June 16th 2023
Last Saturday morning, Jaime Cupschalk stood on the steps of the Cooper River Yacht Club and blessed the two wooden canoes built by Urban BoatWorks with Camden students and volunteers this past school year.
“Lord we are here and thankful for this occasion and the beauty of the day … “ Cupschalk began his blessing on Saturday.
But Cupschalk just didn’t bless the boats he helped to build, working with UrbanPromise Academy 9th graders and Camden Forward School students over the last four months while he was on sabbatical as pastor of Ashland Church in Voorhees.
Truly, he has done much more than bless the boats. He has been the blessing.
“His encouragement and support to the staff and the students at our UrbanPromise Academy is a blessing to all of us beyond measure,” said Jim Cummings, the Director of Experiential Learning at UrbanPromise.
On his experiential sabbatical, Cupschalk traveled light, always packing his easy smile and his steely commitment to serve.
“I don’t think I came in with a ton of expectations,” Cupschalk said, “my focus was on how I could be a blessing.”
Surely, someone with Cupschalk’s varied talents and skills as well as his calming nature and affable personality could’ve chosen many sabbatical destinations.
“On sabbatical, people think you might go somewhere like the Holy Land, but I went to Camden and I loved it,” Cupschalk said with his infectious smile. “I wanted to do something of significance.”
And he did. Although his sabbatical stay at UrbanPromise is over, his tangible impact and example of service will be as lasting as the sturdy boats he blessed.
“During his time with us Jamie fully immersed himself in all the programming, building canoes with students in the boat shop, helping to oversee the paddling programs on our Camden waterways, joining our students and staff on expeditions to Assateague Island, Civil War History tours through Gettysburg and Harper's Ferry and Winter Outdoor Leadership Training in Western, Pa.,” Cummings cited gratefully.
“Lord I want to thank you for the many who put the effort and hard work and making these boats …” Cupschalk
continued to pray at the boat launch.
Before his sabbatical started, to understand more and get a better feel for the UrbanTrekkers programs, Cupschalk went to Assateague Island in Maryland with the Trekkers in October.
“My introduction was kind of an exploratory time with the kids and getting a feel for what UrbanTrekkers do,” Cupschalk explained, “and, yeah, the kids were fantastic.
“It was beautiful.”
On the four-day Assateague trip, Pablo and another UPA 9th grade student had difficulty moving a canoe, but the difficulty was fleeting.
“He helped us in certain situation that we couldn’t do,” Pablo said, recalling the Cupschalk’s assistance on Assateague. “He’s a nice, helpful man.”
Cupschalk’s quick helping hand was matched by a spontaneous wit and endearing humor.
“He is very fun and playful and he’s very kind,” Destiny, a 9th grader at UPA said. “He’s very whimsical, he is very smart and gives wise advice.”
“And Lord we ask that they may be set apart and be used in a way that they bring glory to your name …” “ Cupschalk also prayed at the boat launch.
Cupschalk officially started in late January and ended his blessed sabbatical in early June. However, on Thursday, he helped load canoes at the Cooper River Yacht Club and then joined the River Guides on a practice paddle from the Kaighn Avenue dam to Pyne Point on the Delaware River.
“The church allowed me to go on a sabbatical for four and a half months,” Cupschalk said with genuine appreciation. “It’s supposed to be a time of rest or doing something different, and this was definitely doing something different than I was used to doing.”
Cupschalk certainly is used to changing paths and doing something different. Over two decades ago, while living in Virginia Beach where he worked as an Engineer for the U.S. Navy and served in the Virginia Army National Guard, Cupschalk received a call to full-time Christian Ministry.
So when he heard a persistent voice in his head to trek with UrbanPromise, he acted purposely.
“The idea came a year early when I saw what UrbanTrekkers did and I was attracted to the ministry,” Cupschalk said.
Cupschalk quickly became an attraction.
“Jamie is simply a delight to be around,” Evan Williams, the UrbanTrekkers program director, said. “Always entering a room with joy and happiness, Jamie is a person that I have had the extreme pleasure of working with these past couple of months.”
