Reflecting on Outdoor Ministry

As a member of the Outdoor Ministry Association of the UCC’s board of directors, I had an opportunity to travel to Tower Hill Camp and Retreat Center last week for our annual board meeting. As a person responsible for creating inclusive camp communities, sometimes, I forget how transformational it is to be a part of such a community. Often, those of us who have gone into this work in a year-round or full time capacity don’t get to experience the magical moments that camp creates. As we reflected together on what makes camping ministry transformational and relevant, I got to experience many moments that reminded me of the sacredness of this work and the importance of belonging. And, I was reminded once more how the people of Illinois South Conference have taken part in many big ways in preserving and extending this vital ministry. To name a few:

  1. After COVID-19 shut down camp for more than a year, the people of Illinois South and our Outdoor Ministry Team worked tirelessly with me last year to get to a place where we could reopen for our summer camping season.
  2. We have raised more than $165,000 toward our $225,000 goal for DuBois 6.0. At a time when many churches are choosing not to invest in their camps, we are fixing deferred maintenance, adding capacity, and increasing programming offerings.
  3. Our teams have worked tirelessly to write new health center policies to ensure full compliance with camp standards and best practices.
  4. Each day, we work collectively to build more inclusive practices. We are actively living into our commitments of hospitality, welcome, and inclusion as UCCers.

It is a gift to be a part of a team that sees the value in camping ministry. Thank you for all of the ways you stay involved with DuBois Center and the work of the wider church.

Hayley Elliott, Acting Director of Outdoor Ministry

An Invitation to Volunteer

Many of you have known me my whole life, but allow me to introduce myself. I’m Rylee Hodges-Stone and I grew up at DuBois Center. I’m now serving as Program Director and I’ve spent the off-season months reevaluating, revamping and creating programs. We’re now offering updated versions of popular middle-school specialty camps for high school age campers, we’re bringing some beloved camp themes back out of retirement, and we’re finding every way we can to better utilize our magnificent site with every activity.

Here is a picture of me at DuBois Center as a brand-new half-week camper. I was granted special exception to attend camp a year earlier than my grade level would allow. I begged my pastor, the late Gretchen Sterrett of New Baden Zion UCC, to write a letter explaining that I was the oldest kid in my class, and that I was certainly “mature enough to go.” She cut a deal with me: if I would work the chili and fish dinners to earn my camp scholarship, she’d get me in. I kept up my end of the deal, serving lemonade and helping with dishes at what must have been ten thousand dinners, and she kept up her end and got me into my home, The DuBois Center, just in the nick of time.

From deal-cutting half-weeker to dedicated horse camper to barn assistant to coordinator and now to Program Director, I’ve never lost my drive to serve all the lemonade it takes to get the job done. In this new position of management, I’ve created a goal for my staff: to better utilize staff training time, with a clear focus on establishing relationships, creating a strong love for DuBois Center and learning how to work as a team. This time needs to be spent fully devoted to certifying our staff on the key skills that are required every day of summer session. It’s crucial that we spend this limited time facilitating our staff’s familiarization with the site, the equipment, the job and the team – and maintain the flexibility to adapt to our diverse staff’s needs.

Even after this densely packed training ends, for seven weeks straight our staff members spend an average of 130 of the 168 hours in a week at DuBois Center. This leaves less than 48 hours for all personal needs to be met between sessions – this is a huge ask of every summer staff member and we owe it to them to do all we can to set them up for success. Our staff deserves excellent support because they work hard to create excellent experiences for our campers: summer camp is often the best week of a camper’s entire year.

2020 was not only our first year out of operation in decades, it also marked the departure of Shirley Asmussen, the long-serving director I had known as a camper. With all the chaos, it’s no wonder that many tasks have piled up – and they have piled up higher than our staff can handle without your help. Our summer staff arrive ready to fully commit to facilitating a safe and fun experience for each and every DuBois Center camper – your assistance with these tasks in the coming months means directly supporting our staff’s ability to keep their attention focused on the campers. I am asking for your help. Volunteer assistance with site preparation is needed before we can open for the 2022 Summer Session. 

I’ve scheduled a volunteer day and a volunteer retreat for the spring of 2022:

  • April 23rd – Volunteer Day
  • May 21st – 22nd – overnight Volunteer Retreat

All of the work can be done at an entry-level skill set, no special expertise or tools necessary – if you can push a broom, pull a weed, or dust a cobweb, we need your help! Ready to pitch in?

