Home MB HeraldColumns An interview with Courtney Armstrong, Executive Director of Camp Evergreen (Sundre, AB)

An interview with Courtney Armstrong, Executive Director of Camp Evergreen (Sundre, AB)

Women in ministry


How did God call you into ministry?

I always went to camp as a kid. Between grades five and eight, my parents separated, divorced, and re-married. So during those years, I was angry. I was a lot of things. But every summer, I went to camp. At the camp that I attended, my counsellor didn’t try to give me any platitudes. She just walked alongside me and allowed me to be angry, allowed me to sort through [my feelings].

One summer at camp, as I was starting to come out of that anger, I remember saying, ‘God, I want my life to be yours. My faith is my own, it’s not my parents’ faith.’

That same cabin leader used to write me letters (back when you could do that) and [in one of her letters] said she thought I would be a phenomenal camp staff and that I should plan on working at camp. She said that she was always going to be praying for me. I remember thinking to myself, “If I could be Kelly (that was her name) for one kid at a camp, it would be enough for the rest of my life.”

I had always planned, after graduating high school, to go work at camp. I never wavered from that. My first summer working at camp was at Evergreen, where I went right after high school. I worked there for five spring and summer seasons. As I was coming to the end of my university degree, I wondered if I should go back and get my Education degree. But there was also
a guest groups position open at Camp Evergreen. So I decided to take a bit of time off school to work the guest group position. The following year I became the program director and stayed on for a while. There was a point where I did step away to play rugby.

But God brought me back, which I hadn’t planned on. I remember driving down the gravel road [toward Camp Evergreen], and God said very clearly to me, ‘This is what I want you to do.’ I had this really strong feeling of coming home. It just struck me as very different from the other times when I was only staying for a little while.

Why is important to talk about women in ministry?

There’s a tension that sits between wanting to talk about it, but not wanting to whine about it. I always used to think, especially as an athlete, ‘I can do anything boys can do.’ That’s what I think the world considers feminism.

But I actually think the stronger feminist stance is [understanding] that men can’t do what women can do, and vice versa. God did create us equal, and yet uniquely different. This is why, in the gender conversation, it’s so important for us to say that we should not be the other gender, that we should be who we were created to be — to be mothers and fathers. That, I believe, is actually the truer stance of feminism — not to disrespect masculinity — but to embrace how God has made us [as women], emotions and all.

When I started in ministry, I tried to lead like my male counterparts and mentors (because they were all men), but I found that I couldn’t. It created this unfeeling shield for me, because I felt like I couldn’t show emotion — I didn’t feel like I could be whatever a stereotypical woman is.”

When we step into [who God has made us to be], we lead out of that uniqueness in a way that actually completes the family of God. As a woman, I am a spiritual mother. This kind of discipleship looks different than how a man would disciple.

When I started in ministry, I tried to lead like my male counterparts and mentors (because they were all men), but I found that I couldn’t. It created this unfeeling shield for me, because I felt like I couldn’t show emotion — I didn’t feel like I could be whatever a stereotypical woman is.

But that was a lie. And it was something I fell into for a long time. When I started realizing, no, I can’t lead like that. I need to lead as God created me to be, that’s when I stepped into what God had for me, as he has allowed me to lead at camp.

Do you remember what changed your perspective? Was it a slow progression or was there a pivotal moment?

I think it was a little bit of both. It was very exhausting to try and cut off the [nurturing] parts of me as a woman. I have a really unique story, because I’m not just a woman in leadership, but I’m also single.

In my 30s I started to realize that I probably was not going to have my own children. It caused me to say, ‘Well, God, I still feel like I’m supposed to be a mother. What does this look like?’ That’s where God led me to understand what Paul means in 1 Corinthians 7 when he talks about being a spiritual father. God was not just calling me to be a spiritual leader, he was calling me to be a spiritual parent, to be a spiritual mother to my staff or to people who don’t have that person in their life.

How could the MB Conference better support women leaders?

Talk about it. I think we’re getting to the place where, [with cultural identities like] gender and sexuality, we do talk about it as a church. But it’s still behind closed doors, in a softer tone of voice because we’re afraid of who’s listening. We need to seek to understand what God has set out for women, for men, and for when it doesn’t matter.

I also think we need to be more concerned about spiritual parenting, and less [concerned] about gender roles. Personally, I think we worry too much about the person standing at the front. And we don’t worry enough about who we’re sitting next to, and what we’re doing to spiritually build them up as people.

How would you like to encourage other women who feel God’s call to leadership and ministry?

I would say it comes back to that spiritual mother piece. Start actively mentoring people around you and bring people into your family. I think of that moment when Jesus is on the cross, and he looks at his mother and he looks at John and he says, “This is your son, this is your mother now.” Our world has rallied around the nuclear family. But God has said, you’re first responsible to the family I’ve given you. Who is he giving you to bring into your family? For any woman, whether or not you’re called into a formal position of leadership, you were called into leadership as a mother, to walk alongside, to pray, to teach, to nurture.

How can we pray for you, Courtney?

The longer I’m in this position, the more I feel like God is taking [Camp Evergreen] to a place where the vision is bigger than I can comprehend. A lot of leaders often struggle with the tension between dreaming big and [experiencing financial pressures], because money is always the stressor. Our board has dreams that God is giving us, but the fundraising, the money, and all the questions that remain [are] too tangible to ignore. Pray that we would have the courage to say yes without having all the answers.


Rick Block June 18, 2024 - 12:21

Thankyou Courtney [and MB Herald] for sharing your story. I really appreciate your words about being obedient to God’s Spirit to simply lead in the manner that you are gifted, as an individual and as a woman. And we need to create spaces where men and women are co-leading according to their gifts and personalities, finding meaningful ways to go beyond the classic (and often siloed) lines of ‘men’s ministry’ and ‘women’s ministry’. I hope we (as MB’s) will pray in the same vein as Evergreen Camp that we will have courage to seek the larger vision that God has for His followers in Canada in the 21st C.

Kevin McInnes June 18, 2024 - 20:58

What a wonderful perspective. That shows true humility and understanding in our roles and need for both spiritual mothering and fathering. Real discipleship is needed in all our churches!


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