By Pat Shea
On the shores of Lake George, within New York State’s Adirondack Park, is a 700-acre waterfront campus known as Silver Bay YMCA. The 116-year old retreat and conference center is used for many events from retreats to weddings to family reunions and vacations, but from September through June, it becomes a restful destination for those in ministry.
The Silver Bay YMCA Pastoral Respite Ministry is coordinated by Reverend Dr. Garth Allen. Pastors and those who are involved in active ministry such as clergy, missionaries and para-church ministry participants, are invited to stay at Silver Bay’s Brookside Community House or Trinity House. Participants in the Pastoral Respite Ministry program and their immediate family members are given the unique opportunity to relax from the demands, pressure and stress that comes from serving God and His people every day. The facility offers many opportunities for solitude or family fun, and if needed, staff is on hand for help with spiritual direction and pastoral support.
“Pastors are burning out these days in alarming way,” explained Reverend Allen in a recent telephone interview. “Silver Bay gives pastors and their families a place to rest, reconnect and remember why ministry is so important to them.”
Reverend Allen knows first-hand the importance Silver Bay’s Pastoral Respite Ministry. “I initially came here years ago for a one-day retreat and then, less than a year later, I came back again with my wife for a long weekend. [At the time] we were coming to the end of another ministry year and our daughter was getting married. We just needed to get away. The Pastoral Respite Ministry was a beautiful gift, and that break was huge for us as a couple. After that weekend, I heard there was an opening here and I applied.”
The Advantages of Silver Bay
There is no cost for those in ministry to participate in the Pastoral Respite Ministry and even meals are included. Guests of the Respite program can utilize all the equipment and take advantage of all the activities the center provides such as swimming, boating, hiking, archery, and a variety of sports, but fair warning, there is no Wi-Fi or television.
“We want to offer the opportunity for individuals and families to get away from all distractions,” explained Reverend Allen, “A small church does its best for its pastors, but no one is getting rich in ministry. It’s not only hard to get away with your family, it’s expensive. That’s why this is such a gift. It offers what people want and need most; time together.”
In terms of accommodations, there is a building with suites dedicated to families, as well as bedrooms with a shared bath and a family community room. For singles and couples who want a quieter experience, there is a separate building with hotel style rooms and private baths and housekeeping is done by staff daily.
Guests enjoy buffet meals three times a day at the professional dining hall with other guests of the facility, as well as its staff.
There are a few stipulations of the Pastoral Respite Ministry program. Each pastor/clergy can only reserve space twice in a calendar year, and each stay cannot last longer than six nights. Additionally, transportation to and from Silver Bay is not included, and pets are not allowed.
Although the ministry operates from September (following Labor Day) to June, there are several blackout periods and accommodations are based upon a first come, first serve basis. Those interested in the program should make their requests early and prepare alternate dates in case their requested dates are not available. Handicapped lodging is also available, but the request should be made when reservations are secured.
“We want [the program] to be available to as many people as possible,” explained Reverend Allen. “The point of the program is not to use it as a staff retreat because then it becomes work, not respite. We have a marketing department on site if a pastor wants to develop a retreat for staff for a later date,” stated Reverend Allen. “The goal of the Respite Ministry is to leave work behind and use this time to reconnect with spouses or significant others and family members without being distracted by phone calls or meetings.”
How is it funded?
The ability to offer the Pastoral Respite Ministry free of charge to those in ministry is made possible through funding of private donors, as well as through the Silver Bay YMCA.
“We have private donors who have funded an endowment to build and maintain the facilities and the program,” explained Reverend Allen. “Out of that endowment also comes the cost for food and utilities. Those who take part in the Pastoral Respite Ministry can give a tax-deductible gift if they so choose, but it’s not required and certainly not mandated.”
Reverend Allen reports directly to the YMCA Chief Operating Office. There is also a board of directors that oversees the activities of the YMCA, including the Pastoral Respite Ministry.
According to Reverend Allen, throughout the months the ministry is active, as many as 800-900 people from all over the world and from a variety of religious denominations participate in in the program.
“Although we tend to have many Christian ministers attend, we also have people from all different faiths participate in the ministry. We believe in an openness of faith here,” stated Reverend Allen. “At Silver Bay, we focus on people in full time ministry work. This includes pastors, missionaries, para church ministry workers, people who work in homeless shelters, Quakers, Rabbis, members from the Salvation Army…the list just goes on and on,” stated Reverend Allen.
How do people in so many faiths from around the world hear about the pastoral ministry at Silver Bay? According to Allen, it’s simple word-of-mouth.
“Anyone who has ever come here, and we have several big conferences here a year, or knows of someone who has been part of the Respite ministry, knows this is a special place, stated Reverend Allen. “I encourage any minister to come as a way of selfcare. Use this ministry to take care of yourself before you take care of others…much like putting your oxygen mask on yourself in an airplane before helping someone else. You can’t give away peace if you don’t have peace yourself. At Silver Bay those in ministry can sit in the beauty of God’s creation and just be.”
For more information on Silver Bay YMCA’s Pastoral Respite Ministry, contact Reverend Dr. Garth Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org . Silver Bay YMCA Conference and Family Retreat Center is located on Lake George. 87 Silver Bay Road, Silver Bay, NY 12874. or visit www.silverbay.org or contact 1-888-758-7229 (ext. 345 for Group information or ext. 350 for individual stay information.