BY MELISSA LAUBER
More than 200 United Methodists breathed life into the dining hall at West River Camping and Retreat Center Nov. 14 in a consecration ritual that claimed the new facility as holy space.
Echoing God, who breathed life into Adam at creation, those present joined Bishop John R. Schol in three large exhalations, blowing the creative spirit of God, the renewing power of Christ and the profound purpose of the Holy Spirit into the space.
The center, whose large picture windows look out over the scenic West River near Annapolis, represents the fulfillment of a longtime dream, said Andy Thornton, director of the Baltimore- Washington Conference’s Camping and Retreat Ministry.
Thornton joked about getting up that morning, looking at the sky and seeing, in a perfect V-formation, pigs flying over the dining hall. He thanked the 84 groups and more than 250 individuals who contributed to the raising of the $4.5 million needed for the project and those who put hearts and hands to block, brick and concrete to make the building rise.
The new 10,000 square-foot building, designed by William Doggett Architects and built by Turner Construction over the past year, seats 210 people, as opposed to the 160 that fit in the old dining hall, which will be remodeled into much needed meeting space.
The hall is named in memory of Ethel C. Rider, a member of Mt. Vernon Place UMC in Baltimore, who left a portion of her estate to benefit the clergy and laity of The United Methodist Church.
The commons dining area inside is named in memory of Dorothy Louise Ordwein, who is known as "the grandmother of camping" in the Baltimore-Washington Conference for her efforts to create a summer camp program in the 1940s and her tireless support of camps throughout the years.
A large meeting space in the north end of the dining hall was named in honor of Sally Ransom Knecht, a member of Towson UMC, who has a passion for young people and served as a summer camp nurse at West River for many years.
Most of those present agreed with the sentiments of the Rev. Deborah Scott, former chair of the conference board of trustees, who applauded the conference for its willingness to invest, in the midst of our often chaotic complicated culture, in camping, which "provides an opportunity to people to find that still, quiet place where they can encounter God."
Camp is a place where people are transformed in any number of ways, said the Rev. Ed DeLong, chair of the Growing to Serve Capital Campaign. But they especially grow when they come for fellowship to a table where God is host.
It is the Holy Spirit that transforms our common spaces into places of divine encounters, said the bishop, who asked people to remember the Upper Room, a simple unadorned dining center, where Jesus ate a last meal that would come to feed generations of people for a lifetime.
"Come let the feasting begin," Bishop Schol said. "Let the savoring begin, the lingering, the tasting, the growing and the renewing. Let it begin."
For more information on how your church can use West River as a setting for a retreat experience, visit http://www.bwcumc.org/microsites/e/camping/ or call 800-922-6795.