I’ve been to several different Bible Conferences in my life– French Creek, Pinebrook, Lehigh RUF’s Summer Camp, even England’s Greenbelt– and as impactful those different events have been in my life, I don’t think any conference will ever match the impact of spending a week at America’s Keswick.
It’s not because of the the preaching, although that was very convicting and inspiring. It’s because I’ve never been to a conference that had both the elements of retreat and refreshment for the believer while at the same time practicing the call of Christ to follow after Him and love the least of these.
My experience was a bit unique right off the bat as my Mother smuggled me into the “Young at Heart Conference”, geared towards Christians 50ish and older. While I didn’t get to interact with the other attendees as much as I would have liked, it was such an encouragement to me as a relatively young believer to see a conference filled with believers who had persevered in their faith despite the hardships I know they must have faced. Almost every session started out with jokes about how their bodies were failing, sometimes even laughing in the face of the death which is likely to come in the next few years for many of them.
It sounds like it would be morbid, but it wasn’t, because they knew this life is not all that they have. They put their trust in Jesus, knowing He waits to receive them when they die, so their death not only loses some of it’s terror but also it’s sorrow.
But as encouraging as it was to witness the perseverance of the saints in action, getting to observe, and in a very small way partake in, the way Keswick lives out being the hands and feet of Jesus.
In addition to being a conference and retreat center, America’s Keswick runs a very successful addiction recovery program for men and women. The two branches of the ministry are woven together in having the men and women work on site in different areas assigned to them by their counselors as part of their work therapy. Nearly every session was accompanied by a testimony of either a current member or a graduate of the addiction program. This allowed us as attenders not only to be blessed by hearing about the healing that God was bringing about in their lives but also by having opportunities to interact with them as they helped serve us meals or organized games and activities for us.
The most special part though was Wednesday when the evening session was dedicated to hearing the testimonies of many of the men and singing their favorite hymns. Afterwards, each of the men were matched up with a prayer partner from the conference and ice cream was served.
I don’t know if they do this at the family conferences, so I’m glad I got to attend the Young at Heart where they definitely do it! Seeing a room full of elderly believers sitting down and sharing sundaes and stories with men who are often the outcasts of our society (both Christian and secular) was such an amazing experience. I got to sit with my Mother and the man she had committed to pray for and hear some of his story, which was really awesome too.
But I kept being struck by the mingling of the groups. This is what the Church is supposed to be doing. Ministering to the needs of the lost and loving on them, seeking them out and engaging with them, instead of keeping them outside of our community so that we can maintain our own sense of comfort or entitlement.
It’s hard to describe, but part of what made it so beautiful was that everyone of the staff and the conference attenders were so respectful of the men and women who are at Keswick to seek after freedom from their addictions. There was no haughtiness of the superior spirit, no feeling that these people were just projects, no…they were treated and interacted with on the level playing field all being made in the image of God.
The best part of it for me was this is very conservative Christian ministry, not the group of people you would typically associate with seeking out the broken with such dignity and grace. But they do, all without giving up the tenants of scripture and the call of Jesus to follow after Him and submit every aspect of your life to Him.
It was so encouraging as a young believer who wants to remain in the conservative branches because I believe in the doctrines of it, but I rarely see those truths being lived out in a way that is not at worst judgmental and cruel or at best just kept to oneself, content to talk about reaching the world while at the same time, hiding away from the messiness of the world.
And I am guilty of that as well. I struggle with being judgmental. I struggle with not seeking others and investing the time needed to a build a relationship where another person would feel loved and not preached at by the sharing of the hope I have in Jesus.
I am guilty of what the Church often appears to do: bunker down and try to keep the blessing of Christ to ourselves.
To be at Keswick, to see the attendees, the staff and their children, purposely interacting with and allowing themselves to be ministered to men and women who can be written off in pride because of their addictions and sin, was really encouraging and really challenging to me about how I live my Christian life.
Now, I know that there are many Christians and ministries that are actively walking the talk and ministering to the broken within and outside of the Church. My theatre group raises money each year for ministries that are taking Jesus to the front lines of homelessness, sex-trafficking, and women in crisis and providing refuge for those who are suffering.
But it’s not often that you can see that work in process.
So if you are looking to go to a Bible Conference next summer, or a retreat in the fall or next spring, while I love French Creek and Pinebrook and the others I’ve attended, Keswick is special in giving you a chance to see the Church ministering working hard to restore the broken.
It’s a powerful reminder of how we are to be living our lives and I strongly recommend you going at least once, not only to sit under the teaching of the godly speakers who come, but to be ministered to by the testimonies and service of those who are at Keswick seeking the freedom of Christ from their addictions. Something all of us need to do whether our addiction has a recognized label or not, we all need the freedom that is only found in Jesus.
For more information and to reserve your spot for a retreat or conference check out their website!
(As an aside, it’s a beautiful property to practice photography at…. I wish I could have had more time to just walk around and take pictures.)