Nov 01, 2017 12:19PM
● By J. Chambless
Stephen J. Weaver, president and CEO of Sandy Cove Ministries and Conference Center in North East. (Photo by Richard L. Gaw)
Every year, on its stunning 219-acre
campus in North East, Sandy Cove Ministries and Conference Center
hosts thousands of groups and individuals who seek spiritual growth,
guidance and healing. In a busy and sometimes not so pretty world,
the peace and serenity of this beautiful spot in Cecil County serves
as a reminder that the best decisions we make come from ou
relationship with Jesus. Recently, Cecil County Life met with
Sandy Cove Ministries President and CEO Stephen Weaver to talk about
the mission of the ministry, what defines “spirituality,” and who
he would like to have at his dinner party.
How long have you been associated with Sandy Cove Ministries?
Weaver: My history with Sandy Cove goes back quite a ways. I grew up about an hour north of here, but this feels like a second home for me. I was a camper at Sandy Hill for two summers, and when I turned 16 years old/or of age, I came on the staff each summer between high school and college. I moved out of the area for about nine years after college, but have been working here consecutively for the past nine years and have been the president and CEO for the past three years. Sometimes it feels like I've been here forever, but it remains fresh all of the time.
Individuals and groups come to Sandy Cove for many reasons, but there are so many different categories of people who do arrive here – women's groups, youth groups, men's groups and special events. What's the commonality that draws so many people here? Sandy Cove is not just bricks and walls.
It's a blessing and a curse, because to be all things to all people can be difficult. We struggle with that ourselves and ask, 'How diverse can we be and still be good at what we do?' We try to arrive at a commonality through two broad strokes – the programmed events that we're hosting, where we bring in speakers and entertainers, as well as our other events. On the other side, we provide opportunities for group ministries who rent our facilities.
The commonality for us and our focal points is the experience, and the experience rests on who is delivering it. I will always tell you that our secret sauce is our people. It's having good, mission-minded, practicing Christians whom we hire and train and support, in order to allow them to deliver a consistent experience to whomever walks on the property. We are a mission-driven organization, and we want to see that happen for whomever we say 'Yes' to.
Define “Spirituality,” in terms of how it applies to the Sandy Cove mission.
We're a faith-based organization, but it's about the Bible and Gospel and Jesus Christ. We were founded by Dr. George A. Palmer, who had several ministries he was involved in, as well as a popular radio broadcast 70 or so years ago during the Great Depression. This property was purchased and intended for people who were listening to Dr. Palmer on the radio. The beginning and end of the broadcast said, 'Jesus Never Fails.' This was being heard at a time when people were watching everything around them fail – a message of hope that said that Jesus Christ can provide that hope. So for us today, everything still revolves around that foundation. The issue of spirituality for us is that we believe we're all spiritual beings on a journey, and that our ultimate hopes can be found through Jesus Christ. Our faith helps us make decisions. It affects everything we do and how we do it.
We live in a time of great political, spiritual and philosophic division. Sandy Cove's message, “Jesus Never Fails,” seems to be taking on an entirely new definition now.
I say quite often that this message is as necessary now as it has ever been. Yes, it fell on ears that needed to hear it 70 years ago because of the conditions of the Great Depression, but now, we live in a world where there are so many places to hear messages of fear. Even if we look at what motivates marketing, at the core of the message is that you're afraid that you're missing out if you don't choose a particular product; or if you don't attend a particular school. It's a whole, compounded idea that fear is the right message to impart.
In contrast, those who have experienced the life change that is available through Jesus Christ know that living in fear is not their only option, and sometimes, it takes a place like Sandy Cove to serve as a place for conversations – to sit down and be quiet and listen. I feel the need that we are meeting now is as great as when we started.
As you said, the key to spiritual growth is often more about listening than it is about speaking. I'd like you to talk about the programming at Sandy Cove Ministries that encourages groups and individuals to hear their own voice, in order to create a foundation for their own growth.
One of the signs on our campus reads, “Hoping that you pause long enough to hear God.” A big part of any kind of camping or conference ministry talks to the value of rest and retreat, and a lot of that happens through a counter-culture idea, which is silence.
