Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mar-Lu-Ridge welcomes new director, new vision

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As the new director of a nearly 50-year-old camp in Jefferson, Derrick Trautman said he has to find a way to make Mar-Lu-Ridge faithful to its Lutheran-Christian message, but relevant to today’s society.

The challenge is one that many local and national faith communities and churches share as they struggle to attract and retain young adults in a changing world, Trautman noted.

In a survey published in February by the Pew Research Center, nearly one-quarter of Americans said they abandon the faith of their childhood in favor of another faith or no religion at all.

Trautman assumed the directorship of Mar-Lu-Ridge in January. One way he wants to make Mar-Lu-Ridge relevant is to embrace the use of computers, instant messaging and blogs for children and adults to communicate with other Lutheran communities and camps across the country.

Mar-Lu-Ridge, which takes its name from ‘‘Maryland Lutheran,” is a year-round outdoor ministry camp and retreat center for children and adults of all ages. Built in 1959, the camp sits atop Catoctin Mountain and is a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

Mar-Lu-Ridge attracts more than 600 children each summer for day-, week- and two-week long camp programs, Trautman said, and faith is infused in nearly every activity.

‘‘We try to live it here and I think that’s the value of outdoor ministry,” Trautman said from his office at Mar-Lu-Ridge. Outdoor ministry is faith in action or the ‘‘A-ha!” moment of understanding, he added.

‘‘We’re the church’s lab. It’s one thing to talk about [faith], it’s another thing to experience it in action,” he said.

Outdoor ministries such as Mar-Lu-Ridge build upon the foundations set during hour-long church services, Trautman explained, and ultimately help local churches grow.

The Rev. Dave Oravec, pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Frederick, said his congregation encourages parents and grandparents to send their children to Mar-Lu-Ridge and offers scholarship assistance for that purpose.

Oravec said he used to serve as a ‘‘camp pastor” at Mar-Lu-Ridge for a week during the summer and would take his children with him.

His children later attended Mar-Lu-Ridge camp when they were old enough, and Oravec said he still stops by Mar-Lu-Ridge in the summer to say ‘‘hi” to the campers from the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

He said that the value of outdoor ministry is not lost on the church’s members.

‘‘It’s one of the most effective tools in the life of the church to help young people understand the grace of God in their lives,” Oravec said. ‘‘It happens in a beautiful setting as kids are having fun, and I hear over and over again how outdoor ministry changes people’s lives.”

Trautman, a Vienna ,Va., native and father of two young children, said his own involvement in a high school youth group and job as camp counselor challenged him to put his faith in action and to explain it to others.

He later pursued degrees in education and outdoor ministries and became the director of Lutheran camps in Virginia, at Florida State University, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Trautman said he knew of Mar-Lu-Ridge camp before and liked its convenient location between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and two-hour drive to his family.

The diversity of churches in Frederick County– from urban to rural, to large and small, to growing and declining – also attracted him back to the mid-Atlantic area.

Trautman said his role as director is to support Mar-Lu-Ridge’s counselors and staff to carry out the camp’s mission. He only hires college students as counselors because of the wisdom and maturity that comes with a year or two of college, he said.

Mar-Lu-Ridge has also started a capital improvement plan to expand its facilities, which includes demolishing the existing dining hall and rebuilding it as a conference room and banquet hall.

The dining hall’s location has dramatic views of the Potomac River and will eventually be equipped with wireless Internet access, Trautman said.