By Kenny Rigoulot, Executive Director of Development and Spiritual Formation
Reflections as we welcome a new gathering space at Gilmont in honor of Blake Stephens
When you visit the new Hammock Circle at Gilmont, bring a friend or make a new one when you get there! And don’t miss the sprinkles of glitter mixed in with the soil underfoot. Surely some of the pranksters who loved giving Blake glitter gifts - knowing how much he hated the stuff - have been there before you, laughing as they leave some glitter dust behind.
Losing Blake Stephens was extraordinarily difficult for all of us who knew him. Camp is a place where bonds of friendship are woven over the course of time. Blake Stephens 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. Because of Blake’s love for hammocking at the camp, Gilmont decided to build a hammock circle in his honor.
When Ronnie Spradlin (longtime friend of the camp from Kilgore) 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. Members of First Presbyterian Church in Kilgore along with family and friends joined in to fund the project - with additional gifts set aside to 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 with a special dedication service along with Rev. Jen Mitchell, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Corsicana, who grew up with Blake. She shared her hope that the hammock circle will be a circle of hope, where all are invited.
The Hammock Circle holds significance as a place to remember Blake for many reasons, with one little story being particularly special. When working with me on this past year’s summer camp curriculum - The Tree of Life - we discussed how it is a symbol of hope for healing, life, and love - in this life and the next. According to tradition, the Tree of Life is so enormous that it would take 500 years to climb it. Blake’s comment at the time was, “just 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 the hammock circle will be a space where children, youth, and adults will gather to visit, sing silly songs, and have deep theological conversations; a place where individuals can rest and relax; a place where people will look up and see the wind blow through the trees, clouds dance, and stars light up the sky; a safe, sacred space where all are invited to grow closer to God, creation, others, and themselves; and, a place where those that knew and loved Blake will know that he is with God and God is with them.