For the Warren Willis Camp, Corey Jones is "the right man at the right time"Conference News Warren Willis Camp
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people, and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you. I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you, I will curse, and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him. – Genesis 12: 1-4.
Jumping into Lake Griffin at the Warren Willis Camp and splashing about was one of those jovial traditions among the counselors, but Corey Jones didn’t participate. It wasn’t because he didn’t want to be part of the group; it had more to do with alligators.
“And I’m a Florida State Seminole,” he said with a chuckle.
But that changed one day when he sat on the dock reading a letter from a girlfriend. Actually, everything changed, and it began with a puff of wind blowing the letter from his hand and into the water. Instinct took over.
“For some reason, I didn’t hesitate to jump in to get the letter,” he said. “And as I climbed up the ladder to get out of the lake, God’s voice spoke clearly to me and said, ‘I’m going to have you jump into places you can’t imagine.’ ”
God wasn’t kidding.
At the time, Corey never imagined attending seminary and becoming a pastor, but it happened. And the thought that he would one day be appointed to lead the camp he has grown to love never entered his mind, but that, too, has happened.
Starting July 1, he will assume leadership at Warren Willis as the Director of Camp and Retreat Ministries. As the camp celebrates its 75th anniversary, it will continue the vital role it shares with the Connectional and Justice Ministries in The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church.
The camp has impacted Rev. Jones in multiple ways. He attended there as a camper, then became a counselor, volunteer, small group leader, and worship leader. He was baptized there at age 19.
|Rev. Corey Jones|
He received his call to the ministry there.
Mike Standifer, the long-time Warren Willis Camp and Conference Center Director, said he looks forward to working with Rev. Jones.
“I am really excited about the future of the camp and ministry and the gifts and graces he will share with us. I think Corey is a fantastic preacher,” Standifer said.
“He’s a relational person. He will offer excitement for the future and a new way of looking at things. This place has been set apart for such a time as this.”
Or, as Debby Zutter, the Chair of the Board of Camps and Retreat Ministry, noted, “This is an important appointment. Corey loves camps; I think his DNA has camps in his system. He has many traits and strengths that will be important as he proceeds. He has big-picture thinking, organization skills, and leadership. He will be an inspiring leader.
“I am confident that with the board’s support, he’s the right man at the right time. I am personally excited about this.”
Attends camp every year
Indeed, Rev. Jones has spent part of every summer at Warren Willis since 1997, except for the COVID-interrupted summer of 2020. It is where he experienced God in ways he never had before and wants to give everyone who attends there the same opportunity.
“My relationship with the camp has changed my life. In the Pentecostal church I grew up in, it was no talking in church. Sit there. Be quiet. Going to camp was a refreshing way to learn about God,” he said.
“I learned about God and God’s grace in fun ways as a camper and a counselor. The worship, the music, I just fell in love with that place. It is holy ground; it is sacred.”
After attending Florida State, he transferred to Florida Southern College to finish his degree and later graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary in Orlando in 2012. Rev. Jones has served Pasadena Community Church in St. Petersburg since 2019.
His appointment to this new position came as a surprise—sort of.
“I had a sense from God that something new was going to happen, but I couldn’t pinpoint what that was,” he said.
“The morning I received the call, my devotion was Genesis 12 – God’s call to Abraham to go to a new land. That prompted me to look back at the notes I wrote from my renewal leave last summer. Three things spoke out to me.”
• God has, is, and will sustain me as I place my hope in God and freely use my gifs in following Jesus back the way
I came (and) into unfamiliar territory.
• Passing the mantle, transitioning from one generation, leader, and mentor to another.
• But there will be community mentors to walk alongside, stories to learn, and mantles to pick up. There will be children full of life who are wiser than you or I.
Shortly after reading those notes, Gulf Central District Superintendent Emily Hotho called with the news that he was going to Warren Willis.
“Corey is one of those leaders with a unique mix of administrative and relational gifts. He is just as comfortable reading a financial balance sheet as he is in the pulpit or one-on-one ministry with a person in need. Corey has always been passionate about children and youth and the difference that camp can make in a young person’s life,” Rev. Hotho said.
“Corey will lead our camping ministry in a way that makes sure that our camp is a sacred space for all. As much as I’ll miss him in the Gulf Central District, it is clear to me that this is where God is calling Corey and his family to go.”
That calling has been years in the making.
A community minister
Rev. Jones’ heart for service found expression when he started attending First Lakeland UMC as a teenager. It was something that the Rev. Dr. Sharon Austin, the Director of Connectional and Justice Ministries, quickly noticed when she served as Corey’s first district superintendent in the candidacy process.
“He participated in First Lakeland’s community ministry as a volunteer and then as the director,” she said. “That gave him great insight into the families of children who attended First Lakeland and those who didn’t.
“He has given back to the community through his leadership and will help us make important connections cross-culturally and generationally. This will be an expression of the United Methodist Church at its best. He is also very organized and has a very good sense of humor. Corey will bring the theological, missional, and pastoral leadership to inspire people to follow Jesus Christ.”
It’s a big job. While uncounted thousands of people have experienced Jesus in personal ways since the camp opened in Fruitland Park in 1944, things have been tougher for the last few years. COVID-19 blew a hole in camp attendance, and it was time to consider new ideas.
As it did for a teenaged Corey Jones, the camp experience at Warren Willis still can open the eyes and hearts of attendees. It can change lives.
It will do so again.
“We want to get people fired up about camp again. My job will be to ensure vitality and sustainability and to ensure that the camp ministry remains transformational. The phrase I like to use is over-investing in the young -- children, youth, college age, young adults," Rev. Jones said.
“We’ll bring theological depth to camp, and I will go around the Conference and preach about what we’re doing and explore new revenue streams. I feel completely calm and prepared for this,” Rev. Jones said. “I am excited. My family is excited. I am grateful and humbled by the appointment.”
Joe Henderson is the News Content Editor for FLUMC.org
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