By Stan Friedman
MCGREGOR, MN (December 18, 2014) — Bruce Peterson says watching young people grow in their faith and develop as leaders were his greatest joys during his 37 years as executive director of Covenant Pines Bible Camp. He is stepping down from the position at the end of the year.
“It’s been a real privilege to be part of that,” he said.
In a tribute video entitled A Long Obedience in the Same Direction people thanked him for modeling servant leadership that inspired campers and staff.
Cal Peterson, who along with his wife, Sarmita, have donated a weekend of carpentry work each month for the past 20 years, recalled working with Peterson on projects, including construction of the guest house. “One of the things I appreciated about Bruce is he’d do things he didn’t like to do, or in this case things out on scaffolding he was afraid to do,” Cal said. “There are scratch marks on that wall, I swear, where he was grabbing it with one hand and hammering with another, but he did it anyway. There was nothing he wouldn’t try.”
Several current executive directors of Covenant camps and members of staffs around the country had their first leadership experiences as teenagers at Covenant Pines, where young people get lots of opportunities to develop as leaders—whether working as counselors or doing manual work around the camp, Peterson said. He added that he was excited by the high level of volunteerism at the camp and noted that 150 high school students gave their time to work there last year.
The Northwest Conference held a celebration at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis in November to honor Peterson’s legacy. At the conclusion, superintendent Mark Stromberg asked people in the auditorium to stand if they had made a significant faith decision while attending a Bible camp. An overwhelming majority of those in attendance stood up.
Camping plays a huge role in advancing the denomination’s mission, Peterson said. “Take what we did here and multiply that by 17 camps, and that makes a real difference.”
Peterson said Covenant Pines is making an even more concerted effort to work with congregations. “We’re asking them how we can help them grow.” He adds that he is excited about the enthusiasm for camping shown by many of the new churches in the conference.
The camp has grown under Peterson’s leadership. When he started, the paid staff consisted of the cook, a maintenance worker, and Peterson. “We did a bit of everything,” he said. The camp now has the full-time equivalent of eight employees.
“I’ve been blessed to be able to ride the wave,” he said of the camp’s development.
But it has been far more than riding a wave. Many have praised Peterson for his visionary leadership. One person in the tribute video exemplified a common sentiment when she stated, “He just had these dreams that no one else had and he went for it. The thing is this place wouldn’t be what it is if it weren’t for Bruce and his drive and his hands-on (approach). He wasn’t just a manager.”
Peterson said his wife, Rosey, deserves more credit than he does for the camp’s success. “She worked a lot more closely with the campers,” he explained. “She was much more popular than I was.”
Photos by Jessica Mencarelli