NEWPORT — Though Off the Grid, a ministry of the Tennessee Baptist Conference Centers, was originally intended for ministers to get away from their daily stress, churches are now finding it can also be a good team building tool as well.
First Baptist Church, Manchester, has brought a group of men to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) for two years in a row and this year a women’s group also made the trek.
“We brought the men last year and the ladies were upset that they didn’t go so we planned a trip for them this year,” laughed Tim Hensiek, student pastor at First Baptist.
Hensiek, who also leads the church’s men’s ministry, said they were looking last year for something they had not done before. “We wanted to find a way that men could connect relationally with each other, while also having something to do together,” he said.
He knew about the Off the Grid ministry so he contacted Kevin Perrigan at Carson Springs Baptist Conference Center to see if he could do it with a church group and Perrigan responded in the affirmative.
Hensiek said the three-day, two-night backpacking trip on the AT “is not only a good way to build teamwork and camaraderie” while also having fun. But the time away from the normal rhythms of life provide a spiritual enriching time as well.”
“We begin each morning and evening with Bible study and a spiritual challenge,” Hensiek said.
Perrigan said he enjoyed leading the men’s group. “I could see them developing bonds with each other as the hike continued. Some of them had not known each other beforehand, but by the end of the trip they had begun developing friendships,” he said.
Last year, there were 17 men who attended and this year there were 20, including some who attended for the first time, he noted. The group hiked approximately 18 miles last year and 21 miles this year over the three days.
Hensiek is excited about the makeup of the men who attended. “We had men in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. It has become an intergenerational event.”
As for the 12 women who participated this year and were led by Hensiek’s wife, Shawnda, they had a blast, he noted. “They claim they had more fun than we did.”
“When we heard and saw all the great things the men had experienced on their hike, there was interest from some of the women who wanted to also have that adventure and challenge,” Shawnda said.
She noted that Carson Springs provided a wonderful leader in Emily Terrell. “The youngest of our group was 28 and the oldest was 64 with everything in between.
“We knew it was going to be difficult but we made sure to encourage and help one another along the way. We were able to unplug and step away from the grind of our everyday lives and step into God’s creation in a way many of us never had before. We made new and lasting friendships and were reminded of God’s goodness and faithfulness,” she said.
Shawnda added that the women “are already planning some local day hikes where we can also include the rest of our family and we look forward to the Carson Springs trip next year.”
Hensiek said plans are in the works for both the men’s and women’s ministry trips next year and there is consideration of adding a couples’ trip for husbands and wives. “It is something we will continue as long as there is interest,” he said.
The Manchester minister highly recommends the outing to other churches that might be interested. “Carson Springs does a fantastic job of facilitating the trips. They take care of all the logistics.”
Perrigan is hopeful that other church groups will see the benefits of Off the Grid not only for their ministers but for their members as well.
“God has now opened the door for that possibility,” he said. B&R