24 Years of Making a Camp a Home

January 04, 2013

Click on the blue links within the story to see short video clips of the interview with Lee Padgett.

A sign at the entrance to Aldersgate Camp and Retreat Center says, “Welcome Home.” The words became a motto of the camp after a pastor’s son commented on how he really didn’t know where to call home since he had moved around so much. “Aldersgate has never moved,” he said. “It’s home. It feels like home because it’s the one consistent place in my life.”

Lee Padgett has called Aldersgate home for 24 years. He will soon leave Aldersgate and move to Alabama, where his wife, Bishop Debbie Wallace-Padgett, serves as episcopal leader for the North Alabama Annual Conference.

Rev. Padgett began working at Aldersgate May 8, 1989, but he believes his journey there began two years earlier. He had always loved being outdoors, hiking, backpacking, and camping. As a college student, he began going on Colorado Trail hikes, backpacking with a group of 10 to 20 young adults in the wilderness near Aspen, Co. While working at Trinity Hill United Methodist Church in Lexington, he began taking a group of young people on the hikes every two years. In 1987, a guide asked, “Lee, when are we going in 1989?” Rev. Padgett told him they weren’t going in 1989. He didn’t know why he said that, but he continued to tell others who asked that they weren’t going on the trip.

On New Year’s Day 1989, Rev. Padgett visited then Aldersgate director Art Logue at the camp. Mr. Logue told Rev. Padgett that his cancer had returned and asked if he would help get the camp ready for summer. He worked 20 hours a week at Trinity Hill and spent the rest of his time at Aldersgate. When it became apparent that Mr. Logue wasn’t going to get well in time to open summer camp, one proposed option was to close the camp down that year. Instead, Rev. Padgett was asked to run the camp and accepted the challenge.

 “I knew nothing about running a summer camp, but I was learning quickly,” he said.

In the middle of July, it dawned on him that he couldn’t have taken the Trinity Hill young adults on the Colorado trip and worked at Aldersgate.

“God had prepared me for Aldersgate way back in 1987, and I didn’t even know it.”

Aldersgate later began offering a Colorado Trail Hike camp that Rev. Padgett led every two years until 2010.

Rev. Padgett has many fond memories of time at Aldersgate. As camp director, he has lived on the camp’s grounds, and his children have grown up there. His daughter, Leanndra, was baptized in the creek at Aldersgate, and son Andrew was baptized in the swimming pool.

Other favorite memories involve the summer camp staff. He recalled one staffer trying unsuccessfully to start a Weedeater, pulling and pulling, then looking at it in disgust. Finally Rev. Padgett asked him, “Did you turn it on?” The staffer flipped the switch, and it started right away. There were also several occasions when staff members sheepishly admitted to him that the camp truck had a new dent in it or was stuck in the mud. Besides the humorous stories, Rev. Padgett happily recalls watching the staff mature as they worked during the summer and strived to provide a safe Christian environment for the campers.

Aldersgate has had many additions and improvements in the 24 years Rev. Padgett has been Camp Director. He noted that being a physics major had helped as he figured out how to fix what was broken at Aldersgate.

On a tour of the grounds, he highlighted the cottages, the swimming pool and volleyball court, the RV park, the new handicap-accessible zip line, the chapel, and the suspension bridge. Each place had its own story. For instance, the bridge was built when the Louisville and Kentucky Conferences merged in 1996. Rev. Padgett invited Volunteers In Mission team members from both conferences to build it. The chapel, dedicated in June 2000, features stone from the creek at Aldersgate and a mantel carved by a volunteer who spent 100 hours creating the vine-accented piece.

“We’ve done a lot with God’s help around here,” said Rev. Padgett, “but watching people come and enjoy those things and watching groups get empowered to do what they want to do as a non-profit organization, those things are really neat. Those are great accomplishments.”

Though the setting is beautiful, it is the people Rev. Padgett will miss most when he leaves Aldersgate. Over the years, he has enjoyed being present as campers accepted Jesus for the first time, watching young people being called into ministry, and seeing them do things they didn’t know they could do. He is especially proud of the leaders who have come through the camp’s programs.

Asked about the impact of Aldersgate, Rev. Padgett described it as “a place of refuge” and “a place of leadership development.” He mentioned the rigorous staff training in which “they learn everything from how to lead a person to Christ to where the oil goes in a lawn mower.” Leadership development is also available to campers who learn life skills they can take back and use with their youth groups. Pastors have an opportunity for personal spiritual retreats at the camp. Rev. Padgett believes Aldersgate, along with other camps and retreat centers, will play an important role in the future of providing a place, content, and encouragement for leadership development.

As Rev. Padgett prepares for his move to Alabama, he is looking forward to a time of rest and perhaps doing some volunteer and mission work.

“I’m looking forward to new relationships and to see where God is calling me,” Rev. Padgett said. “Right now I’m at peace about all this, but I have no idea what I’m going to do. But I’m okay with that because just as God called me here, I’m confident God will call me to something.”

As he bids farewell to Aldersgate, Rev. Padgett is confident the “welcome home” feeling will remain at the camp. He believes it will continue to be a place of peace, safety, and comfort.

“Aldersgate is an experience, and that experience happens no matter who is in charge. It’s a place, and it’s also an attitude.”

Celebration of Lee Padgett's Ministry

Come join us Friday, April 19, 2013 as we say farewell to Lee Padgett and thank him for his twenty-four years of ministry at Aldersgate Camp. The celebration will be held at St. Luke UMC (Lexington). The evening will begin at 6:00 p.m. (ET) with hors d'oeuvres and presentations to Lee will begin follow at 7:00 p.m. Please RSVP if you will be joining us for the celebration.

St. Luke UMC is located at:
2351 Alumni Drive
Lexington, KY 40517

Lee Padgett describes the creation of the Chapel door.

The suspension bridge was built in 1996, the year the former Louisville and Kentucky conferences merged.