As a rising 3rd grader, Mandy’s friend Jenny invited her to spend a half-week at Camp Wesley Woods. Mandy said, “those first 48 hours here, I completely fell in love.” She even got bit by crawdad during a hike, but still thought Camp Wesley Woods was wonderful.
The next summer, Mandy returned for her first full week of summer camp. She was excited for Camp, but when her first night hike approached, she lost her cool a little bit. Though she was nervous for this first trek through the woods in the dark, she heard her first barred owl on that hike, and learned that she could trust the world around her. “People make the world scary,” she said, “the world itself is not scary. God made it and called it good.”
The very next day, she had to test this new trust she’d developed: It was time for her group’s campout. “I didn’t want to,” Mandy said. “There was just something about it that seemed very unsettling and unnerving to me.” As they were preparing to leave, a thunderstorm rolled in. “I was just flat out terrified,” she said. “But my counselor talked me down and reminded me that they would never do anything that was unsafe, that in fact it’s kind of cool when it rains on your campout, because you’re just in the middle of it.” After this conversation with her caring counselor, Mandy picked up her pillow and her sleeping bag, and admitted that camping out in the rain was indeed wonderful.
After that, Mandy said she just never stopped coming to Camp Wesley Woods. She would show up every year and wave to all of the familiar faces. She was a camper for 7 years before taking one summer off, and then she returned to camp as a support staff member. That summer, Mandy received her call to ministry.
Mandy learned to play her guitar quickly, and that summer started working for Camp Wesley Woods. She said, “When I got here, I think the combination of just being so glad to be in this place, so relieved to have gotten the job, so overwhelmed with how many friends I’d made so quickly, I felt more blessed and grateful than I knew how to say. Right about the third week of camp, the MIR for that week, at Morning Watch, sent us out and said, ‘Just take three minutes. Go sit beside the creek; find a spot alone; don’t throw rocks; and pray.’ ”
As she sat by the creek that she had spent so much time beside as a camper, she felt overwhelmingly blessed. Mandy felt compelled to find a way to maintain a connection to Camp Wesley Woods, and she found herself asking hypothetical questions. She tried to picture herself as the Camp Director, which she quickly realized was not her calling. She then wondered about being the MIR, an idea that she had a hard time grasping, as she’d never seen a female pastor or a female MIR.
“My brain, which I suppose is God’s voice, and the way that God’s voice works, said ‘You know, you could do counseling, and that’s ministry,’” Mandy said. She then thought of the woman who ran the Christian counseling center at her home church, Bearden United Methodist in Knoxville, and realized that Christian Counseling was an option for a vocation, and could open the door for her to come back to Wesley Woods as the MIR. “That very brief conversation with God was my call to ministry.”
When Mandy finally returned to Camp Wesley Woods this summer as a MIR, she was fulfilling the dream God placed in her heart by the creek bed that morning.
Mandy earned a degree in psychology and Christian thought from Oglethorpe, then attended seminary and pursued a degree in Christian Counseling. Eventually, she found herself serving a church for a 10-week summer appointment, and she discovered that all of her passions came into play as she served as a pastor and planned worship. That summer, the calling she felt 8 years earlier on the banks of the creek at Camp Wesley Woods suddenly made sense.
Two years ago, Mandy was ordained as an elder in full connection in the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church, and she currently serves as an associate pastor at Saint Mark United Methodist in Midtown Atlanta.
In October 2011, Mandy returned to Camp Wesley Woods with the youth group from Saint Mark, and she said the experience was “completely like being back home.” She said, “The magic and mystery of it was still here. Which, having not been back for a while was so exciting; that the Holy Spirit had not left this place…The Spirit is here. It is very vital, and very active, and very beautiful, and very palpable.”
As Mandy served as a MIR, she was struck by how sharp & engaged the campers were. “They’re getting it, and not just from here. But clearly, you can see how powerful God’s love is because of how willingly and how openly and how carefree they are to speak about their faith. And it’s still fun. All the things that I remember were fun and exciting are still fun an exciting.”
When campers leave Camp Wesley Woods, Mandy hopes that they take with them the knowledge and experience that it is easy to fall in love with God. “Because God is so present. I hope that campers are able to remember that God’s love goes with them when they leave, and that God’s presence is not just in this place, but is everywhere they may go.”