I love DuBois Center. I loved being a camper, and it means the world to me to be able to welcome new generations of campers, and even second and third generation campers back to our camp for fun, adventure, worship, and growth. We all need each other, and right now we need you. DuBois Center is so unique among area camp facilities for its strong legacy of families, communities and congregations working together to “pay it forward” and keep our doors and arms open.

I invite you to remind yourself why DuBois Center is a part of your life, to be in God’s place and help set up another generation of great camper experiences. Anyone that wants to help DuBois Center is welcome.

Best, DuBois Center Program Director, Rylee Hodges-Stone

Our prayer for 2022

God of Creation,

In this new year we pray that optimism and hope springs forth from winter’s quiet evenings.

We look forward to the laughter of children that is to come on our grounds this year. We look forward to fellowship, discipleship, simplicity, and community.

We pray for Your guidance as we endeavor on new efforts and navigate change.

We also understand the truth written by Meister Eckhart long ago: “God is not found in the soul by adding anything but by subtracting.” May we all find You in a distractible world by taking the time to subtract – distractions, egos, and all that stands in the way of knowing and loving You, and knowing and loving our neighbors on Your earth.

We seek to serve You and to serve others well.

And we pray for all those who come into contact with our ministry this year. May they see You in our work and in our hearts. Amen.

Announcing our Spring 2022 Retreat Dates – Save the dates!

In addition to a confirmation retreat and pastor’s retreat planned in conjunction with teams from the Illinois South Conference, we are happy to be offering the following retreats and opportunities to enjoy DuBois Center this spring. Follow along at our website for more information announced soon!

April 1 – 3, 2022 – Father-Son Retreat

April 9, 2022 and May 15, 2022 – DuBois Center Open House Events

April 15, 2022 – Stations of The Cross at DuBois – Good Friday

April 23, 2022 – Volunteer Workday

April 29 – May 1, 2022 – Women’s Retreat

May 20 – May 22, 2022 – Volunteer Retreat Weekend

We are also finalizing dates for a Spring Horse Retreat, a Green DuBois Stargazing Retreat, and a Green DuBois Nature Photography Retreat. Stay Tuned for more information on all of our exciting spring programming offerings!

DuBois 6.0 Building Faith, Building Capacity, Building For The Next 60 Years

DuBois Center will turn 60 in 2022, marking the year we took ownership of the land. While the first 60 years have been great, she needs some maintenance and expansion to get her ready for the next 60.

This treasure is the heart of the Illinois South Conference, where thousands of campers have experienced God and creation over the past six decades. Some found their calling to ministry there. Others found summer after summer of fun and friendship. Think of the retreats, the worship, the secrets shared and the children’s laughter. So much life has occurred under the rustling leaves at DuBois Center. Now it’s time for us to prepare for the next 60 years, by improving what we have and getting ready for the future.

As of this edition, we have received $6,835 toward the total goal of $225,290. Keep checking this website to see how the thermometer fills up and send your donation to make the improvements possible. It’s our space to bring faith and appreciation of nature to ourselves and the next generations. Here is the information on all areas we will be updating so that you may share with your congregations and friends.

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Become a Midwife for God’s Work

Over the years, a handful of my ministry mentors have encouraged me to think of doing ministry by becoming a midwife. A very good friend of mine started the course of study to be a midwife recently. I’ve had the privilege of learning from her things about this practice of midwifery, which has been around longer than modern means of assisting childbirth.

As a midwife, you are not the one doing all the work, but rather, you get to play a supporting role in new life that is forming. You get to journey alongside a growing family, support them in the months leading up to delivery, and assist in the delivery of new life into the world. After birth, you get to support new parents. Thinking of our ministries through the lens of midwifery allows us to see the truth: God is already at work everywhere; we are merely bringing God’s work into focus.

Sometimes at DuBois Center, this metaphor is blatant. For example, in August, we welcomed two new barn cats from a local shelter. While we were under the assumption that both had been spayed, it turned out that one of them was pregnant. She gave birth to three kittens at some point in the last two weeks. At first, she did not want to let any of us near her or the kittens. With patience and armed with treats, we have been able to help our new cat mom care for new kittens. In this way, we have become evident midwives to new life. In many ways, this is a metaphor for the work that God is already doing at DuBois Center – I have been surprised by the joy and new life at every corner.

