Thursday, January 16, 2014

Magic Moments: Pops

The Family
One of the great things about being in ministry with students is that you just never know when you will make a connection that will change their lives...and yours. Today's Throwback Thursday post is another in my series of youth ministry Magic Moments, and it features a group of girls who changed the way I saw ministry during my days at Quaker Lake Camp. They adopted me, and I them. And it was one of the best things that ever happened to me!

There are some moments that are frozen in time. You can close your eyes and picture a moment from 35 years ago as clearly as if it happened yesterday. For me, one of those moments took place at Quaker Lake after a closing campfire. Everyone was saying their goodbyes on the softball field, when I noticed a lone camper, standing out by the pitcher's mound, crying. I walked over to her and asked her what was wrong, only to discover she had just been dumped by her camp boyfriend of the week. I knew her name was Laura Wheeler, but I didn't really know her very well. That frozen moment, however, was the beginning of one of the great friendships of my life.

Tesh, Tutterow, Tully & Wheels
We talked a long time that night, and in the months that followed wrote on occasion. By the following summer I couldn't wait until she came to camp. She and her cabin mates- Christen Hayworth, Jane Terrell, Jane Tesh, Debbie Tully, Angie Swaim, Mollie (Zowie! It's Mowwie!) Edwards and later, Sharron Tutterow, became "my girls." Christen and Laura started calling me Pops (I was all of 20!) and it stuck. The whole group eventually called me Pops, and we not only hung out at camp, but got together for dinner in the off-season and even had a Christmas party together. For the first time (but not the last) I became too attached to the youth I worked with. When Debbie had surgery, I was there. When Laura became sick, her parents called me and and I spent time with her at the hospital. I watched her suffer, struggle and recover, and we became incredibly close. These were not students in my youth ministry, they were "one week a year" kids from camp- but they meant the world to me. We shared great times and
Extended Family at Winter Camp
great sorrows, and I learned what it means to really be in ministry with a group of kids. It takes everything, just like Jesus said it would. I was no hero and I made plenty of missteps along the way, but I gave them everything I had, and they did the same. They gave me a Pops sweatshirt that I loved dearly. I stayed connected to a few of them after those camp days, and all of them 
are often on my mind and in my prayers. I know that some have beautiful families of their own and people in their lives who love them the way they loved me. Quaker Lake was never about the camp. It was always about the people. And for this "Pops," those people were some of the best. I still text with Laura on occasion, and I would LOVE to hear from any of the rest of the family...

Some Magic Moments last a few seconds. Others last for years. The very best ones never leave you. This goes on the short list of the ones that have never, ever left me. The relationships we built and shared shaped my ministry over the following 2o+ years and made me a far better youth pastor than I would have ever been without them. Thanks girls. And I am FINALLY old enough to really be called Pops now...even though you're no spring chickens yourselves!  :)

Because of Jesus,


  1. Wow Pops--you just made my week! What a wonderful time in my life. I tell everyone I meet that QLC is my favorite spot in the world! I have to say, you had more patience than anyone I've ever met! Looking back, all I think is "How annoying we must have been!!!" You, Flash, Martha, Neal, Eric Eric (can't help it), Ronnie, Carl S., and so many others changed our lives with your love, music, tolerance, and sense of humor, not to mention your love of God and how inspiring that was/is. Let's have a reunion!
    Love, Debbie Tully Clark--newly 48 and ancient!

    1. Debbie, it is so amazing to hear from you and even more amazing to be called Pops again! Those were indeed great days, and I hope this little blog post helped convey how special you and the rest were/ me. And you guys weren't annoying- you were "special!" :) A reunion would be just way too cool...


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