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  • Writer's pictureJohn Michael Spelman

Drafting Aldersgate's Inclusion Policy

Since our founding in 1945, Aldersgate Camp and Retreat Center has had a global focus and sought to be an inclusive, safe, brave, and sacred space for all. Our commitment to inclusion is rooted in the scriptural teachings that emphasize every individual's inherent worth and dignity. Embracing diversity, including LGBTQ individuals, people of different races, various socioeconomic statuses, and varying abilities, aligns with the biblical principles of treating others as we would like to be treated, acknowledging that we are all created in the image of God.

Thanks to the leadership of our bishop, the Aldersgate board felt confident taking a bold stance and making a public statement. Addressing the crucial need for camps to foster inclusivity, Bishop Peggy Johnson, Resident Bishop of the New England Annual Conference, remarked, “It is so vitally important that our camping ministries are welcoming to all people, including the LGBTQIA+ community. It is the very heart of Christ to love and accept those who are marginalized. The giftedness of these communities makes us whole.” This fundamental belief drove us to take concrete steps toward ensuring inclusivity, which is not just a buzzword but a lived reality in our camp's practices.

Over the past several months, we embarked on a journey to develop a comprehensive inclusion policy that reflects our core values and principles. It was a process that required dedication, collaboration, and, above all, an unwavering commitment to creating a safe and supportive environment for everyone who walks through our doors.

The first crucial step in this journey was education. We recognized the importance of equipping our board members with the knowledge and understanding necessary to engage in meaningful discussions about inclusion. To that end, we devoted large sections of multiple board meetings to education sessions, where we delved into topics such as diversity, equity, and inclusion. These sessions provided a foundation for building our policy and ensured that every board member was equipped to contribute meaningfully to the process.

Board Chair, Dave Burke, commented, “I was on the board when we created the mission statement. It was a no-brainer to say that we wanted to create a safe space for ALL. For me, the educational sessions redefined and refocused the word ALL. The complexity and depth of the queer community cannot be understated, and the main message I learned from these sessions is that each person is unique and may have their own definition of a safe space. Saying we offer a safe space for ALL is no small statement, and the board needs to stay in touch with the needs of our campers and families in order to improve our policies, procedures, and facilities.” 

Following the education sessions, we formed a dedicated task group comprised of board members and camp staff. Rev. Alicia Velez Stewart, board member and camp chaplain, remarked about her membership in the group, “As camp chaplain, I understand Camp Aldersgate to be a sacred place where all of God's beloveds are welcome. Affirming the sacred worth and acknowledging each camper's identity and dignity with an official statement was necessary and much needed. We live in a world where our campers and their parents often receive messages to the contrary. I wanted to be part of the team creating language and policy that reflected the work Camp Aldersgate has been doing and will continue to do as we grow into our newly adopted statement.” 

This group was tasked with drafting the inclusion policy, drawing upon the insights gained from the education sessions and their own diverse perspectives and experiences. The task group worked tirelessly over three meetings to craft a policy that articulated our commitment to inclusion and provided actionable steps for implementation. Every word was carefully chosen, every clause meticulously debated, with the overarching goal of creating a document that would serve as a beacon of inclusivity for years to come.

It was important for us to include the language drafted by Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN). As the leading voice for affirming United Methodists, RMN’s statement served as a launching off point for drafting the language specific to Aldersgate. My formalizing our commitment to inclusivity and affiliating with RMN, it is a visible sign to families, volunteers, and alumni that we have taken steps towards inclusivity and publicly announcing our commitment to inclusivity. 

Once the draft policy was complete, it was brought before the board for review and approval. This final step ensured that every board member had the opportunity to weigh in on the policy and lend their support to its adoption.

During the meeting, board member Karen Pehrson evoked Aldersgate's rich legacy of social justice, tracing back to its inception in 1945. She meticulously cataloged the myriad initiatives spearheaded by staff, volunteers, and campers throughout Aldersgate's 78 years of ministry. Of our latest undertaking, Karen remarks, “The policy is important because it states our intention and our desire to make everyone feel welcome and know they are part of a community that loves and respects each other. At the same time, the policy sets an expectation that must be met. It’s not enough to say, ‘Everyone is welcome.’ We must show our inclusivity through our policies and actions.”

Today, as we proudly affirm our inclusion policy, we do so with a renewed sense of purpose and determination. We understand that our work is far from over, and true inclusivity requires ongoing effort and vigilance. In the words of Board Chair Dave Burke, "This policy is dynamic, meant to evolve through regular review and updates. I suspect that as more and more people read this policy and provide feedback, numerous revisions will be made going forward. Saying we offer a safe space for ALL is no small statement, and the board needs to stay in touch with the needs of our campers and families in order to improve our policies, procedures, and facilities.”

As we continue on this journey, we do so with the knowledge that we are guided by our shared values and fueled by our collective commitment to creating a camp community where all are welcome, valued, and celebrated.


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