September 12, 2023
Some 240 campers, volunteers, deans, clergy, past and present staff, and friends headed to Winthrop, ME, to gather under the cathedral trees and celebrate Camp Mechuwana’s 75th anniversary.
“People from all walks of life, as soon as we drive down that road, we get that sense of community, that sense of love that we find here, and that’s what makes Mechuwana so special,” said Site Committee Chair Amy Story as she welcomed everyone to the anniversary worship service on Sunday, Sept. 10.
It was a day for reminiscing, reuniting with old friends, and offering gratitude for a beloved place that has welcomed and shaped the lives of so many.
The worship service included “Mechuwana Minutes” during which folks shared their thoughts about what makes this camp so special. Here are a few:
Rev. Joan DeSanctis
“My heart is full of love for this place,” she said. “For me, it simply manifests God’s love in every way.”
Quoting a former camper she said, “’Mechuwana is just like Christmas’… a gift from God that can change your life forever.”
Bishop Peggy A. Johnson
The bishop said the most important words she could offer were those of thanks.
“You have changed lives. You have brought people to Christ,” she said. “I can’t think of anything more important than camping ministry in the life of the church, right now or ever, because you light up the world for young people, old people, and everybody in between with the love of Jesus in Christian community in the beauty of nature.”
“When people mention Mechuwana, our hearts of flooded with images of love, which include thousands of smiling faces, hundreds of campfires, and many, many, many encounters with God.”
“I could recount for hours the way Mechuwana has completely changed the trajectory of my life,” said Roddy, who has been both a camper and a staffer. “… Truly, it was the first place I had experienced people seeing me for who I really was and the gifts that God had given me … I very much felt seen by the people here. There were so many outcasts, if you will, but we all came together and really saw each other.”
Merrill who was among the first campers at Mechuwana said, “May the vision of our forefathers, who were wise enough to invest in this beautiful place, now 75 years ago … carry on for many generations to come, demonstrating beneath these cathedral trees the love and goodness of our heavenly Father in this place of beauty and peace.”
Bishop Cliff Ives
“Mechuwana is home for me,” he said. “It’s holy ground for me.”
Executive Director Norm Thombs admitted the list of people who deserve recognition and thanks is a long one, but “one person kept coming up over and over again;” someone who, Thombs said, “was so impactful for so many campers over the years.”
A plaque was presented to long-time counselor David Swett, “for all your years of service and dedication to this place. On our 75th anniversary recognize you for everything you’ve done for us. We thank you so much.”
Announcing the award, Thombs said, “We take campers a lot places don’t take,” and they last the whole week rather than being sent home after a couple days.
Thombs said Swett would take on the most difficult campers or groups of campers. “I have seen [him] transform that kid by Tuesday,” Thombs said. “And he didn’t do that just one time; he’s done that continuously over 40-50 years … Those people left camp truly changed.”
While the day focused on fond memories, there were some new developments to celebrate as well.
The recently completed arts and crafts building was already in use this summer. The new location, which was funded in part with grants from the denomination’s camping ministry, is larger and has bathrooms, more storage, and heating/AC.
The former arts and crafts building will become a library. There are no books in there yet, but the space features some new stained-glass windows created by Thombs and campers (see photos in the gallery at right).
In his remarks, Thombs spoke of the profound impact COVID-19 had on camps. “We have been changed by forces none of us has ever experienced,” he said, acknowledging that many camps that closed during the pandemic have never reopened.
That was not the case at Mechuwana; not only has the camp re-opened, it never really shut down. During the pandemic, the camp operated a feeding program that eventually reached across central Maine.
A group of Mechuwana staffers — including college students sent home from their campuses and his sons, quarantined at the camp to run the program.
“When it was all said and done, that group of young people, who lived here for almost five months, produced more than 75,000 breakfasts and 75,000 lunches; 150,000 containers of milk,” Thombs said.
“Seven days a week for months, it was not easy, but that group did it. And in the true trait of this place, they still think it was no big deal,” he said. “… I think part of why they thought it was no big deal is that it was all done here, a place where they had grown up seeing and experiencing things that are so commonplace to us but truly unbelievable to others.”
Recalling the remarks Bishop Ives offered at the camp’s 50th anniversary celebration, Thombs said:
“You told us that you knew [the adults, who you knew so well, who made this place possible], would be so proud of how well we’ve taken care of this place, this tremendous gift they gave us. And you also said that they would be so happy to feel the love we have for this place that they also loved. We were, in fact, a continuation of their dream, you said.”
“I think our message today, 25 years later, is that we must never take this place for granted,” Thombs said. “We must continue to support Mechuwana through our gifts and our prayers. That is the only way that we are going to survive. I believe the next 25 years may be a real challenge in that regard, but the people who love this place have never backed down from a challenge before.”