According to your home page, your core values are Radical Acceptance, Unconditional Love, Christian Community, and Experiential Learning.
What do you mean by “Radical Acceptance”?
FINDING COMMON GROUND ON HOLY DIRT
Our policy on inclusion
For years now we have been welcoming everyone to our summer camp and retreats at Glisson, Grow Day Camps, and ELI as a largely unquestioned but wholly intentional and integral part of our ministries. As a shorthand, we’ve referred to it with a phrase gifted to us by a former camper: “Camp is a place where you can wear plaids and stripes together…” Recently we’ve recognized a need to put that welcome into words for clarity’s sake. What follows is the result of that effort.
NGCRM, Inc. programs seek to intentionally include all participants regardless of race, color, age, economic status, creed, religion, theology, national origin or ancestry, sex, disability, genetics, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. We are committed to providing an environment free from discrimination and harassment in compliance with all federal and state laws.
Many of you know experientially: our camp ministries intensely focus on the practice of faithfully living with and loving God and neighbor. By all accounts, this has been the story of Glisson and its siblings ministries since 1925. Beloved for generations as “holy dirt”, we know it’s the common ground of Christian community created at Glisson, ELI, and Grow that has made these experiences uniquely capable of transforming individuals, the church, and beyond.
More than a decade ago, we sought to uncover a set of core values that have been constant throughout Glisson’s storied history. One of those values – radical acceptance – was identified as having been mission-critical for campers to feel the sense of belonging required in order to feel emotionally safe and valued enough to authentically participate in Christian community. We remain committed to serving all the people we’ve always served – and to welcoming and serving all who wish to participate in camp and retreat ministry. Nevertheless, we understand that even after almost 100 years of ministry, the divisiveness all around us in society and, sadly, church, has led some folks to wonder or worry who we are and who is welcome at camp. As we’ve all experienced, a lack of clarity can lead to a lack of trust, and we believe that the trust of the churches and families we serve is the most important asset of our camp ministries.
Capturing the ways we’ve been welcoming campers, retreat guests, and staff in this written Inclusion Policy is our attempt to maintain, and even deepen, the trust relationship we have with camper and retreat families, and with congregations, both United Methodist and the many other denominational partners we have supported for years now. In the process of this writing, we’ve learned that there were questions we hadn’t considered, and therefore hadn’t answered. You’ll find the answers to those questions, and to other questions to which we’ve long had answers, in the FAQs that follow.
It’s our hope that through this written policy we’ve expressed our long-standing approach to practicing our core value of radical acceptance and to capture our ongoing efforts to prayerfully discern how best to align these ministries – these means of grace – with God’s work in the world. The practices of inclusion that inspired this policy have been developed intentionally over many years out of a deep desire to follow the example found in Jesus when he said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14, ESV)
Because we know that putting our established practices into these words of an inclusion policy will generate a variety of questions for people, we wanted to take time to answer those questions as exhaustively as possible. Keep reading for more about how our long-standing camp practices have informed the development of this policy.
How do you train your counselors to enact this inclusion policy?
We start by hiring the best and most diverse summer staff we can, college-aged seasonal staff with the judgment and care to: a) keep campers safe; b) help them belong; c) help them know themselves to be loved and gifted children of God; d) translate this Inclusion Policy into action.
Counselors are accountable to one another and to their supervisors who are on-site 24-hours. We train summer staff about the difference between appropriate conversations with peers and appropriate conversations with children and youth. One of the unique strengths of the camp experience: that campers are exposed to a variety of norms and backgrounds as they get to know their fellow campers. And so our counselors are trained to be aware of and to honor the wide varieties of backgrounds and norms with which campers arrive at camp and to intervene to prevent any invalidation of those norms and understandings which might undermine the relationships campers have with their parents and their congregations. Our goal is that our summer staff guide campers through their encounters with differences in ways that each camper comes to know themself as a beloved child of God. We encourage campers to share their new camp experiences with their families upon their return home.
What protocols do you have to keep summer camp safe – physically, socially, and emotionally – for all campers and staff, especially those who society may be more prone to excluding?
