Camping, Planting, Diversity – Keys to Midsouth Growth

Post a Comment » Written on August 14th, 2008     
Filed under: News
NORMAN, OK (August 14, 2008) – Editor’s note: The following is based on an interview conducted by Don Meyer with Nancy Dieckow during the Midsouth Conference Annual Meeting earlier this year.

Anyone who is familiar with the Midsouth Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church has encountered one name in particular – Nancy Dieckow, a member of the conference board and an individual who is credited by some as the author of the conference camping program.

A nurse by profession, she completed training at Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago in 1960 and now lives in San Antonio, Texas. She not only has played a central role in the birth and development of the conference camping program, but also has been active in church planting, having been involved with the conference from its beginnings as the Midsouth Region.

The former Midsouth Region was looking for a location to house a new camping program it wanted to start some 20 years ago, Dieckow explains, and focused on a Christian camp called Frontier Camp, located about halfway between Dallas and Houston, where the region hoped to rent space. Frontier operates its own camping ministry, but rents the facility for a couple of weeks each summer.

“It still makes me cry when I think about it.”

“I’d had previous camping experience,” Dieckow notes. “Jules Glanzer was pastor of one of the early churches and they asked him to get the camp rolling – and he asked me to be a part of it, because he knew I had a background in camping. There were like four of us on the camping board.

“We went out to look at it in the pouring rain and decided if it looked good then, then it was good enough for us,” Dieckow recalls. “We had to guarantee a certain number of people, and with our little churches (about a half dozen), we didn’t have quite that many. So, we had to pay for them anyway – we had 13 spots that we were short, so we called down to one of the Hispanic churches in the valley and asked if they had any kids they wanted to send to camp – we knew they couldn’t afford it. They sent 13 in the back of a pickup (eight-hour drive in the middle of summer) with little bags full of their belongings. It still makes me cry when I think about it.”

“But, that was the beginning of the camp” (the first camping experience was offered in 1988).

When thinking about the camp today and the influence it has had on lives, Dieckow says the most significant thing is watching the kids grow through the years – and the number of kids. “We started out offering camping to kids going into the second grade up through the ninth grade. We divided them into three groups. A few years later we started a counselor-in-leadership-training program for the high school kids.” The two-year leadership training program in year one offers leadership classes, Bible study planning and means of sharing the gospel with small children. In the second year, the students apprentice with a counselor.

“So, we’ve now watched some of our kids start as second graders and go all the way through camp, go through the training program and come back as staff. The camp can’t take credit for all of it – the churches play a big role – but the camp gives kids an opportunity to get away and really look at their life as a Christian.”

She also has been instrumental in encouraging church planting within the conference, having been intimately involved in two major efforts over the years. The first was the former Champions Covenant – now known as Hope Covenant – in San Antonio. “When they got ready to start Faith Covenant, Jules asked me to be a part of that. So Paul Lessard, Jules and myself started with Friday night family night in a hotel. We did stuff together, and then we’d break off – Paul took the teenagers, I took the kids and Jules took the adults. And that was the beginning of Faith.”

Diversity: “To me, that’s a big unifying factor in the conference.”

When asked what words she would use to define/describe the Midsouth Conference to someone not familiar with it, the word “diversity” was the first to come to mind. “There are small churches, there are large churches, there are Hispanic churches, there are African-American churches – we’re now getting some Asian churches. Everyone has their own style of worship and ministries – nobody is competing with anybody. The small churches are just as accepted as the big churches. To me, that’s a big unifying factor in the conference. The fact that we’re all new also makes a difference – everyone’s on that cutting edge of wondering what we will look like in 25 years. That’s a freeing thing because there is no one out there saying this is what we have to look like.”

What was the impact of the change from a region to a conference? “It brought a little more local leadership when we were able to have our own superintendent rather than having someone from Chicago who already is wearing 10 hats come down and try to help us move on. That’s been a big help. While we had good guidance as to where we were going, I think there’s more ownership once you become a conference. “

And what of future plans? “Right now, we have a lot of smaller churches and they kind of have to get their feet grounded. I think some of the big churches have a good vision of where they’re going and what they’re going to do. And, we keep planting new churches – and that’s exciting too – but we have to help them grow and get to a point where they are mature and able to focus on their own ministries and beyond just getting the church started.”

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