Rev. TJ Mack is a new member of the Pilgrim Lodge Leadership Team, a counselor for Middler Spirit, and the minister of Union Congregational Church of Hancock, UCC. Director Liz had the opportunity to ask her some questions about camp this winter.
How did you find out about Pilgrim Lodge?
I knew about Pilgrim Lodge for almost 20 years before I experienced it for myself. Once I became a minister, I was finally able to spend time at Pilgrim Lodge as part of my job! My first time at Pilgrim Lodge was for Day Passes in 2021. In 2022 I had the privilege of being a camp counselor for Middler Spirit and also participated in the Women’s Fall Weekend with some of my Hancock congregants.
Why do you believe in what we’re doing at Pilgrim Lodge?
Nature and God are synonymous in so many ways. Getting away from routines and responsibilities and surrendering to the rhythms of camp life bring me closer to God. I believe that everyone should have that same opportunity to experience God in nature for themselves. I am grateful for all the staff and volunteers that make PL a safe and welcoming space for people of all ages to experience wholeness, unity, oneness with Creation and Creator. And to meet new friends and to have a lot of fun!
What were your earliest camping experiences?
During grade school years my siblings and I slept outside under our picnic table with blankets draped over the table and benches for shelter. Later we graduated to tents and sleeping bags but those earliest memories are my favorites. Remembering the taste and smell and texture of breathing the night air, gazing up into the starry sky, falling asleep to the symphony of crickets, and waking to the morning light (and the cows mooing in the pasture across the road) still bring joy to my heart.
Some years later my neighbors included me on their family camping excursions to area (south-central Wisconsin) state and county campgrounds where we swam and paddled their canoe and fished and hiked all day and sat around the campfire at night telling stories and singing songs and eating s’mores. Hey… no wonder I love Pilgrim Lodge! It feels like home!
As adults, my spouse Pat and I took a hiatus from our jobs in 1994-95 and spent 1-1/2 years traveling and work-camping in a Class A motorhome (we drove our house everywhere). We covered most of the United States in that time. Our most memorable campground jobs were in Coloma, California (an outdoor, overnight, 5th grade state sponsored curriculum on the North Fork of the American River) and on Mount Desert Island (then Barcadia Campground, now KOA). During those campground stays we made friends over the course of 2-3 months that have remained friends for life. The memories of those experiences and those people sustain decades later. Again… why Pilgrim Lodge
Do you have a favorite memory from your time at camp?
Middler Spirit. The whole week! The energy of the young people was uplifting. My time as a counselor was rich beyond any expectation.
- Witnessing friendships come alive
- Seeing trust emerge among those who only days before were strangers
- Enabling confidence gained through independence and acceptance
I am looking forward to Middler Spirit 2023 as much, or more, than the Middlers!
Why did you decide to accept the invitation to serve on the Pilgrim Lodge Leadership Team?
I jumped at the opportunity because I love the concept of Outdoor Ministries. Being outdoors is where I find God so Pilgrim Lodge is an incredibly important program to me. This is where my heart is. I want to help ensure that PL is here for our next generations.
When you’re at camp, what is your favorite place to be?
The chapel. I love that space.
As we transition into spring, do you have any recommending reading for us?
A friend introduced me to author Richard Powers this winter. His writing is always provocative, sometimes disturbing, and feels oh, so necessary in this world we live in. If there is a genre called environmental ethics fiction, this would be it. Through his stories Richard Powers opens our eyes to the fragile beauty of our planet and her people. His three books that I have read to date: Bewilderment, The Echo Maker, and The Overstory.
What is your favorite ice cream at Pilgrim Lodge?