Paynesville Press - May 8, 2002

Community Perspective

Pastor finds community at camp

By Wayne Walther

Life takes many twists and turns.

I was first introduced to the Lake Koronis Assembly Grounds, owned by the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, in 1964, after completing my freshman year of high school.

My home church, located in St. Paul, was sending youth to Summer Assembly, a program that was started at the Lake Koronis Assembly Grounds in 1922. I loved to camp and was eager to attend.

I was also aware of a stirring inside me to be a pastor. God was dealing with me and I was interested, but I had not made a definite decision at the time of camp. I was still in the exploratory stage.

Camp is a place to ponder your calling. It is a time to make new friends and even a place to meet your life partner. There is freedom, mystery, adventure, and personal growth and development awaiting the camper.

I find it is still true today that camp is a safe place to explore who you are and your relationship with God, others, and creation. It is a place to try new things.

I remember that summer in 1964, taking a rowboat with another camper and rowing to First Island. We enjoyed swimming in the lake and walks along the lakeshore.

It would be 20 years before I would return to spend a week at Koronis again. In 1986 I returned with our daughter to lead a camp for elementary children. It was an opportunity to be surrounded by creation. We lived in cabins in the woods. We gathered in a lodge with a fireplace. We had a campfire circle to go to at night to sing, pray, and share our faith around the glow of the fire.

At night you could see the the constellations twinkle in the dark. There was time for camp crafts, swimming, and canoeing.

We ate our meals together in the dining hall with grace before meals and singing after. We took turns setting places at the table, serving the food, and cleaning up after the meal. Maybe you have been to camp and find yourself in reverie remembering.

I led camps at Koronis for a few years and then moved on until January 1999 when I read an e-mail advertising an opening for an executive director. I had been in parish ministry for 25 years and remained in love with camping to the point of saying I would like to work at the camp. I didn't hear anything for weeks. Finally, in March, I received a call that I had made the first cut and that a committee would like to interview me. I interviewed and waited to hear. I was offered the position and moved to Paynesville at the end of May 1999.

Now I live on Lake Koronis in a house provided by the Assembly Grounds. I work with a terrific staff to provide a place for life-changing experiences. Our facility received American Camping Association accreditation in 2000.

We have a long and good relationship with the community of Paynesville. Our neighbors are understanding of the campers that come and go for ten weeks in the summer and weekends the rest of the year.

This has been a good move for us. Susan, my wife, has found a job with the Paynesville Area Medical Clinic. We have found a church home in the community and other groups for community involvement. We have taken classes through Community Education and enjoyed the fine educational facilities of Paynesville.

This is a community that is friendly and welcoming. There is a spirit of cooperation.

Local businesses are essential to our operation. They provide needed materials, labor, and services. I want to thank Paynesville area businesses for their support. It is a good setting for a camp and retreat center.

Our ministry is to those near and far. We have many families, children, youth, and adults who come here to be renewed, refreshed, and made new.

It took time and effort to establish the Assembly Grounds in 1921. In our current master plan we will be removing cottages and building a new lodge to house the special needs camper who may need accessible housing or climate controlled accommodations because of allergies. We currently have no meeting space with restrooms and the lodge will have a meeting room for a group of 80 with restrooms in the hallway.

Like me - the camper who came wondering about being called to be a pastor and eventually responded yes to the call and most recently said yes to a call to be the director of a Christian camp and retreat ministry - people are still being challenged and called by God at a place known as the Assembly Grounds, near Paynesville on Lake Koronis.

Walther is the executive director at the Lake Koronis Assembly Grounds.

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