The stated mission of Laity Lodge is:
The renewal of society
through the renewal of the Church;
through the renewal of the family;
through renewed individuals.
Central to this mission of multi-level renewal, as I’ve explained in my last two posts, is a commitment to the ministry of all of God’s people. Part of individual renewal is helping Christian people to discover that they are ministers of Jesus Christ, and are to serve Him in their relationships, in their work, in the church, and in the wider world.
Laity Lodge has a wealth of resources to fulfill this mission. Most obviously, it is a retreat center in the Hill Country of Texas, a complex of about a dozen buildings placed in an stunning canyon along the Frio River. Throughout the year, Laity Lodge hosts 40-50 retreats, some organized by Laity Lodge itself, others by churches and other Christian groups. One of powerful draws for me when I thought about joining this ministry was the chance to help it use the unique retreat center God has entrusted to it for His purposes. Yes, once again, it’s an issue of stewardship, not of my gifts, but of those belonging to Laity Lodge. (Photo: Black Bluff, one of the housing facilities at Laity Lodge, built almost literally on the Frio River)
But Laity Lodge is more than just a fantastic retreat center for adults. It is part of the larger work of the H.E. Butt Foundation. Founded in 1933 by Howard and Mary Holdsworth Butt, the Foundation includes a wide array of ministries such as: the Laity Lodge Youth Camp, the Foundation Free Camps, and The High Calling of Our Daily Work. Laity Lodge itself is located in the center of the Foundation’s 1900-acre ranch that comprises five other camps, the Youth Camps and Free Camps. I won’t go into detail about these other ministries today. You can learn more about them by clicking on the links above. But I will say that one of the things that drew me to Laity Lodge was the thought of being part of a ministry that seeks to reach out to children and others who can’t afford an experience in the country. The Free Camps allow thousands of people each year, mainly children, to be exposed to the love of God at camps that are literally free. Church groups and other non-profit agencies use these camps without charge.
This exceptional generosity is a hallmark of the family that lies behind Laity Lodge and the H.E. Butt Foundation. Howard E. Butt (senior) founded the H.E. Butt Grocery Company after serving in World War I. As the company flourished, he and his wife used their financial blessings for a variety of philanthropic causes. The charitable Foundation they established purchased the ranch for the Free Camps in 1954, and helped to found Laity Lodge in 1961. Howard E. Butt, Jr., and his family have continued to devote their lives and their financial resources to the varied and growing ministries associated with Laity Lodge. In recent years, others have begun to join this amazing family with their financial contributions, thus extending the impact of the Foundation and Laity Lodge.
The financial and physical resources of Laity Lodge are indeed impressive. But these are not the most valuable of Laity Lodge’s resources, in my opinion. The best Laity Lodge has to offer is a network of people, some of the finest people I have ever met. Not surprisingly, I agree with Howard Butt, Jr., that the “wealth” of Laity Lodge lies in the people associated with this ministry. Back in 2001 when I first visited Laity Lodge as a speaker, I was impressed by the extraordinary graciousness and talent of the people who worked there. That impression has grown as I’ve come to know the leadership of Laity Lodge and the whole Foundation.
If I started mentioning by name all the people who have impressed me with their character, faith, and talent, this would post would be way too long. So I’ll note only a few of the major players.
When I was just beginning my conversations with this ministry about joining their team, I met with Steven Purcell, the newly hired Director of Laity Lodge. Over dinner at P.F. Chang’s China Bistro in Austin, Steven and I became acquainted, sharing some of our personal stories and our vision for the kingdom of God. I was deeply impressed by Steven’s depth and creativity. I came away from that meeting thinking that I it would be a privilege to work with him.
The next day I met Howard E. Butt, Jr., founder of Laity Lodge, along with his son-in-law, David Rogers, who is the Executive Vice President of the Foundation. Over a long lunch we talked about our lives, our faith, and the ministry of Laity Lodge. Toward the end of that meeting we focused on what they were looking for in an Executive Director (the title of Senior Director came later). As I left that meeting, I wasn’t sure that the job description of Executive Director was right for me. But I had a powerful desire to partner with these outstanding leaders as they sought to serve the Lord.
And so it has gone as I’ve met so many others associated with Laity Lodge. I’m thinking not only about the members of the staff. Laity Lodge involves a network of committed, visionary, faithful Christian people who are united by a love for Christ and Laity Lodge, as well as a dedication to the mission of Christ and Laity Lodge. Included in this complex of relationships are some of the most highly respected leaders I know, people such as Eugene Peterson, J.I. Packer, Armand M. Nicoli, Jr., and Earl Palmer. For many years, award-winning author Madeleine L’Engle was a frequent visitor to Laity Lodge. Literally hundreds of other leaders in business, education, government, and church are part of the Laity Lodge community.
As I considered how best to use the gifts God had given me, I became convinced that this would happen if I were to join the Laity Lodge team. This ministry offered me the opportunity to focus more of my time and energy in areas of personal strength, giftedness, and passion. I’ll say more about this in my next post as I draw near to the end of this series.