It is the people within the community that makes a difference. Kilgore seems to be exceptionally blessed with those whose vision and talent makes an indelible mark in the world. Like some communities, Kilgore resembles the hub of a wheel with spokes reaching out not only to neighboring communities but internationally as well. One of those spokes I recently learned has been a strong influence at Camp Gilmont.

Gilmont is a camp, conference and retreat center located on almost 400 acres just northeast of Gilmer. The camp’s lake is named Lake Kilgore because the members of First Presbyterian Church in Kilgore donated the funds over 60 years ago to create the lake on which campers still enjoy canoeing, paddleboarding, kayaking, aquatic studies and fishing, according to Executive Director of Development and Spiritual Formation Kenny Rigoulot at the camp.

Rev. Rigoulet said, “First Presbyterian Church continues to have strong ties to Gilmont, commissioning the summer camp staff during worship at the beginning of the summer and inviting the camp staff to provide vacation bible school at the church at the end of the summer. Kilgore’s mayor, Ronnie Spradlin, grew up attending church retreats and camps before serving as a summer camp counselor at Gilmont in 1979. He later served on the camp’s board of directors, a role that is currently filled by Jerry Camp.

Earlier this month, participants in Kilgore’s Chamber of Commerce E4 Leadership Program spent time meeting challenges, solving problems together, and reflecting on qualities of effective leaders — getting to know themselves and each other better, and returning to their community as stronger leaders.

Fourteen fifth grade students from Kilgore ISD, currently in the LEAP Program, will attend Outdoor School, Oct. 26-29 at the camp. Drawing connections between the classroom and the natural world, these students will participate in team building, aquatic biology, geology, orienteering, astronomy, east texas forestry and pioneering lessons.

Camp is a place where bonds of friendship are woven over time. Blake Stephens served as the Director of Christian Education at First Presbyterian Church in Kilgore before his untimely death this summer. He loved and experienced Camp Gilmont as a camper, counselor, bible study leader and board member. He enjoyed performing skits and singing songs around the campfire, playing games and doing activities, leading bible study and worship, and sleeping under the stars in a hammock. In fact, Blake gave hammocks as gifts. The staff at Gilmont was already considering building a hammock circle for groups to gather to share stories and laughter and for individuals to experience quiet and contemplation. Because of Blake’s love for hammocking at the camp, it was decided to build the hammock circle in his honor.

When Mayor Spradlin learned that Gilmont was planning to build and dedicate a hammock circle in honor of Blake Stephens, he donated the center pole, 12 posts, concrete and hardware for the project. When the members of First Presbyterian Church in Kilgore were invited to match a $1,000 donation towards the project, they exceeded the match by several hundred dollars. Any funds given in honor of Mr. Stephens that exceed the cost of the project will be used to start an endowment fund that will provide scholarships for campers and special projects at the camp.

Several volunteers from First Presbyterian Church in Garland worked with Blake’s family and friends to help the Gilmont staff build the hammock circle on Friday and dedicated it in memory of Blake Stephens on Saturday, Oct. 23.

During the dedication, the Rev. Jen Mitchell, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Corsicana, said she grew up with Blake Stephens and shared that she hopes this hammock circle will be a circle of hope. Rigoulot recalled working with Blake Stephens on this year’s summer camp curriculum — The Tree of Life — which is a symbol of hope for healing, life and love in this life and the next.

He said, “According to tradition, the Tree of Life is so enormous that it would take 500 years to climb it. When Blake learned this, he said, “imagine how many hammocks you could fit on it.” There is plenty of room for all of God’s children under the shade of the tree of life. Gilmont hopes this will be a space where children, youth and adults will gather to visit, sing silly songs, and have deep theological questions. A place where individuals can rest and relax. A place where people will look up and see the wind blow through the trees and the clouds and stars move through the sky. A place where all will be invited to grow closer to God, creation, others and themselves. A place where those that knew and loved Blake Stephens will know that he is with God and God is with them.”

“If you knew Blake, you knew there was one thing he hated more than anything in the world and that was glitter, “ the Rev. Rigoulet laughed with fond remembrance. He would always say, “once used it seems to be everywhere and you can’t get rid of it. He would just fuss and carry-on if he saw a container of it. One year, during summer camp the campers and counselors made a glitter bomb and he realized they were coming after him with it. He ran trying to get away from it, but somehow it ended up in his vehicle. Needless to say it didn’t make him any fonder of the stuff. But, the joy he did bring. Blake is definitely missed and loved by all who were in contact with him.”

Gilmont offers a variety of camps, conferences, and retreats throughout the year. You can learn more about the camp and its various ministries at www.gilmont.org.

Gilmont looks forward to strengthening its connections with Kilgore as it strives to be a safe, sacred space where all are invited to grow closer to God, creation, others and themselves.

May His love and laughter fill your hearts and your homes throughout the week. In the meantime, we may be reached at chitchatlinda@aol.com or (903) 984-2593.

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May His love and laughter fill your hearts and your homes throughout the week. In the meantime, we may be reached at chitchatlinda@aol.com or (903) 984-2593.

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