Tag Archives: Bethany Birches Camp

“Expect the Unexpected” was a Summer to Remember

Franconia Conference is blessed to have several amazing Conference Related Ministries (CRMs) that share the same mission and values in working for God’s Kingdom here on earth. One of those is Bethany Birches Camp in Plymouth, Vermont and in 2017 they had quite the memorable summer.  According to Program Director Dan “Chick” Laubach, this past summer was the most attended season in the history of Bethany Birches Camp.” Not only that, but one of their camp counselors, Liesl “Kiki” Graber,  who expected to find God in a Damascus Road type experience, actually found God while camp counseling — an experience, as she said, that went with the summer’s theme of “Expect the Unexpected.”  Read more from Liesl “Kiki” Graber, and Dan “Chick” Laubach on Bethany Birches’ Blog HERE.

Staff Meeting Heads to the Margins of Vermont

By John Stoltzfus, Conference Youth Minister

As part of our ongoing practice of going to the “margins,” a contingent of Franconia Conference staff traveled to Vermont last week for a 48 hour working retreat. Of course, going to the margins can be a relative statement depending on where one places the center. Perhaps, going to the margins can actually help re-center us in the saving work of God in this world. By locating ourselves physically in other people’s spaces we are re-placed and invited to see how the Spirit is present and active in communities and people beyond our own.

Our short time in Vermont included many opportunities for centering ourselves in God’s good work in the beautiful hills and valleys of Vermont. For our first meal, we received generous hospitality and delicious food around the table at the home of Gwen Groff, a Franconia Conference Board Member, who is pastor at Bethany Mennonite Church in Bridgewater, Vermont.

The following morning, our first in Vermont, Steve McCloskey who is the new pastor at Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship led our group in devotions. We were invited to consider our calling in ministry and how we are sustained in that calling. Later we visited Taftsville Chapel, getting a glimpse of the solar panels installed last year on the church roof.

We also heard from Joe Paparone who is an organizer with the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State, and the advocacy coordinator with the FOCUS Churches of Albany (NY). Over the past several years he has connected with Bethany Mennonite Church through his work in Albany, including leading a book study for the congregation over video conference. He led the Franconia Staff in a helpful training on Community Organizing Principles for pastoral ministry and the church.

Hearing the stories of call for Joe, Steve and Gwen and learning more about the mission and ministries of their respective communities was an encouraging and hopeful witness of God’s renewing and creative work in our church and world. These communities have many gifts to offer to the broader conference and church.

Of course Vermont has other “gifts” to offer such as cheese, maple syrup and beautiful scenery. Our retreat included a visit to the Sugarbush Cheese and Maple Farm for a delightful cheese and maple syrup tasting and we enjoyed an invigorating walk down the Quechee Gorge.

Jesus’ life and witness consistently re-centered the focus on God’s activity in the world. Henri Nouwen made the observation that “those who are marginal in the world are central in the Church.” How can we as a conference continue to receive the gifts and witness of the Spirit’s presence and activity by those at the “margins”?

See the photo gallery on the Franconia Conference Facebook page.

God is already near: an adventure with the Fire Marshal

Bethany Birches--Dave and stairwell
Before ….

by Brandon Bergey, Bethany Birches Camp

This is a story about a recent requirement on Bethany Birches Camp by the office of the Vermont State Fire Marshal.

I remember it well… standing in the basement and looking out one of the windows; feeling both angst and joy.  The angst was related to discovering a problem for which the solution was unknown to me.  The joy was related to sensing that God was near and that an adventure lies ahead.

Bethany Birches--Dave and sheet rock
… and after!

In short, the adventure was to quickly update a building as required for safety regulations.  And, to do this with minimal resources in a short season that is not usually focused on infrastructure but rather on preparation for summer camp.  The greatest challenges were:

  • Lack of available money
  • Lack of available time
  • To synthesize my own desire to upgrade the building, meet the fire marshal’s requirements and accomplish the board’s mandate to spend as little as possible.

While we spent a hare more than “as little as possible” (choosing real wood for wall finish instead of wood paneling or sheet rock, for example) we kept it very close to bare minimum.  On top of that, we were finally able to insulate the roof of the building and upgrade its R value from 1.75 to 40!  Talk about savings in the long run!

