Longtime Northern Pines Camp Director, Rev. Bob Ford—who for almost 16 years has helped people of all ages experience Christ and creation—plans to retire from active ministry and will leave his position in fall 2015.
Ford, a full elder within the Minnesota Conference, began his role in 1999 after serving in a variety of other appointments throughout Minnesota. Since then, he has provided consistent and solid management of Northern Pines and has welcomed tens of thousands of people to camp. Northern Pines, located in Park Rapids, hosted about 4,000 campers and retreat guests in 2014.
Under Ford’s leadership, Northern Pines has undergone multiple building projects that have strengthened its offerings—including a new dining hall and year-round lodge. Ford also implemented new programs and activities for campers of all ages; Northern Pines is set to break ground on a family friendly youth cabin in fall 2015.
Ford, who’s still contemplating exactly what’s next, said his time at Northern Pines has been impactful and rewarding.
“What I’ve enjoyed the very most is connecting with the campers,” he said. “God has been so real and so present to us up here at Northern Pines Camp . . . I’ve seen campers experience God firsthand, whether it’s in a chapel service, a commitment service, or around a campfire.”
When Ford reflects on his ministry at Northern Pines, there are a few experiences that immediately come to mind. One is a commitment service when a group of junior high students were overcome with emotion after experiencing God’s love at camp—some for the first time in their lives. Another is a campfire Communion service with a group of elementary school kids, who provided an opportunity for him to lead a deeply meaningful discussion after asking questions about topics ranging from creation and evolution to how Christ is present during Communion; the service lasted two-and-a-half hours, and students were fully engaged throughout the whole thing.
Ford said it’s been particularly rewarding seeing some campers return year after year and grow in their faith through each camp experience; in fact, some former campers are now young adults who bring their own children to camp, wanting to provide the next generation with the same faith-shaping experience that meant so much to them. One young man in his 20s who has been coming to Northern Pines since he was in elementary school says camp has been the strongest influence in his life. His is one of countless stories of lives changed at camp.
“What an impact Bob has had on Northern Pines Camp and the Minnesota Annual Conference,” said Keith Shew, the Minnesota Conference’s director of camping and retreats. “If you’ve had an opportunity to spend any time with Bob, you know how much Northern Pines and outdoor ministries mean to him. I have been truly humbled to work alongside Bob and am very appreciative of his dedication and heart for changing lives through camp and retreats.”
A celebration of Ford’s ministry will take place at Northern Pines later this year, on a date yet to be determined. People throughout the Minnesota Conference will be invited to join the Camp and Retreat Board in expressing thanks to Ford for his many years of service and dedication to young people.
This spring, the Minnesota Conference will begin a national search to find Ford’s successor. The job posting and information about how to apply will be available on the conference and Camp Minnesota websites when it becomes available.
Ford said Northern Pines’ vision is to be an ideal setting in which to experience God. As he leaves his position, it is with the hope and the confidence that Northern Pines will continue to live faithfully into that vision.
“God works so powerfully at camps because, when campers come, it’s a time when God has a chance to begin to reach them and work in their life without all this other activity going on,” said Ford. “I really believe that God has chosen camps to reach out and connect with people and to tell them ‘I’m here and I love you and I want to be in a relationship with you and I’ve offered that to you through Jesus.’”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.