After two years of information gathering, conversations, visits to all camp sites, a financial and property analysis and prayerful discernment, the Missouri Annual Conference Camping and Retreat Board will be shifting how we facilitate the vital ministry of camping in the Missouri Annual Conference.
One of the new directions will be a new partnership with Central Methodist University. Some future camp programming will take place on the campus of CMU in newly remodeled facilities which will allow for additional campers and new spiritual formation experiences. In addition to making use of the large indoor pool, gyms, turf arena, performing art stages and outdoor sporting facilities, land near the campus has been designated for unique rugged experiences where outdoor camping, campfires and groups can experience bonfires. The large lake nearby will provide opportunities for campers to engage in fishing, boating, canoeing and nature exploration.
In addition to the camping spiritual formation experiences at Central Methodist University, the office of Next Generation will be expanding the camping program and resourcing local congregations by offering day camps. The Next Generation Day Camp program will make it possible to bring a camp experience right to your local church to strengthen your outreach to the next generation in your own community. Each unit will come with trained staff to facilitate dramas, dynamic worship and engaging activities including a rock wall, water slides, archery, and bungee jump activity system to engage the local community and create a bridge to children and youth into the discipleship efforts of the local church. While day camps will be accessible to all of the churches in our conference, this will help make a camping experience even more accessible to some of our rural churches. Camping will go where the children are rather than asking children to go where the camps are.
The Missouri Annual Conference has an average of 2,075 United Methodist campers per year (about 20% of our churches in the annual conference send one or more campers) that use one of our four properties for summer camp programming. The conference receives on average about $435,000.00 in apportionments to subsidize the four properties in our conference. Even with all of our camping apportionment being used to subsidize these properties we ended this year with a $48,428.00 deficit. Our camping and retreat ministry staff has worked tirelessly to rent our facilities to corporations and non-profits to subsidize what is not received through camp tuition. Even with the additional income received from usage fees, the financial and property analysis project that in two years our operating budget deficit will exceed over $175,000.00 and we will no longer have the financial resources to maintain the properties.
Additionally, our site directors reported to the Camping and Retreat Board earlier this year a projected need of $2,607,000.00 in property improvements in order to remain competitive for the next five years. If we continue to use our existing four properties, we will need an additional $2,770,000.00 in the next two to five years in addition to the $435,000.00 that we are already receiving in apportionments making a combined financial need of over $3,205,000.00.
After prayer and a call to fast from the members of the Camping & Retreat Board, a unanimous decision was made to move forward in ways that are different but will strengthen the conference camping ministry that has touched the lives of so many children, youth, college-age and adults throughout the years. The Cabinet was briefed on the conclusions of the Camping & Retreat Board along with members of the Mission Council.
As we move forward, a publication outlining camping and other spiritual formation experiences provided by the office of Next Generation Ministries will be made available in December of this year and in January registration for camp in 2015 will be opened for children, youth, and college-age students across our conference to register.
Summer conference camping programs for 2015 will not be conducted on our four traditional camping sites, although arrangements are being made to accommodate many of the existing reservations for groups using our sites this fall.
In light of the decision to chart a new course for camping for the Missouri Conference, the Camping Board has advised site directors that their positions will not be continued. The Board values the work and leadership and commitment of all the site directors, several of whom have served faithfully for many years. The board solicits the prayers and support of laity and pastors from across the conference for the directors and their families who are affected by the changes. The Board has offered generous support packages and transition periods for site directors to seek other positions.
During the months to come, the Camping Board will meet with the Mission Council, the Conference Board of Trustees, and the Conference Finance Committee to present more details of their analysis, discernment, and recommendations.
In response to the report from the Camping Board, Bishop Schnase has said, “I appreciate the hard work of the Camping Board over the last two years, and I know that these decisions have not been easy. Personally, my life was changed by conference outdoor ministries when I was young. Retreat ministries provided the setting where I discovered my call to ministry, and the place where I met my wife. The members of the Camping Board love camping and have led camping, but they have concluded that to reach more young people requires dramatic changes. I hope those who love and value camping will open their hearts and minds to some of the creative ideas the Camping Board are bringing to us.”
The Camping Board is chaired by Rev. Ron Watts, pastor of LaCroix United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Other members include Rev. Jon Spalding, Betsy Vicente, Lee Smith, Rev. Ann Mowery, and District Superintendent Bart Hildreth. Conference Staff related to the Camping Board include Rev. Garrett Drake, Next Generations Ministries; and Rev. Sherry Habben, Director of Connectional Ministries.
For questions or comments you may contact the Conference office.