated their 60th anniversary.  As part of their celebration, people from the church, community, and the conference shared their memories from the last sixty years.  The following article is adapted from those stories.

Bethany 60th
Izzy Jenne, Anna Hepler, Annabel Hershey Lapp enjoying themselves at Bethany’s 60th anniversary celebration. Photo by Karen Hawkes.

Sixty years ago, it became a congregation. Three of the four families that came from Franconia Conference to start the mission church gathered for “The Picture.” We all looked so excited and full of energy. This is the look that people get when they don’t have a clue what the future will bring.

I remember some things from those early years, the 50s: sliding down the old stair railing (adults didn’t seem to realize God meant it to be part of the children’s playground); multigenerational church socials in the damp and dark church basement; sitting in the hay wagons every fall eating crisp Macs on hayrides through those dark back roads of Vermont. I learned to keep an eye out for the tree branches that might sweep down and get you.

I remember growing up in two worlds, the church world and the Vermont secular world. They seemed very different.  We all kind of learned the hard way, as individuals, families, and a congregation, that transplanting ethnic Mennonites into a “foreign culture” was probably not the best way to plant a church.  Hard lessons were learned, maybe too hard sometimes. I saw my parents having to learn and relearn and still remain faithful to their call.

I remember once when we had a “breaking of bread service.” It wasn’t a regular communion service. Each person was given a small bread roll, and we went around and broke off a piece of our roll and gave it to someone else until our roll was gone. That service felt like a great big pair of arms was holding the whole congregation in a big hug.

Summer Vacation Bible School was a BIG, two-week affair. I went door to door asking if families would like to send their children and we drove them every day in a vehicle owned by the church and then the town school bus. When we grew to over a hundred children, teachers came from the other churches in Bridgewater and from the community as well as Bethany.

One year, I had a class of 4-year-olds with six girls and one boy. That boy could swear up a storm. He never had pennies for the offering. One morning he had a jingly pocket. I asked him what that was. He said, “Pennies.” I asked why he hadn’t put them in the box. He said he didn’t have them then. I asked where he got them. He said out of the box. I asked him why he had done that. He said it was because he never had any pennies. “Well,” I said thoughtfully, “you will from now on.”

Bethany worked closely with the other churches in the area, especially with the Congregational Church in Bridgewater. When [Pastor] Nevin had a brain aneurysm, the Bridgewater church was very supportive of this congregation in many ways. They held a fund raiser for Nevin by having a community potluck meal that brought many, many people together.

I saw God’s face in the early morning walks and talks through many back roads with other women through the years. We would gather at the church with our flashlights before our day of work began. We valued friendship, faith, and health.

I saw God’s presence in families from the village who brought their young children to the parsonage for childcare. Conversations relevant to life happened at daily drop-off and pick-up times. I felt joy watching my children play among many others in the field in a safe, open environment.

The first thing that struck me when I came to Bethany for the first time was the beautiful singing with everyone doing harmony and no choir. We were all the choir!

There are many more stories to share.  Sixty years of them.  And it makes me wonder, “What if?”

What if a group of church leaders from Franconia Conference in the middle of the 20th century hadn’t decided there was a need to start a church in Vermont called Bethany Mennonite…?