By Brett Hetherington*
If you were to ask Julie Lautt, ‘what is the primary mission of Camp Wanake?’ she would respond with a simple sentence. “Wanake provides people places and role models away from daily routines and distractions so that campers can find life change, new friends, time with God, and a lot of fun.” Lautt is the director at Camp Wanake, and on Saturday, September 10 she presided over the celebration of 75 years of ministry at the camp, which is located in the Tuscarawas District of the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.
The Camp Wanake 75th anniversary celebration was originally scheduled for September of 2021 but was postponed until this year because of COVID-19 concerns. But despite the myriad challenges of the past two years – the pandemic, supply chain issues, staff shortages, and more – Lautt and her staff were spurred on by a simple mantra.
“God was faithful as God always is faithful and supplied Wanake with everything we needed to serve campers.”
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Camp Wanake’s celebration took place over the course of an entire weekend, starting on Friday September 9 with a campfire and finishing on Sunday September 11 with a shared lunch. Present throughout the weekend were alumni campers and staff from throughout Wanake’s history, even including some who were among the first to camp there.
“My grandfather was on the board of the group who were appointed to purchase the camp, and after that was done, he said to me, ‘Are you going to go to camp this summer?’” shared Mary Anne Wagoner-Myers. “I said ‘What’s camp?’ because we lived in the city. But I did go.” The family has been involved ever since with each successive generation becoming campers, staff, and one daughter even getting married on the campgrounds after meeting her husband while working at Wanake.
Saturday marked the largest portion of the celebration with a worship service celebrating all the previous decades of camping, sharing songs together, stories from campers whose lives were changed from their time at Wanake, and a message from Bishop Tracy S. Malone.
“Many have accepted Christ as their personal Lord and Savior here on these sacred grounds. Many have answered their calls to ministry and their calls to servant leadership here on these sacred grounds,” shared Malone as she reminded the assembled group just how important Camp Wanake has been in so many lives throughout the East Ohio Conference.
“There are some who have experienced community here in a way that they have never ever experienced community before. Many of you have made life-long friends on these sacred grounds. There are some who have experienced healing in the broken places of their lives here on these sacred grounds, freeing them from the hurt and even the trauma that they have experienced in their lives. Some have discovered that ‘Yes, my life does matter. Yes, I do have purpose. Yes, I do have a voice here’ because of Camp Wanake,” Malone said.
As alumni celebrated together, ate together, shared stories of camping and brought their own children who were not yet old enough to camp to join in the festivities, the spirit of joy was palpable. The Spirit of God was moving during the celebration just as it had throughout the previous 75 years of ministry at the camp and will continue to do so for many years to come.
The Conference Communications team would like to share other stories that highlight ways that each of us is answering the call of Bishop Tracy S. Malone to reach out to our communities in creative ways. Please e-mail your ministry story to EOC Executive Director of Communications Rick Wolcott at email@example.com.
* Brett Hetherington is the Communications specialist for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.