Williams called Cupschalk “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and said he has “made this OEL team stronger with his presence.”
“In the leadership class that we have co-led, Jamie has taught me just as much as we have taught the children,” Williams added. “The gentle nature in which he leads is both inspiring and something to take note of. You can tell he has a heart not only for God, for all of His creation.”
“So we pray God for a blessing for all the people who are here and we pray for a blessing upon these boots that they be used for your glory … “ Cupschalk also prayed at the boat launch.
A year ago, last June, Cupschalk first spoke to Cummings at a fundraising event in the boat shop about the possibility of doing his sabbatical with the Trekkers.
“I wondered if a pastor had ever done that before at UrbanPromise,” Cummings said. “My excitement bubbled over, yet I thought I better run this by Bruce Main, the President and Founder of UrbanPromise. Bruce and I were excited to meet with Jamie and overwhelmingly in support of Jamie and his vision.”
Cupschalk’s only hesitation wasn’t the long days on treks or saw dust flying at the boat shop or the strenuous strokes on the paddles, but he “wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be a burden to the ministry.”
“I wanted to help, I wanted it to be a win-win,” Cupschalk said, “and when we talked, the more and more sense it made and when I presented to the session of the church they agreed, too.”
Cupschalk noted the highlights were as lengthy of days camping with the Trekkers.
“I loved meeting the guys at the boat shop and I spent a lot of time connecting with the OEL staff,” Cupschalk said. “Everyone was fantastic. They are all such a wonderful group of people.
“Getting to know some of the kids has been great,” Cupschalk continued. “Really, I was an outsider, but they always welcomed me in and I always appreciated that.
“I found myself praying for the kids, maybe someone who was down that day.”
“Lord we know you are the God who restores and who brings peace … “ Cupschalk prayed at the boat launch.
In September of 2002, Cupschalk landed in New Jersey to pastor the Ashland Church. For him, Camden was only a place he read about in newspapers.
“When I moved to New Jersey 20 years ago, Camden was scary to me,” Cupschalk said softly with hesitation, “but I developed a real appreciation of the people.”
When asked what surprised him the most on his sabbatical, Cupschalk didn’t hesitate and gushed, “how welcoming the students were, they didn’t have to be like that or listen to me because they didn’t know me, but they did.”
And what does Cupschalk pack away from his sabbatical in his backpack?
“I came in with the attitude of ‘what can I do to be a help’ and I spent time observing and learning from the staff and the kids,” Cupschalk added. “I found myself in places that I wasn’t an expert, so I learned a lot and I had a great time.”
Cupschalk, who has degrees from Old Dominion University (’88 B.S. in Mechanical Engineering) and Reformed Theological Seminary (’99 Masters of Divinity), and his wife, Tamera, live in Voorhees, so he remains close physically, too, as well as emotional to UrbanPromise.
“I don’t see this as a stopping point, my sabbatical ended, but my connection with UrbanPromise won’t,” Cupschalk said. “I would love to continue to connect. I basically made new friends. It was a privilege for me to meet them.”
Certainly, Cupschalk has set the path for others to do their sabbatical with the Trekkers. He has been a ground-breaker on more than mountainous trails.
“When sharing Jamie's story recently with a pastor friend, who looked surprise about an UrbanPromise sabbatical, and asked me the question, ‘you can do that?’ “Cummings said. “My reply, ‘oh, yes you can.’ "
It would be difficult, however, to imagine anyone doing a sabbatical in the future with the grace and compassion and efficiency and energy as Cupschalk. He not only has set the bar, but he is the bar.
“Jamie has been such a blessing for us,” said Joann Higgins, the Assistant Director of Experiential Learning “He has graciously taken on projects from organizing our badge tracker to picking up paint and paint supplies then organizing and leading a multi-room painting project.
“Though what I love the most about Jamie is his ability to connect with people, especially our kids. Whenever we had a paddle, he is almost always the first grown-up picked to be in their canoe.”
The canoes he helped build … and blessed.
“And Lord I ask that as they take people out on this river and experience what you have made, that you open the rise and grant them a great vision of the beauty that you have created… “ Cupschalk also prayed at the boat launch.