Jessica Gamaché, camping coordinator for the Western PA Annual Conference, has accepted a position as Director of the United Methodist Camp and Retreat Ministries Association, effective November 4. The position is new, made possible by a foundation grant awarded last spring.
Jessica was recommended by the Director Search Task Force after a 3 ½-month process that began with more than 300 initial applicants, was narrowed to 50 who completed essays and video requirements, and ended after three in person candidate interviews. “We were blessed to choose from an incredibly strong pool of talented individuals from within the UMCRM & UMC communities and beyond,” C. Russell Davis, chair of the association, said in an announcement to members.
Jessica began serving the Western PA Conference part-time in May of 2011, coordinating the ministries of three Conference camps -- Camp Allegheny, Wesley Woods and Jumonville—and Olmsted Manor retreat center in Ludlow, PA in the Allegheny National Forest.
Since then, under her leadership, the Camping and Retreat Ministries have expanded. She helped to launch At the Lake Ministries, which converted and operates a former commercial fishing vessel to offer people living with disabilities and their caregivers opportunities to fish or cruise on Erie’s Presque Isle Bay, and brought the Healthy Village Learning Institute, an urban center in McKeesport where youth receive mentoring, educational enrichment, and learn life skills, into the Camping and Retreat ministries program. Jessica also helped to start day camp programs where staff from the camps take programming into underserved area communities for a week at a time.
In 2018, Jessica took on the additional part-time role as director of the Deeply Rooted, Upward Reaching capital campaign to help fund infrastructure improvements and provide camperships so all children and youth could attend camps regardless of ability to pay. So far, the campaign has raised more than $1.15 million.
Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi, who launched the campaign by rappelling off a balcony onto the floor of her first Western PA Annual Conference as bishop in 2017, applauded Jessica's selection for the national post. “How wonderful it is that Jessica’s talents have been recognized! I am pleased that she will have this wonderful opportunity to shape and form camping and retreat ministries for the entire church,” she said.
As part of the Western PA Conference staff, Jessica played an integral part in many other ministries, including developing and leading visits by Confirmation Classes to learn about ministry and mission, meet the Bishop and Conference staff. The Rev. Alyce Weaver Dunn, who as Conference director of connectional ministries leads the program staff, echoed the Bishop’s sentiments.
“We certainly will miss her and all she has done for us, but I am excited that Jessica will have this opportunity. She is an excellent leader!” she said.
In her new post, Jessica will resource leaders of the 192 United Methodist camps and retreat centers across the denomination. “I’ll focus mainly on volunteer engagement within the Association and development of camp and retreat leadership so they can impact lives through this essential ministry," she said.
The UMCRM Board set up an independent task force to fill the post. “We sought a seasoned leader to assist our member-driven, volunteer-based association toward our strategic goals of developing the servant leadership and faith-forming capacity of camp/retreat ministry professionals. We've found the person to match our needs!” Davis said.
“Jessica Gamaché is an engaging camp and retreat professional with success in administrative oversight and fund development. As Camping and Retreat Ministries Coordinator in the Western Pennsylvania United Methodist Annual Conference, she has been resourcing and leading camp and retreat site directors in meeting operational, financial, and programmatic objectives. Through her leadership in Western PA and her elected service on the UMCRM Board of Directors since 2015, Jessica has earned respect as an ambassador of camp and retreat ministries and as a gifted collaborator,” he said. “She understands this ministry we all share and its importance as a pathway of discipleship in the Church. She is a proven, dynamic leader with deep Christian values and a strong understanding of organizational leadership, volunteer engagement, and hospitality.”
Jessica will begin her work as Director of the Association on Monday, November 4. She will participate in the Great Gathering at Lake Junaluska on November 10-14 and will meet with the Annual Conference Camp/Retreat Staff from across the country at their annual Summit that will follow on November 14-16.
Jessica felt a call into the Camping Ministry as an older teenager and has lived out that call through her education and career. She earned a B.S. in Recreation Management and an M.S. in Parks and Resource Management from Slippery Rock University. Before joining the WPAUMC staff, she served the Lord at various church camps including Wesley Forest in Weikert, PA and Lutherlyn in Butler, PA. Jessica’s mission is to advocate for this vital ministry, which will carry the Church into the future. She understands the importance of giving all people a chance to step away from the struggles of everyday life and be immersed in an intentional Christian community with faith-strong mentors, while surrounded by the beauty of God’s Creation.
Jessica, her husband Heath, and their children, Skye, 6, and Leland,4, will continue to live in the Pittsburgh area, where she will work remotely, traveling for brief periods several times a year.