By Jim Gauger
Special to The CS&T
ORELAND – The King’s Men ministry, based in Oreland, Montgomery County was founded in August 2006 by Damian Wargo and Mark Houck.
The non-profit lay apostolate’s mission rests in what Wargo and Houck feel are the instincts that define men: “Under Christ the King’s universal call to serve, we as men pledge to unite and build up other men in the mold of leader, protector and provider through education, information and action.”
That goal of creating life skills that are nurtured in spirituality takes many paths. Getting men together in a retreat setting is the most conventional.
Earlier this year, Wargo and Houck decided to go the unconventional route in an effort to reach more men. The plan was to take the retreat to an outdoor venue. A weekend camping retreat named “Into the Wild” was held June 4-7 at French Creek State Park in Elverson, Pa.
“It’s a great location, about 50 miles outside of Philadelphia,” Houck said. “It’s a convenient commute. We have a great financial package with the state park. It offers men a rugged, outdoors weekend in an area that feels like you are somewhere in the Appalachians.”
Houck says a group of 80 to 100 men were expected to register. A total of 104 participated.
“We had a good program and we knew guys would come alive (during the weekend),” Houck said. “We had men flying in from California and Texas.” A total of 15 states were represented.
The initial success was so encouraging that a second “Into the Wild” weekend is planned for Sept. 10-13 at French Creek.
As of mid-August, 60 men had signed on. Houck is confident they will match the number of the June weekend.
“We have a lot of the same men – they were so enriched by it,” Houck said. “Guys are notoriously late doing things, so we feel we will get the same turnout.”
Campers range in age from 11 to 70, but “the median is 30s and 40s,” Houck said. “We had 30 father-and-son groups. It’s a chance for fathers to do some things with their sons they had never done before.”
Campers live in cabins without electricity, usually four to a unit. There are speakers throughout the weekend, including Wargo and Houck.
Despite the many preparations, Wargo, the director of operations for The King’s Men, admitted he was uncertain how the first “Into the Wild” weekend would turn out.
“It definitely exceeded my expectations, especially in the area of positive feedback from men on the weekend,” Wargo said. “I attribute that to a tremendous leadership team.”
Wargo and Houck organized a 20-plus man team, many who are part of the King’s Men network. “They had outdoors skills and spirituality skills,” Wargo said. “They did 40 days of prayer and fasting leading up to the weekend. This was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, for the glory of God.”
Wargo hopes the weekend retreat can become a national program.
“We are in the process of laying the groundwork of duplicating it here or in other parts of the country,” he said. “We are documenting the weekend and preparing a handbook so that we can train other men to start a camp.”
The weekend begins on Thursday, the “welcoming” day, said Houck. Each of the next three days is structured around “the three fundamental roles of masculinity: leader, protector and provider.” Each day includes a Mass.
“Friday is spent developing leadership,” Houck explained. “The men go through an exercise called orienteering. The men, in teams, use a compass and go into the wilderness to find contact points. In the evening they talk about their growth,” Houck said.
The next day is designed to develop provider skills through fishing, constructing an outdoor church (it is later taken down since the grounds are on a state park) and cooking for a pig roast.
There is a shooting range nearby that provides a new experience for some men. “We have police officers and ex-Marines,” Houck explained, “but we also have men who have never fired a gun. Most of the men who participate find it exhilarating. It’s a mentoring thing.”
On the final day, the role of protector is examined. Men are called “to go back home and engage the community,” Houck said. “Pick something as an issue; take on the pornography establishment, defend marriage. We want to empower them to take on cultural evils in a Christ-like way.”
The weekend – four days and three nights – costs $235, which includes food.
For information, go to www.intothewildweekend.com or e-mail email@example.com.
Jim Gauger is a freelance writer and a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Church, Glenside.