November 06, 2014

Camp and Retreat Ministries FAQ Three: Stewardship of Resources

This is the third in a series of three FAQs aimed at answering questions regarding the direction of Camp and Retreat Ministries in the Missouri Conference.

Mission Statement

Leading local churches of the Missouri Conference in intentional faith development that shapes “next generations” into mature disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

What were the financial considerations in this process?
Our decision to move away from owning our own properties is not primarily a financial one. However, finances do come into play. First, many have said that each camp is in the black while the Camp Board has pointed to a negative spending situation. Here is how both statements are currently true. Each camp, at the beginning of the year, had their own individual account which received funds from outside group use and from the Annual Conference through camper fees and apportionments. Funds were transferred from the conference office to the local camp’s bank account to ensure that there were always funds in that camp’s account. In order to keep the local camp’s account in the black, the conference camp account was consistently spending all camper fees, all apportionment funds, and drawing into reserves which were decreasing year by year. In less than five years, all reserves would be exhausted at our current spending rates and accelerated by increased insurance premiums. Add to this the basic needs identified by the site directors and deferred maintenance costs, and the shortfall becomes dramatic. Going forward with our current programming would not be possible without increasing apportionments and/or camp fees, let alone not being able to add alternative programming. As we explored the options, hosting residential camps at alternative sites not owned by the conference would result in significant cost savings plus it allowed for new camp experiences to reach new people.

What were the bottom line figures for each camp?
Using data from 2013 (the most recent full year available), here is how each camp’s revenue matched up to its expenses:

  Jo-Ota Blue Mtn. Galilee Wilderness
Total Revenue $207,006 $250,442 $251,348 $326,582
Total Expenses $325,748 $366,966 $417,557 $404,681
Difference ($118,742) ($116,524) ($166,209) ($78,099)

 

The total shortfall here was made up by conference apportionments. But, the apportionments received in 2013 ($431,136) did not fully cover the difference of $479,574. The $48,438 gap came from reserve funds.

In light of these figures, why do some claim the camps were running “in the black?”
Up until a few months ago, each camp had its own books but those books did not include all expenses. For years now, several major items were paid, not by the camps, but through the conference office. The salary of each site director, insurance premiums, and publicity and some administrative costs were all paid out of Columbia. Those items did not show up in the ledgers of each individual camp – though they are all very real operating costs necessary for running a camp. The expenses as listed above represent the comprehensive costs of running each property.

Why didn’t you seek to raise the additional funds needed?
When considering stewardship of resources, the Camp Board felt that the time, energy, leadership, and staff attention currently given to our own properties could be invested in different ways or left in local congregations that could reach more people, fulfill the mission more completely, and multiply our faith development processes. We also did not feel that the mood in the annual conference was receptive to a major capital campaign for camp properties. Evidence for this can be seen in the poor response to the recent campaign to build a new dining hall at Wilderness which had a goal of raising $1,250,000 and, after two plus years, only raised $143,123.

Won’t it cost more to rent or lease camp properties from other groups than using our own?
There are a number of variables in renting a facility, but so far in our negotiations with other camps we are finding that the fees are lower. While it is still too early to tell, we believe camp fees next summer will be less than they were this year on our own properties.

What proposal will be taken to the Annual Conference Session in 2015?
The Camp and Retreat Ministries Board will propose selling all four camp properties. The members of the Missouri Annual Conference session will then debate the proposal and a vote will be called for and taken. This process will happen following all of our standing rules and our normal debate and vote processes.

How will our properties be cared for in the meantime?
Caretakers are currently in place caring for our facilities as we decide together what will be their ultimate outcome. Lawns are being mowed, utilities remain on, buildings are being maintained, and insurance policies remain in effect. All of these costs have been calculated and are part of our 2015 budget. In those cases where extra security is required plans are being made to care for that as well.

If the conference session approves the sale of property, what will happen to the proceeds of any eventual sales?
First, we are unsure even of the value of these properties on the open market. Second, no decision has yet been made about how those funds will be used. When the Camp Board met with the Mission Council, Finance and Administration Team, and Trustees on October 9, it was determined that we would set aside the discussion of how the funds would be used until a future meeting. Related to this, it has come to our attention that some have speculated that that those funds will go towards the expansion that is currently underway at the Missouri Conference Office in Columbia. We can assure you that that is not the case. Funding for that project was in place before the Camp Board came to this decision.

If the conference session approves the permanent closure and sale of the properties, how can we celebrate the ministries of these places?
The campgrounds are sacred places to many of us and as such hold a special place in the hearts of those who have used them over the years. Similar to how we decommission church buildings, the Board plans to hold decommissioning services at each location allowing persons to remember, celebrate and give thanks to God for the legacy of faith and service that God has brought about in each of these locations.

What is the apportionment impact for 2015?
The Camp Board will be working with the Finance and Administration Team who will bring the final proposal to the floor of the conference. We are currently planning to maintain the present funding level. Equipment for the new mobile camps is being purchased, staffing will still be needed, training of volunteer staff will increase, funds for increased programming will be required, and funding to insure that we will be able to be missional in areas where a camp will clearly be missional will require this level of funding. We are planning an increased Next Generation ministry not a decrease with more local churches, more children and youth, and more opportunities to connect.

How are we able to afford the costs of the mobile camps?
The equipment being purchased for our first mobile camp is being paid for out of the Camp & Retreat Ministries Board reserves, a fund that was boosted by the sale of the house in Columbia where our former camp director lived. It is the same reserve fund that has been covering the deficit at which the camps have been operating. We would rather put these funds towards new initiatives rather than seeing them erode to zero because of deficit spending.

What has happened to the funds given for the capital campaign at Wilderness?
Over a period of three years, individuals and congregations gave funds to build a new dining hall at the Wilderness Retreat and Development Center. Of the $143,123 raised, over $98,062 was expended to raise those funds leaving a balance of $45,061. This project was approved before the current Camp Board took office and was not under the direction of the conference board. Last spring we asked for a pause to the campaign while we continued to discern what the future should look like. At that time, we obtained a list of all donors. These donors have all been contacted and we have refunded all requests for funds that had been donated including those monies already expended.

Will “retreats” continue to be part of our work going forward?
Our camp properties have had active participation by both United Methodist and outside groups in the season between Labor Day and Memorial Day, mostly on weekends. This was begun many years ago to help fund the work of camping and make the camps themselves more economically viable – all the while recognizing that the “main event” for our properties was summer camping. While many meaningful events have occurred on these weekends, we do not feel this helps us in our annual conference’s mission of “leading congregations to lead people to actively follow Jesus Christ.” Local churches have many attractive and more functional options available to them nearby for these purposes. We would rather put our efforts and resources towards those things that fulfill our mission.