Missional storyteller Jelani Greenidge sat down virtually with Rob Mohrweis, executive director of Cascades Camp and Conference Center and the president of A4Cs, to talk about the ups and downs of ministry through the pandemic and new adventures yet to come.
Rob Mohrweis and I have been friends for many years. I led worship music during his installation as executive director at Cascades Camp and Conference Center, one of many people cheering him on that day.
When he stepped into the role, Rob didn’t know that one of the challenges ahead would involve a crisis so intense it would cause him to question the viability of his leadership and the camp as a whole. Three years later, not only is the camp still thriving, but it’s moving forward into a new era with a brand-new attraction in the construction stage.
To explain it, I asked Rob to go back to early 2020.
“There were rumors of stuff happening early in March, and the first confirmed case [of Covid-19 in the United States] was here in the state of Washington,” said Rob. “In talking with my wife, who worked as an ER nurse, and my dad, who was a retired pharmacist, we’d known about stuff like SARS and H1N1 before, so we weren’t freaked out about it. But then suddenly there was a flood of advisories. We had one more retreat where we did our best to take precautions, wipe down doors, offer hand sanitizer to the guests, et cetera—and then after the governor shut down the state, that was it.”
As it did for millions of other businesses in the hospitality, event, and entertainment business, the pandemic brought operations at Cascades Camp to a sudden halt.
“I called it the fog of Covid because we just didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Rob. “We couldn’t really see what was in front of us.”
But he had tough decisions to make.
“I tried to seek as much counsel as I could. I talked with Tom and Donna Moline, the previous directors, and they were just as unsure as I was because they’d never experienced anything like this before—just a complete and total shutdown. Talking with our board, we didn’t want to shut everything down and lay everyone off, but neither could we carry on and keep everything and everyone afloat. So we landed in the middle.”
Landing in the middle meant shutting down the ranch ministry and laying off the people running that, as well as making other cuts to staff and programming. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life,” said Rob.
Eventually, the camp was able to apply for some government assistance, but Rob insists that what made the biggest difference was the generosity of community stakeholders in the area and throughout the Covenant.
One of those giving churches was Sunset Covenant Church in west Portland, Oregon.
Some readers may remember that I formerly served in pastoral ministry at Sunset Covenant, as associate and then as co-pastor.
So many memories of that season are positive—yet the main theme of my tenure was disappointment. The church had been in a decade of gradual decline even before my arrival in 2017. By 2019, it was clear that any new hope for a Covenant church ministry jumpstart in that space would have to be in the form of a church plant. That’s when the church council empowered me to assemble a core team of young people to dream and envision what God could do in that space.
But that, too, fizzled—and I plunged further into disappointment.
As part of the ongoing discernment process concerning the future of the church, the congregation of Sunset decided to sell its building to another faith-based organization and use the proceeds as legacy funds to bless other ministries. By the end of 2020, I had concluded my service as pastor, and the sale become official a few months later. Six months later, I was working as a school bus driver.
That was the end of that story, as far as I knew.
Until July 2022, when I was invited to lead worship for the Independence Day Family Camp at Cascades, and I heard Rob make an announcement.
“Just as there were many people and organizations who gave to our fundraising efforts, there were also many organizations which Sunset chose to bless with monetary gifts from those legacy funds,” Rob says now.
By the time the funds were ready for dispersal, I was no longer part of the ministry. Even if I’d still been there, congregational polity meant I had no real authority or oversight regarding how or where the funds would flow. I’d suggested giving to Cascades once or twice in passing, but that was it.
But I guess they were listening.
“I’d gotten a heads up from Greg Yee, our superintendent in the Pacific Northwest Conference,” Rob says. “He told me, ‘Hey, it looks like Sunset Covenant will be sending a gift of significance your way.’ And then I got a call from Lisa Beatty, the treasurer there. The term ‘gift of significance’ can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, so I didn’t really know what to expect.”
As it turned out, the gift was about $135,000.
“We were completely blown away,” Rob says.
“I was so humbled by this gift that I really wanted to do something special at the camp to honor the legacy of Sunset Covenant. So I told the board, ‘If we can, let’s see if we can hold off on putting this into the general operations fund.’”
When Rob saw an immense wooden contraption for sale online that was designed for people to climb and swing on and move in a controlled, supervised environment, he thought that might be “something special.” It was like a ropes course but much bigger.
Sunset Adventure Park artist rendering
Another camp had just purchased it but then had to close. “We put together a capital campaign to get us over the finish line,” Rob explains. “The gift from Sunset was what made it possible.”
They plan to call the upcoming attraction Sunset Adventure Park.
Hearing about the park helped me to believe something that I’d only previously held in faith —that those years at Sunset meant something, for all of us. The decades that many of the faithful members of that congregation spent hoping, praying, and believing God for something greater to occur meant something.
I’d been processing many of my emotions from that last ministry stop on a hip-hop album entitled “After Sunset, Vol. 1.” After hearing the announcement, I headed home to write a new song called “Adventure,” designed to encourage people to follow the call of God no matter the circumstances.
God used Sunset Covenant to help Cascades in a time of need, just as God has used Cascades Camp so many times to minister to people throughout the Covenant. I’ve written before about how apprehensive I can be driving into the great outdoors, so I appreciate all the more that when I come to Cascades, I know I’ll be loved and taken care of. Thanks to a confluence of strategic stewardship, enduring friendship, desperate hope, and God’s enduring faithfulness, ministry adventures are beginning anew at Cascades Camp.