By Kara Witherow, Editor
There are a few universal truths for United Methodist preachers’ kids: whenever the church doors are open, they’re at church; if there’s a death or a funeral during a family vacation, the vacation is interrupted or put on hold; and goodbyes are said and new friends are made every few years as families move to new towns and new appointments.
Those unique aspects of family life often bond pastors’ kids to each other. Another bond that has united five South Georgia pastors’ children is their shared experience and ministry through the Conference’s summer camping program. Jim Towson, Alaina Avera, Aaron Avera, Matt Martin and Alden Procopio each have parents who are United Methodist clergy, and each are spending their summers ministering to children and youth at Epworth By The Sea.
Towson, son of Forest Hills United Methodist Church pastor Rev. Jimmy Towson, is the new Associate Director for Life Span Ministries with the South Georgia Conference Office of Connectional Ministries. In his role, Towson serves as the director of the Conference’s camping ministry, which is attended by more than 2,000 young people each year.
He says he’s “not a real preacher’s kid” because his father is a second-career pastor, but Towson is a lifelong United Methodist who grew up at Vineville United Methodist Church in Macon.
“My family was always very involved in church,” he said. “I think growing up in the United Methodist Church gave me a foundation. The Lord led me to a whole new level of faith when I was at the Wesley Foundation in college, but having that foundation, I was able to grow.”
That foundation of faith established as a child and youth involved in the United Methodist Church paved the way for the rest of his life and has helped him develop into the leader he is today, Towson said.
“I’ve seen people who have been amazing and who I really look up to,” he said. “So it’s really prepared me to have realistic expectations for my own leadership.”
Summer camp was one constant in head counselor Alaina Avera’s life. The oldest child of South Georgia pastor Rev. Matt Avera, Alaina was born in Columbus, moved to Kentucky as a young girl, and has lived in Taylor County, Savannah and Columbus again.
“Being a preacher’s kid and moving around a lot, coming to Epworth was one constant,” said the Wesleyan College senior. “We could move wherever, but every summer I knew I was coming to camp here. Even when I was too old for camp I came to retreats here, and just every summer I knew I was coming to Epworth for camp, and every November I knew I was coming to a retreat, and I think that’s why it became so important to me.”
Avera and her three siblings have all attended the Conference’s summer camps. Brother Aaron, who just completed his freshman year at Reinhardt College, is in his first summer of being a counselor.
“It (camp) has been huge for us,” Avera said. “We knew we could always count on it.”
Matt Martin’s summer camp experiences have shaped and impacted his life, too.
“Camp has impacted not just me, but other people, too,” Martin said. “They keep coming back and you build those connections. For me it’s about building those relationships and how, no matter if it’s just for one week that you’re with that person, six years later if you’re with them again it’s like no time has passed.”
That exact experience happened to Martin two years ago when he ended up a co-counselor with a former cabin mate from summer camp six years earlier.
“We were both on the same team with the same counselor, and to see each other so many years later as counselors together was a pretty neat experience and kind of a surreal moment,” he said.
Knowing how to build those deep relationships – relationships that form quickly but last years – is a skill Martin learned as the child of a pastor.
“I think a counselor is someone who can, at the spur of the moment, create a relationship and be able to connect with kids,” said Martin, son of Macon District Superintendent Rev. Tommy Martin. “Being a preacher’s kid we have to know how to do that; we have to know how to build relationships fast because we move around. It’s something we’re good at and maybe we can minister easier to the campers because we have that background of knowing how to build relationships quickly and strong enough to where we can make an impact on their lives so they can see Christ even more.”
Building relationships and impacting lives for Christ. Now that’s a bond.