The physical and emotional safety of all our campers and staff is our highest priority. One of the strengths of summer camp is the opportunity it offers to live in Christian community with new people, with new backgrounds, cultures, and ideas. We recognize however, that encounters with differences can evoke unsafe responses, especially when those differences are related to identity, whether it be theological, racial, gender, or even our allegiances to college football! We reiterate the list of standard safety protocols below as a part of our Inclusion Policy FAQs because we recognize that questions and concerns about safety are especially top of mind for parents and campers who society may be more prone to excluding. Please know that safety of campers and staff informs all our operational decisions. We employ the following practices to ensure that staff and campers have neither the proclivity nor the opportunity to cause harm:
- We train all staff and operate according to “Safe Sanctuaries” policies, a nationally-recognized program developed by United Methodists 25 years ago to protect children, youth, and at-risk adults. We recommend the use of Safe Sanctuaries or a similar abuse prevention program for our retreat groups as well.
- We run national background checks on all new and returning staff annually. All staff must provide three references. New applicants’ reference reviews include phone conversations by year-round staff.
- We train and require summer staff to practice the “rule of three”, ensuring that a camper is never alone with another camper or a staff member, but that three always go together.
- For our summer programs we have a 1:6 (2:12) counselor to camper ratio and a ratio of 1:3 supervisory/support staff to counselor ratio for all programs other than Sparrowwood, which has a 1:2 counselor to camper ratio. During summer camp we have an RN and two nursing assistants on site 24-hours. Six full-time, year-round staff members and their families live on site.
- We do not have “free time”, and so there is never a time when a camper is alone or unsupervised.
- Our toilet stalls and shower/changing rooms provide privacy. No one is to disrobe in front of others.
- Campers and staff shower and change at separate times and/or places.
What kinds of issues do you inform parents about?
Parents are called when there is an illness or accident that requires off-site medical care or an overnight stay in the infirmary. We also notify parents of any ongoing and/or significant behavioral issues involving your camper. Campers may be sent home for behaviors that may result in self harm or harm to others, including not eating, refusing to remain with the group, abusive language, and threats. From time to time a camper may disclose thoughts or actions involving self harm, suicidal ideation, or other life-threatening thoughts or behaviors. On disclosure of those or similar issues, for the camper’s protection we will inform the parents of the apparent risk that a camper disclosed, with or without the camper’s consent or participation. While we notify camper families in these ways, we maintain the confidentiality of campers and their families and do not disclose camper information to other campers, families, or even to other family members without approval of the registering parent/guardian. Our camping programs and their employees are mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect under the laws of the State of Georgia and, as such, are trained to recognize and report signs of abuse and neglect.
For even more on how our long-standing camp practices have informed the development of this policy, click the sections below to show more questions and answers. If, having reviewed the content shared on this page, questions or concerns remain, please feel free to contact our Executive Director, C. Russell Davis, at: firstname.lastname@example.org or (706) 864-6181
If camp was established to serve the ministries of the United Methodist Church, how is it theologically inclusive?
We are United Methodist ministries and are firmly grounded in Wesleyan theological understandings. We believe that a crucial component of hospitality and acceptance of others is a clear understanding of our own identity and sharing that identity authentically and unapologetically. For decades we’ve been welcoming campers from a variety of denominational and non-denominational backgrounds, including those with no church home and those who are not Christian. Of well over 3,000 campers we serve in any summer, about 50% are not from United Methodist churches. Our campers and their families tell us they are comfortable with our approach to faith formation because we focus on the practice of Christian faith – loving God and loving neighbor – rather than focusing on a particular theology. We serve communion in the closing worship of our camp week and, in keeping with the tradition of the United Methodist Church, our communion table is open to all. Campers are not pressured or expected to take part in communion at camp, but are welcome at the table, guided by their own beliefs and by their parents. In our retreat season we welcome a variety of faith communities, schools, and nonprofit organizations without regard to their faith and without apology for our Wesleyan Christian tradition or the expressions of it that are a part of the Glisson site. (For more about how this established practice is a part of our inclusion policy and its rationale see: glisson.org/faqs)
How do you determine which pastors will volunteer at camp each summer?
We intentionally recruit our weekly camp pastors, or “Theologians-in-Residence” (TIR), from among our United Methodist ordained and commissioned clergy with a variety of ministry settings and backgrounds who relate well to children and youth, who can help translate faith to action for our campers, and who support the core values of our camping ministries. We work to ensure that a variety of Wesleyan theological leanings are represented in our TIR team each summer. Our TIRs follow the summer curriculum and daily scripture readings, frequently designing and leading worship in collaboration with a living group of campers and their counselors. Their focus is on the practical application of faith, shared from their grounding and training in the Wesleyan theological tradition of the United Methodist Church. (For more about how this established practice is a part of our inclusion policy and its rationale see: glisson.org/faqs)
What is your summer curriculum and what is your theological stance?
