Changing Lives One Week at a Time

Date Posted: 
Monday, May 2, 2016

At the Warwick Center, spiritual transformation doesn’t happen all at once. It happens over a week, and continues to build slowly over time. Will Cosnett, director of youth ministries at the center’s Camp Warwick, has seen these cycles of transformation through the years.

As a young man, Cosnett worked as a counselor at Camp Warwick. “I remember a particular youth camper in a family group I was leading,” he says. “She had a theological question about something, and I told her I would look into it for her.” After consulting with the camp chaplain, Cosnett came back with a response the next day.

When he reconnected more than a decade later with the camper, now a grown woman, she reminded him of the kindness he had shown.

“That meant so much to her that I had cared enough about her and her question to actually find out. I had lost memory of it, but it made a big impact on her.”

Discovering a calling

That interaction is just one example of Warwick’s influence. The 465-acre facility, an hour and a half drive from New York City, looks upon the Shawangunk Mountains and Warwick Valley. It hosts summer camps, retreats, conferences, adult study programs, and other events throughout the year. And all of them hold the potential for transformation.

Cosnett’s own life has been shaped by his Warwick experience. As a boy, he went on a retreat to Warwick with his home church. He loved it. As soon as he was old enough, he became a camp counselor and returned for a string of consecutive summers. Later he became a regular summer staffer.

After graduating from college, Cosnett felt a call to ministry and left for seminary. He worked in youth ministry at several churches before coming back to Warwick to serve in his current role. “It’s been a big part of my life,” he says.

Cosnett sees up close the young lives transformed by the camp. He estimates that last summer 750 participants attended Warwick’s day and overnight youth camps and Camp Sunrise, a program for individuals ages 8 to 55 with special needs. (Camp Sunrise has a wintertime weekend counterpart, Camp Snowball.) Because of his role recruiting counselors, Cosnett knows that some of those campers will become counselors themselves.

Another example of fruit from Warwick’s ministry is Alison Barat, director of Camp Sunrise. She was involved in the program as a volunteer and a counselor before she became director three summers ago. During the school year, Barat is a special education teacher in Florida, but she leaves home in summer to come to Warwick for Camp Sunrise and in winter for Camp Snowball.

Ken Tenckinck, executive director, has gotten to see these progressive transformations over and over in his 22 years serving at Warwick. “Certainly Sunrise has made an impact on [Barat],” he says, “and there are other folk who are serving in the church because they discovered God’s call on their life while they were serving as camp counselors.”

Not every counselor at Warwick goes into church ministry, but many do end up in related work. Jill Fenske, pastor of Franklin Reformed Church in Nutley, New Jersey, has served several times as chaplain for Camp Sunrise. She has seen volunteers and staff go on to work with people with disabilities.

Because of the one-on-one relationships at Camp Sunrise, it’s hard to leave without being changed, whether you’re a camper, a staff member, or a volunteer.

“These campers come on an equal footing, being fully involved in all aspects of camp life,” says Fenske. “It’s a normalizing experience for them.” Her own experience as chaplain at Camp Sunrise led Fenske and her congregation to assemble personal care kits for the campers. Some campers come from group homes or institutional settings and don’t always arrive with basic personal care items, so the congregation began providing welcome kits. Last year they made 130 kits.

Not just summer camp

But it’s not just Christians or church groups who experience transformation at Warwick. The center’s serene setting attracts a wide variety of people. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous meet there. The relatively new Mulder Chapel hosts worship, weddings, and memorial services and features banquet space downstairs.

Warwick also hosts the Road Scholar and Leisure Study programs. Road Scholar is a worldwide learning opportunity for adults age 55 and older to explore the arts, literature, history, and other disciplines for a week. As many as 50 people attend each course, led by a guest instructor. The Leisure Study sessions allow people of all ages to learn or practice a skill such as painting or drawing. Together the two programs bring more than a thousand persons to Warwick. Many are “repeat customers.”

“We’ve been able to develop good relationships with people,” says program coordinator Arlene Tenckinck. “They feel comfortable and safe here, and it offers opportunities for discussions of a spiritual nature.”

The diversity of Warwick’s programs and participants allows for interactions that might otherwise be out of the ordinary. For instance, Road Scholar participants crossed paths with youth campers, including those at Camp Sunrise, when the campers made bookmarks and delivered them to the adult class.

“We have an opportunity to welcome a diversity of guests and groups, and among those who come for some programs are agnostics and atheists,” says Ken. “It’s a wonderful way to let people know they are loved and accepted and to experience Christian hospitality…And although some people may not know that at first, they experience it.”

Though the hospitality is experienced in just a week, Cosnett knows that the truest transformation is usually borne out over many years.

“One of the amazing—and at the same time humbling—parts of working in camping ministry is that you don’t often see the transformation as it’s happening. You have to understand and believe and have faith that the Holy Spirit is going to work in youth when you don’t even know it.

“That’s what’s most fulfilling: knowing that people leave here with more than they came with.”

Find out what’s coming up at the Warwick Center.

[Photo courtesy Will Cosnett]

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