While we gear up for what is next in the form of our capital campaign, DuBois 6.0, and chipping away at tasks for our spring and summer seasons, I hope you will join our ministry to bring God’s ongoing work into focus at DuBois Center. On our website, you can learn more about DuBois 6.0 and the projects we are completing. You can contact either me at or our program director, Rylee at for more information on what we are up to and how to be involved on the ground here.

May we all become midwives to the work of God among us.

Blessings, Hayley Elliott, Acting Director of Outdoor Ministry

Welcome Nevada and Sierra

Today we welcomed Nevada and Sierra to our herd.  They were donated to camp by friends of one of our regular horse volunteers.

Nevada is a 19-year-old dun mare.  She has a lovely tan coat with a dorsal stripe and black mane and tail.  Sierra is a 17-year-old paint mare.  They are both very friendly and were excited to explore their new surroundings.

We’re looking forward to having them find their place in our herd and learn the routine at camp.


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Farewell to Thunder

Recently our Horse Committee made the difficult decision that it was time for Thunder to retire from the DuBois herd.  She’s had trouble keeping weight on the last couple years.  She needs to be in a home where she can get more regular feed and attention than we can provide.

Thursday night Thunder headed to her retirement home.  She’ll be joining Magic and a couple more horses with a great family.

Thunder joined our herd in 2007 and has been a camper favorite ever since.  In her early years with us she could be a bit mischievous at times, but was always especially careful when carrying younger campers.

We hope she has a long and wonderful retirement.  She will definitely be missed in our barn.


Why a Window?

Two years ago last week, Sixth Avenue United Church of Christ in Denver, where I directed youth programming, dedicated beautifully restored stained-glass windows. This window restoration project had lasted about a year. We were lucky to get a matching grant from the state’s historical fund in order to preserve these beautiful windows. The work had to be done at the right season, as glass expands and contracts with the weather, and the coloration can change based on the elements to which it is exposed. The money had to be secured up front. This day felt like a big, big celebration for our church family.

And yet, on the day of the dedication, I missed it because I was working with the youth in the fellowship hall instead of being in the sanctuary. I was watching the beautiful fall morning light stream in through unstained, unrestored windows rather than the newly restored stained-glass windows. At first, I had a sense of jealousy of all those in my church who would get to experience worship and the dedication of our restored stained glass.

And then, I realized a bigger truth: I’ve often encountered God in spaces where stained glass would be absurd, such as hiking portions of the Appalachian Trail, listening to a new album from my favorite artists or bands, the moment my wife proposed to me, stargazing at DuBois Center, meeting my cousin’s children. Often, our most sacred moments happen to us outside of the spaces we identify as sacred. God meets us at every window if we give God the opportunity. I remembered in my moment of jealousy what Mary Oliver said of prayer:


“It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.”

And so, two years after this moment that changed the way I perceived what is sacred, DuBois Center has become my new sacred space. We are raising money for new projects and to fix up some of our existing buildings. One of the projects on the list is new windows for Oak Lodge, and new windows for the office. My heart is warmed when I think of our current windows – the gateway to the sacred or a great view of the lake for around 55 years now. However, eventually original windows need updating – whether they are stained glass or not. Replacing these original, single-pane windows in Oak Lodge with double-pane, insulted windows at the same time we update HVAC, our energy efficiency increases greatly, and it will help us lower a high electric bill. The cost of the Oak Lodge Windows is $17,650.00. These windows give us a view into something ordinary that has become sacred to so many over the last 60 years. To contribute money to DuBois 6.0 and help us replace these windows, visit our website. I look forward to the opportunity for many more sacred encounters in Oak Lodge.

Blessings, Hayley Elliott, Acting Director of Outdoor Ministries

Join me for Office Hours

One of the hardest things about starting a new position during a global pandemic has been that I have so far been unable to meet many of the people who support DuBois Center. As such, I will be hosting monthly “office hours” on Zoom the first Thursday of each month from 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm. Please “come by” these virtual office hours and introduce yourself, share an idea for our ministry, or catch up on the many happenings on site!

We had technical difficulties for our September meeting. So, please join me on October 7 for our first gathering at this link.