The Michigan Area welcomes Ryan Culby as Director of Lake Michigan and Albright Park camps.
Senior Editor-Writer, Michigan Area
Christmastime 2016. Ryan Culby and his family arrived in Michigan from Colorado to begin Ryan’s service as the Director of Lake Michigan and Albright Park camps. Far, far from home? Not at all! Ryan grew up on a fruit farm near St. Joseph, Michigan. For him it was a homecoming.
Love of creation
Ryan grew up loving the outdoors. As a young adult he volunteered at a local nature center. He hiked the Appalachian Trail between college semesters. “Somewhere in there I got a Bachelor of Science in Recreation and Master of Science in Experiential Education. The week long trips in the Boundary Waters really set me up for a passion for camping, group formation, and experiencing God’s creation.”
Since then Ryan has served at camps in ten states. Three of those settings were part of United Methodist Camp and Retreat Ministries: Lazy F Camp in Washington; Asbury Hills in South Carolina, and, most recently, Buckhorn Camp in Colorado.
Christian camping is where Ryan has had “his favorite memories and experiences, setting up kids for a life of faith.” He was called out of recreational camping while running a secular camp in Virginia. “I loved the programming … and we did our best to bring in virtue-based and character-centered values.”
Then he realized “the natural world experienced through camp is much too powerful a tool to stop at character. We’re immersed in God’s creation and it would be a shame to let numinous faith developing experiences go unrecognized.” That’s when he and the family moved to the Lazy F United Methodist Camp and Retreat Center to capture “what we felt was missing in camping without the faith piece.”
Make ready for summer
Now in Michigan, Ryan is excited about the properties in his care. “The coastline and the dunes at Lake Michigan and the Hersey River running though Albright Park both have incredible beauty,” he said. “I am blessed to be able to show up and help them grow.”
This spring is a time for clean-up at both sites. Ryan invites churches to help in some specific ways. Saturday, May 6 is a camp work day at Lake Michigan. Breakfast and lunch will be fixed for volunteers. Like to sew? Ryan would like prayer banners for the dining halls at both camps.
Additional plans for Lake Michigan include 9 Square in the Air (described as a cross between 4 Square and volleyball); a high ropes course; new signage; and bathroom improvements. Albright Park’s Tabernacle has a new roof but the building needs painting. Ryan also wants to create more places for play at Albright including a gaga pit and 9 Square.
Ryan joins other Michigan Camp Directors who get together on a monthly basis for networking, sharing resources and mutual support. “We are nine camps all working together under one umbrella. That’s pretty special!” Ryan notes.
At the heart of it
Ryan reports that there’s a basic theme that runs through program planning: our young people are over-programmed. A less structured approach to camping at the two sites addresses that reality. Kids unglue from their phones and engage in small groups which is “a different kind of connection.”
Connection is indeed at the heart of his vision for camping. “Today our identity is getting more complicated than ever,” he remarks. “One of the beautiful parts about camp is that kids are able to recreate themselves each summer into the person they want to be. Faith can be an integral part of the new identity they create – the person we are in Christ.”
Additions like the 9 square and ropes course are coming at the sites. But Ryan adds, “Once you get settled in copying other ideas only goes so far. Got a cross? Gaga pit? Campfire? Generic summer curriculum? Yup.” The next important step is to recognize that “God made each site special for a reason.” He explains that place-based ministry emerges when leadership “digs deep to recognize what God has provided in the character and needs of the community,” and new and innovative ministry develops from there.
Ryan’s favorite camping verse is John 1:14 — “And the Word became flesh and pitched His tent among us.” The Culby’s tent is now pitched in Michigan. The state’s newest Director of United Methodist Camping issues an invitation: “More than ever we need, and thirst for, real connections in a positive, supportive faith environment. If you come to camp, you can be yourself, be surrounded by good, friendly, real people, be able to share in faith, in fellowship, in fun, and not be alone.”
For more about the camping and retreat opportunities at Lake Michigan and Albright Park, see the Michigan Area United Methodist Camping Summer Camp Guide. Ryan Culby may be contacted at 231-301-0184.