We are welcoming of all theological backgrounds. To accomplish this, we focus intentionally and intensely on practicing engaging Christian spirituality and daily faith practices more than teaching specific theological beliefs. We leave theological and doctrinal training to campers’ families and their churches. Our primary theological goal is for campers to have an immersive, guided experience of applying theology in ways that translate to everyday life. Our Theologians-in-Residence (see the “pastor volunteers” FAQ above) are ordained and commissioned United Methodist clergy who are grounded in Wesleyan theology and who can support our core values, including our long-standing value of radical acceptance. We train our counselors to leverage day-to-day situations and conversations in their living groups into opportunities for experiential learning. This means, for example, that they are trained to prioritize asking campers to share their understanding of a particular scripture or what choices they think best follow Jesus’ example in particular situations, rather than to lead with the counselor’s own interpretations and understandings. Our scripturally-based curriculum is developed by the collaborative work of volunteers from a variety of mainline denominations. We use it to inspire questions of how God calls us to live in community with one another and to live out our faith after we return home. (For more about how this established practice is a part of our inclusion policy and its rationale see: glisson.org/faqs)
Do you have to be United Methodist, or can anyone come to camp?
We’ve been inclusive of campers from a variety of denominational backgrounds in our summer programs for decades. In the summer of 2023, 52% of campers were UMC, 15% were non-denominational, 11% had no church affiliation, 8% were Catholic, and the remaining 14% were members of other denominations or religions. And for years we’ve hosted retreat groups in the non-summer months from faith communities, schools, and nonprofits without regard to their members’ faith or religious commitment. (For more about how this established practice is a part of our inclusion policy and its rationale see: glisson.org/faqs)
How do you create an environment that is more inclusive racially and ethnically?
We aspire for our camp experiences to be places of belonging for all God’s people. We believe that until our campers and staff look like all of God’s children, any experiences we create, no matter how loved by our campers, will have fallen short of God’s calling and deep desire for our camping ministries, and for our work to transform the world. We acknowledge that racial and ethnic inclusion has been a challenge for summer camps across the country – one that we have been challenged by as well. Though we work to create environments at Glisson and Grow Day Camps that are emotionally and physically safe for everyone, we all – campers, retreat participants, and staff – bring perceptions and biases into the “camp bubble” that are influenced by a society that struggles with racism. Each year we train our year-round and seasonal staff to be more culturally aware in both broad ways and to notice the assumptions and reactions that they, and others, may have about people of color and how those biases might undercut the inclusion we hope might lead to belonging. We prioritize staff recruitment, working each year with churches and partners at Historically Black Colleges and Universities to recruit counselors of color to be on summer staff. We are committed to continuing to grow in our abilities to recruit and welcome campers of color, and increasing camp enrollment among campers of color gives us hope of one day realizing God’s vision for these camping ministries. (For more about how this established practice is a part of our inclusion policy and its rationale see: glisson.org/faqs)
Are there ways you seek to make space at camp for campers of color?
Each summer for years now we set aside places for campers of color for families that aren’t in the practice of registering for camp and might otherwise be shut out of camp weeks. (Unused reserved spots are released to all campers by May.) In 2023 we entered into a collaboration with United Methodist conference agencies – Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR), Latino Church Development (LCD), Pan-Asian Church Development (PACD), and Committee on Native American Ministries (CONAM) – to connect camper families with “First Time Camper Grants” (funded by a grant we received designated to encourage first time campers of color) for those reserved places. We do this in an effort to overcome historic exclusion of families of color from camping and outdoor opportunities. (For more about how this established practice is a part of our inclusion policy and its rationale see: glisson.org/faqs)
What other work are you doing to increase racial inclusion?
Grow Day Camps started over a decade ago in large part to bring the camp experience to churches and their communities with whom Glisson had no relationship, including churches primarily serving families of color. Grow served as a significant connector of families of color with Glisson’s programs prior to the pandemic, and we continue to seek out new Grow site partnerships with churches whose members are predominately families of color. (For more about how this established practice is a part of our inclusion policy and its rationale see: glisson.org/faqs)
How are campers placed in cabins?
Campers are placed in cabins according to the sex selected during the registration process by their parents or guardian. Though the cabin may or may not fit the camper’s gender identity, we do not allow any camper to select their own cabin or change cabins after their parents have left and the camp session has begun. We want parents of all campers to know that our standards for counselor supervision and cabin practices ensure camper privacy and safety. (For more about how this established practice is a part of our inclusion policy and its rationale see: glisson.org/faqs)
Do you have LGBTQ+ staff members?
