Staff Blogger: The Rev. Dr. Ned Dewire, Director of Religious Life & Church Outreach

At the end of the summer, I will retire from my position as the Director of Religious Life & Church Outreach.

This is a bittersweet moment for me. Lakeside has graciously received my wife Shirley and me, and we have come to love the spirit of Lakeside. We were privileged to see the idea of The Memorial Garden at Chautauqua Park become a reality and I am thrilled to now see a portable labyrinth at Lakeside, with a more permanent one coming soon. And of course, we cannot forget to mention the life-long friends we have found here.

Within the past decade, both at Lakeside and on a more national scale, the understanding and nature of religion has changed significantly. Within American society, there is a dramatic decrease in attendance at ‘main line churches,’ or churches at all for that matter. A growing number of individuals have been hurt by religious institutions, and trust in organized religion is scarce; ‘spiritual but not religious’ has now become the norm. In an effort to provide the community with relevant spiritual programming, I found myself working to adapt.

Established in 1873, Lakeside is the result of a Methodist Camp Meeting; the programming a decade ago reflected this. When I arrived here, there was a Chaplain of the Week with daily chapel services. I shall never forget the Rev. Dr. Martin Marty, who asked during his time as the Chaplain of the Week, what his chaplain duties would be. There were none! So we changed the title to Preacher of the Week, and the programming became Faith for Living Hour – a time dedicated to the Preacher sharing her/his ideas about how faith informs life.

I have invited women and men preachers, from various Christian denominations, and a variety of theological perspectives.  Some have large church congregations, some are teachers of preachers and some are biblical scholars.  Our international preachers are leaders in their churches and societies.

As for Lakeside’s worship opportunities, the Hoover service has been modernized with a projector, a podium and new music, which even includes a liturgical dance on select Sundays. With the help of the Religious Life Advisory Team, Lakeside added a Sunday evening praise/Vesper service, and Michael Shirtz has rebuilt and expanded the Chautauqua Choir.

Shirtz has also helped to introduce new individuals to Lakeside with the creation of the Chautauqua Choral Festival. Also helping to bring new faces to Lakeside is the Men’s Bible Study group and their work with the Ottawa County United Way TNT program.  Last year we started a Prayer Breakfast, as well as the Generosity & Stewardship Conference, in partnership with the Advancement Department. And during this past winter and spring, I worked with Dakota Harkins, Manager of Operations at the Lakeside Heritage Society, to complete the application to dedicate Lakeside as a United Methodist Church Historic Site, which will be awarded at a ceremony on Sunday, Sept. 2.

Lakeside did already, and continues to, have strong religious programming for children and youth. God Squad and MGM are growing, and the Wednesday Family Picnic continues to be popular. Aside from this, it is my observation that, in general, families are coming to Lakeside for recreation, quality time and evening entertainment. Cottage renovations are increasing and the grounds are as beautiful as they have ever been, but when it comes to religious life programming, there is limited interest for two reasons: 1) the word religion can be off-putting and 2) if there is little participation in religious activities at home, there will be no interest on vacation.

So what is Lakeside to do? At present, the Religious Life Advisory Team is seeking, for a third time, to learn what Lakesiders want regarding religion and spirituality. There is a wide difference between these two terms.  Should the program pillar be spiritual life, rather than religious life?  Some examples of ‘out of the box’ activities seen in other communities and churches include spiritual directors, holistic spiritual wellness programs or meditation.

As the end of my last Lakeside summer draws near, I think that Lakeside Chautauqua is in a very exciting place. I am pleased to see where the religious life programming has come, and I am eager to see where it will go in the next seven years and beyond.

Shirley and I graciously thank you, the entire Lakeside community, for these seven years.