Bethany Birches--ceiling insulation
Before …

As to the other challenges, money became available.  In just a few months we received $75,000 for the work.  We spent almost all of it on the project.  The money made some additional time available which helped a lot.  This confirmed my sense that God was not only near, but working through the authorities (Romans 13).

However, in order to upgrade the building in this process, I spent more time than maybe I ought. While the rest of my work did not suffer, per se, I look back and realize it cost me personally.  Our dog died while I wasn’t paying attention and a new challenge related to falling asleep started during this season of elevated stress.  How much is an upgraded building worth?  Paying through suffering and loss for the sake of Christ is cheap.  Suffering and loss feel expensive, though, if not in the service of the King.  It is evident that numerous guests to camp have already appreciated the upgrades.  I hope that the price I paid personally are useful to God.

Bethany Birches--cabin lofts finished
… and after!

Here’s an interesting point – when God breaks into our lives, “work” and “personal space” are not allowed to remain separate.  When having a child, one loses sleep. That sleep deprivation affects productivity at work.  Or, when something stressful happens at work, relationships or chores at home are allowed to suffer.  What this shows me is that our lives are not as segregated as we sometimes long for them to be.  We are one person carrying with us whatever we are currently carrying, wherever we go.  If the pain of a broken relationship is currently something we carry, we carry that pain to work and to home and to a dinner party and when walking the dog.  While this appears to be an unpleasant fact of life, one that we try to deny often, I give thanks to God that we are made in a way that allows us to be whole.

As I prayed in this blog post, “God, join us… in all our endeavors,”  I’ve since realized that if God is already near, my prayer ought to be more like “God, soften my heart and open my mind so I may see you and your guidance.  And give me the willingness to bear any cost for your sake.  I trust what Jesus has said: that if I release and entrust my life to you, I may finally possess it.”

Fire Marshal Visits Bethany Birches Camp

by Brandon Bergey, Executive Director at Bethany Birches Camp

This post is about a sad story.  It’s the story of the BBC Cabin the day the fire marshal came to visit.

Quick Tangent – if you didn’t know, the cabin is our only year-round use building. It’s where we host winter camps. It’s where skiers stay while they ski surrounding mountains and that provides us some extra revenue. Possibly most importantly, it’s where our non-counseling staff and volunteers stay during summer camp!  And, summer is rapidly approaching.

Back to the story – Bruce and Jay were friendly and clear.  They have concerns about how quickly people could get out of the building in case of fire.  They gave us a conditional permit, which ends April 1, 2012!  After that, no one can sleep in the building until it’s amended to meet Vermont Life Safety Code.

How big of a deal can 8 violations really be?  Apparently a big enough deal to cost $20-$30K (incomplete estimate) – YIKES!  And, at our board meeting we recently decided to add $10K to that number (probably out of our own savings) to accomplish a Master Plan item that will not only make the building much better by including proper bathrooms but will also take care of the two exits we need to add to the loft sleeping areas.

For more info on the report and the list of violations, see this blog post. Our need is great. If you are able to help, we would be so thankful, and so will the kids of Central VT (did I mention one of our campers recently made a $10 donation online – don’t worry, he’s 17 with a job).


  • Give money!  Just the materials are going to cost over $10K.  Send a check or give online and give to general operations or where needed most.
  • Give time: we’ll need volunteers to do most of the work.  Consider getting a small crew of experienced people together and come up for a weekend.  A few experienced laborers can make a big dent in just two days.  Call the office or email me.  Signing up for blog posts or liking our Facebook page will keep you in the know on this project also.
  • Give material: perhaps you own or have influence in a supply chain that could get us sheet rock, lighting, paint, etc.  If it’s in the above list, we need it.

And so the story of an old camp, that’s doing the best it can, continues.  We have always been provided for by those that care about Bethany Birches’ Mission.  God continues to use people in special ways to do this work of helping young people develop their relationship with him as we provide them with a Christ-centered camping experience.

Praise God for the two hour emotional cycle I experienced after the fire marshal’s visit.  At first I was frustrated and annoyed.  Then, humility kicked in.  So often, when I receive correction, direction, instruction, if I am able to release my frustration, I begin to sense God at work.