We seek to recruit the best and most diverse staff possible. Any applicant who has the judgment, character, and faith to keep campers safe and to help campers understand themselves to be loved and gifted children of God is welcome to serve on our staff. Additionally, staff must be able to actively embody our core values, including our long-standing value of radical acceptance. Because of these understandings, and in accordance with the employment laws of the State of Georgia and the Federal government, an applicant’s employment eligibility is not subject to their sexual orientation or gender identity. (For more about how this established practice is a part of our inclusion policy and its rationale see: glisson.org/faqs)
Do you have campers or staff share pronouns?
We strive to relate to all campers in ways that make them feel accepted and safe, including calling campers by their requested name and pronouns. We do not proactively ask for or suggest that campers consider their pronoun choice, but welcome that information if it’s offered. (For more about how this established practice is a part of our inclusion policy and its rationale see: glisson.org/faqs)
What happens if a camper “comes out” at camp?
We train counselors to manage conversations with and between campers – of which they are a part or of which they overhear – in ways that care for the emotional safety of those sharing and of those listening, and to monitor for appropriateness, oversharing, exclusion, and tone. Because we do not consider a camper’s gender identity or sexual orientation in and of themselves to be a risk to either the camper or their cabinmates, we do not notify the camper’s parents or the parents of their cabin mates of any camper’s sexual orientation or gender identity. (For more, see “What kinds of issues do you inform parents about?” in the FAQs above.)
How do you determine which campers with disabilities and medical conditions can attend?
We have a deep desire to include all campers in the programs at Glisson and Grow Day Camps. Our Sparrowwood program at Glisson was established in the 1970’s for campers whose needs can be better served in a more specialized setting. Sparrowwood assists us with our inclusion goal, broadening our ability to welcome campers across a larger range of neurodivergence and developmental disability than we would be capable of serving in its absence. Staff skill, training, and site topography are factors that affect our ability to safely include all campers. For the reasons that follow, we make decisions on our ability to welcome campers with disabilities and medical conditions on a case by case basis, relying heavily on information provided by parents/guardians.
While deeply committed to the care of our campers, our college-aged seasonal staff may not have the professional training necessary to safely care for campers:
a) who are unable to manage their own feeding, personal care, and hygiene,
b) who may need substantial behavioral support or physical restraint from time to time,
c) or whose medical conditions are either acute or require greater nursing-level support.
The topography of Glisson, and of many of our Grow Day Camp sites, requires campers to have a level of mobility and stability that some campers with physical disabilities may not possess. Our Glisson site, in the southern tip of the Appalachian mountains, has over 350 feet of elevation change on over 380 acres. Elevation changes over 50 vertical feet between our main buildings in the center of camp.
We are most able to safely welcome campers with mild to moderate developmental disabilities in our Sparrowwood program, and work with Sparrowwood campers as they age to accommodate their physical challenges as long as we can safely do so.
Our year-round team is glad to assist families during pre-camp registration with questions about which of our summer programs might best suit the particular needs of their campers. (For more about how this established practice is a part of our inclusion policy and its rationale see: glisson.org/faqs)
If it’s a separate program, how is Sparrowwood included?
While a separate program for purposes of caring for the medical, physical, and cognitive needs of campers, Sparrowwood campers and their counselors join Glisson Village and Outpost living groups for activities at various times throughout the week. The friendships built across differences are meaningful to all campers, with the development of understanding and awareness that lasts a lifetime. (For more about how this established practice is a part of our inclusion policy and its rationale see: glisson.org/faqs)
What about including folks with disabilities with retreat groups?
Glisson’s topography is the same for retreats as it is for camp, with over 350 feet of elevation change on over our 380 acres and elevation changes over 50 vertical feet between our main buildings in the center of camp. We have some lodging facilities available that accommodate physical disabilities, so we urge retreat leaders to reserve those for groups that include participants with physical disabilities. During retreat season each group is responsible for its own medical care/personnel, including first aid. We are glad to advise and support retreat groups that may have capacity to bring volunteers to assist participants with mobility, cognitive, or behavioral support needs. (For more about how this established practice is a part of our inclusion policy and its rationale see: glisson.org/faqs)
If, having reviewed the content shared on this page, questions or concerns remain, please feel free to contact our Executive Director, C. Russell Davis, at: email@example.com or (706) 864-6181