The opportunity to go down to the pier and do a wilderness walk here are opportunities that a lot of people who come to us don't have in their every day lives. We get letters from those who come here from inner cities, who tell us that they can't get over how quiet it is when they arrive here. There's a camping phrase around here that says, “God doesn't talk louder here. It's just that when you become quiet, it's easier to hear Him.”
What led you to a spiritual life?
I was grateful to grow up in a home where the church and the Bible mattered. I understood the basic Bible stories from going to church as a kid, but the difference for me was going to Campy Sandy Hill, and listening to a counselor who talked about setting up Jesus as the lord of his life. I'm sure I was taught in the church I grew up in, but it wasn't something I understood at the time, but as an 10- or 11-year-old at Camp Sandy Hill, I realized that my faith journey was beginning – a time when I first understood that my journey was about a relationship and not just a transactional, free ticket to Heaven.
It's the idea that it was the promise and hope and freedom of eternal life, but that the eternal life needs to start now. Unfortunately, I don't think that's the message that gets linked with Christianity and spirituality. Often times, they are thrown into the category of what makes us divisive. It's unfortunate, because the true message of the Gospel is freedom and hope.
Everyone who thinks of themselves as spiritual – in the broad definition of the word – has moments where they experience doubt; where they ask questions of their purpose and question their deity, God or holy entity. Do you have those moments?
I grew up inside the church. Most of my work has been within the church. I've been involved in church leadership for many years. I have all of the credentials and the story line that would say that there is no room for doubt in my life, but I can say that as recently as a year or two ago, there were strong issues going on in my life that were causing me to have doubt. It was going through that process that God revealed to me that doubt is one of those tools that can be used to bring me back to what I believe.
We work with a lot of college-age kids who are experiencing those transitions, and we tell them that doubt and questioning are great, but don't give up until you get the answer. Fight for the answer.
For me, I don't know that I've ever lived in a time where I haven't been on the continuum of 'I know for sure' and 'Doubt.'
Share the moments in your memory bank that, in your view, have helped crystallize and connect the enlightenment or growth of an individual with the overall mission of Sandy Cove Ministries.
The reality is that we hear countless stories in the context of what we do and how we do it. Earlier today, one of our employees who has worked here for five years with his wife came up to me and said, “Whether I work here forever or not does not matter. Being here is changing who I am. I am becoming a better person because of my time here.” I keep impressing upon our staff that if the mission of Sandy Cove is not happening in our own lives, it can't happen in the lives of the guests we're inviting here.
Last week, we hosted a men's event that drew more than 400 men of every color, race, socioeconomic background and situation, and every kind of denomination you can imagine. They were all in the same room together, singing and worshiping, taking Communion and hearing from the word of God. For a world that is so divided, it was a glimpse of unity into what we believe is what the world is supposed to be like.
What is your favorite spot in Cecil County?
I may be biased, but because of the amount of significant moments in my life that have happened here, Sandy Cove will always mean the world to me. My wife and I have had the opportunity to travel, but there's something about the sunsets here in the summer. There is a view, a spirit, that's hard to compare. Each part of this property has a special place for me. We hear from a lot of people who tell us, “The moment I turned into Sandy Cove off of Route 272, something happened to me.” It's a spiritual thing that tells people that they have arrived to somewhere else.
Cecil County gives us the opportunity to enjoy beautiful waterfronts, and then be able to travel country roads and see horse farms. It's a county of many diverse pictures.
Who would you invite to your dinner party?
How could I not invite Jesus to this table to get all of my questions answered? My mother has been in Heaven for five years, so if you could say I could get to sit down with my mother for dinner and go over the last ten years that were weren't able to communicate due to her health issues, I'd give anything for that.
The two living people I'd like to eat with are both British and both unabashedly truth-tellers: Simon Cowell and Gordon Ramsay. Whether you love them or hate them, you know what you're going to get.
What can always be found in your refrigerator?
It's cheese, always cheese. My wife is obsessed with cheese, so there are always a lot of options in our refrigerator.
In addition to a full calendar of programs and activities, Sandy Cove Ministries and Conference Center provides three camps – Camp Sandy Cove in High Point, W. Va; and the Marsh Day Camp and Family Camp in North East. To learn more about these camps and other events, visit www.sandycove.org. To reserve your group or schedule your conference, call 800-234-2683(COVE), or email firstname.lastname@example.org.