Join me in praying… God, join us in this endeavor and in all of our endeavors.  I pray that you will bring the resources and people needed to accomplish this change and that it will not distract from the bigger things ahead.

This post is about a sad story.  It’s the story of the BBC Cabin the day the fire marshal came to visit.

Quick Tangent – if you didn’t know, the cabin is our only year-round use building. It’s where we host winter camps. It’s where skiers stay while they ski surrounding mountains and that provides us some extra revenue

Tropical storm damage in Vermont is a ‘disaster’

By Sheldon C. Good, sheldon@mennoweekly.org
Mennonite Weekly Review

What is usually a small brook washed out this section of Route 100 in Plymouth, Vt., home of Bethany Birches Camp. — Photo by Brandon Bergey

Flood waters due to Tropical Storm Irene were subsiding by Sept. 6, but extensive devastation remained as cleanup and repairs began for Mennonites across Vermont, including some who were isolated for days.

The storm weakened as it made its way along the Atlantic sea­board the last weekend of August but dropped several inches of rain in just a few hours in many places.

In Vermont, raging rivers washed out hundreds of roads and damaged dozens of bridges.

More than a dozen Vermont towns, including Plymouth, home to the Mennonite-affiliated Bethany Birches Camp, became virtual islands.

“We are in the midst of a disaster,” said Randy Good, pastor of Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship, on Sept. 1, after the storm had pased. “Close by, people have lost their homes and businesses. We are continuing to become aware of the magnitude of things, and as we do, it is getting worse.”

Good and Gwen Groff, pastor of Bethany Mennonite Church, accounted for all of their members, though some evacuated their homes. Both meetinghouses as well as Bethany Birches Camp sustained little damage.

More than 60 percent of the 450 miles of Vermont state roads that were closed have reopened, The Wall Street Journal reported Sept. 5.

Still, some roads remained closed. According to Google Crisis Response, parts of the main road that runs between the camp and the Bethany congregation were only open to authorized vehicles.

“Franconia Conference communities in?Vermont seem to be at the center of some of the most extensive damage,” said Stephen Kriss, director of communication for Franconia Mennonite Conference.

On Aug. 30, National Guard helicopters airlifted food, water and supplies to isolated towns, including Plymouth.The storm killed three people in Vermont and at least 55 total. Preliminary estimates put total losses along the East Coast at about $7 billion.

Brandon Bergey, executive director of Bethany Birches Camp, was using his motorcycle to get around.

He said most towns were setting up relief stations where people could get gas, food and water.

The local community, Bergey said, is drawing closer together.

“In a rural area like ours, it’s not always easy to connect with neighbors; now it’s easier,” he said.

“The destruction that will cost us a lot of work and discomfort — and for some, homes and most possessions — is helping us build relationships.”

Groff, pastor of the Bethany congregation, lives with her family in a parsonage next to the church. Though it sits along the Ottauquechee River, which overflowed its banks, the Groffs’ home received minimal damage.

Route 4, the main road between the Bethany and Taftsville congregations, will be closed for months, Good said.

“Some roadways that seemed passable have been found to have caves washed out underneath the roadway, and some have collapsed,” he said.

Dennis Bricker of Chambersburg, Pa., removes debris at Lennard DeWolfe’s home in Forkston, Pa. — Photo by Wilmer Martin

Six people from Franconia Conference congregations volunteered with MDS in Vermont Sept. 5-8. They removed debris and sorted through damaged buildings.

“The primary effort right now is simply getting wet materials out of homes,” said volunteer Ted Houser of Lancaster, Pa.

Houser noted the timeliness of their service: Mennonites worked on storm cleanup on Labor Day in Vermont, Pennsylvania and New York.

MDS executive director Kevin King said the organization is conducting assesments for long-term needs.?He said relief work in Vermont is “a challenge because of all the infrastructure that’s been destroyed.”

In other storm damage, the basement of New Beginnings Community Church of Bristol, Pa., a Franconia Conference congregation, flooded due to the recent storm.

Ertell Whigham, executive minister of Franconia Conference, said the church lost all of its educational resources, including computers.

Originally posted in Mennonite Weekly Review, September 1, 2011 and updated on September 6.  Reposted by permission.