Missouri Conference Votes to Sell Camp Properties


July 01, 2015

The voting process on one of the most anticipated issues before the Missouri Annual Conference resulted in the Missouri Conference Trustees being authorized to sell three of the Missouri Conference Camping and Retreat Ministries properties on the open market, and sell the fourth to a local organization of United Methodist Churches for $120,003. The following is account of how process unfolded.

On Saturday, June 6, at 4 p.m. the Camping and Retreat Ministry board brought a proposal to Annual Conference Session for the Conference body to authorize the sale of the four Missouri Conference owned Camping and Retreat Ministry properties (Wilderness near Lawson, Jo-Ota near Clarence, Blue Mountain near Fredericktown, and Galilee near Eldorado Springs). Prior to Annual Conference Session supporters of camp ministries submitted up three other resolutions related to the properties.

Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase said that out of fairness to all parties, and because the resolutions were intertwined, they would be handled as substitute motions to the main motion.

Normally discussion and debate allows for five for and five against speeches of two minutes each on each resolution. Bishop recommended that a full five minutes be given to each of the resolution presentations. Bishop Schnase asked the body for affirmation of this method of proceeding with the process, and received affirmation by a majority hand vote.

The main motion and the first substitute resolution concerning the sale of camps was presented first. Substitute resolution two and three concern to whom certain camps will be sold, so if Substitute Resolution 1 had passed, Resolutions 2 and 3 would have not been addressed.

The proposal was unchanged from what has been presented online, via video, and at meetings since the new direction was announced last September. Board Chair Ron Watts said he is excited about the future of camping, but thinks it needs to take a new direction. He said the board came to a consensus that the Conference needs to be free of the properties they own and maintain so energy and resources could be focused on new methods.

The group created a 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.” The word camping was not included because camping is a method. The board knew that children, youth and college age were their primary targets.

“This is the most unchurched generation ever,” said Watts. “This gets to the heart of what concerns the church, ministering to children and church, creating disciples for decades to come.”

Although $522,000 was budgeted for camps last year, Watts contended that this is not enough to keep the four Conference owned camp properties maintained and upgraded so they are competitive with other camps. In 2013 camps spent $479,594 over camper fees, which totaled to be $48,448 more than the apportioned budget.

Watts said residential camping can be done at rented facilities, and mobile camps could bring the camping experience to some churches. In addition, high quality state-wide events may be developed at Central Methodist University. There would be a continuation of Mission work camps. To accomplish these things, the Board believes it would be best to sell the properties.

Jeff Baker, conference director of Mission, Service and Justice presented what a new vision of camping would look like. The mobile Ignite camps provide curriculum, staff, study and play for the children of a neighborhood and the members of a church. Up to 150 children can be accommodated in a five day camp. A camp will be conducted each week of this summer, for a total of 10 weeks. About 25 camps in the traditional residential camp model or Core camps, will be held this year. There will also be eight weeks of Youthworks service camps, which will have participation from 800 youth and adults.

Jerry Akins of Knob Noster UMC, former Camping and Retreat Ministry board chair and a former superintendent of schools, presented the argument for alternate Resolution 1, acknowledging the need to honor the mission of the church. He cited that real financial emergency does not exist, noting that there is a significant reserve fund in the camp budget.

“In recent years, large capital projects, including new dining halls at both Blue Mountain and Jo-Ota, and a new pool at Wilderness, were all completed without any Conference money through private donations,” Akins said. “Lives are changed at these camps that have served the Conference for generations and can continue to serve. Our congregations would be strengthened by keeping our camps.”

He noted that in addition to the more than 2,000 campers that have been attending Missouri Conference owned camps, another 12,000 people were using the camps for retreat ministries.

Akins said his group is also looking to the future, and are interested in exploring new ways to maintain the camps and run them more efficiently. The Resolution he presented calls for a two-year pause in making this decision and reopening the camps to full use.

“This time honored approach to ministry can be preserved along with new forms of ministry,” Akins said.

Rev. Steve House of Holden UMC presented the argument for alternate Resolution 2, offering the plan that if the conference votes to sell, then Wilderness Camp would be sold to the Wilderness Retreat and Development Center Association for $1. At any time that the Association should fail, the camp would be offered back to the Missouri Conference, or its successor at no cost.

“We like the new ideas, but we want to be part of it,” House said. “We have a lot of interesting people who would be stake holders in Wilderness camp - lawyers, camp managers, fund raising directors… It’s been awesome to see the young, passionate people who want to be part of this. I think we have a great gift in Wilderness, and we ought to work to preserve it, not sell the farm.”

Rev. Carl Knapp of Macon UMC spoke for alternate Resolution 3, outlining that the Jo-Ota Methodist Association would take possession of Camp Jo-Ota should the Conference sell, and to receive it for a $1. As there are no sites to facilitate core camping of the new model less than three hours away from many people in Northeast Missouri, Jo-Ota would keep camping accessible to those churches north of highway I-70. JoOta possesses an endowment fund that provides roughly $31,000 to it every year. This fund would be lost if the camp was sold.

The camp would be able to run for the conference’s benefits without cost to the Conference. As with Resolution 2, if the association fails, the Conference would have first right to the camp.

“We’re asking Conference to equip us, resource us so we can work together to continue disciple making,” Knapp said. “We believe in what the board is doing. The churches the Camp Jo-Ota Association are hosting mobile camps and going on mission trips. We understand (owning a camp) is a challenge, we understand it is not easy, but we are willing and able to take a risk.”

The main motion was offered by the Camping and Retreat Ministries Board and Alternate Resolution 1 was moved as a substitute motion.

At the conclusion of the discussion, a request was made for a paper ballot, so that clergy could vote their conscience without fear of reprisal for being out of step with Conference leadership.

A hand vote was taken on this request, and it was not approved. A hand vote was then taken on Alternate Resolution 1, and counted by tellers. Alternate Resolution 1 failed, with a vote of 425 for and 667 against. This concluded the Saturday afternoon business session.

The main motion and the other two resolutions were addressed the next time the body came together for a business session, which was the next day, Sunday evening, June 7.

Bishop Schnase began the session by reminding the conference that Alternative Resolution 1 (calling for additional study before properties are sold) failed, so the main motion, authorizing the CRM to sell the four camp properties and use the proceeds for other activities of the CRM, including mobile camps, “core camps” and mission camps would be the next item of business.

No discussion occurred on the main motion, as the question was called immediately by Stacey Williams of Branson UMC, it was passed, meaning the motion could not be discussed.

Rev. Laura Blevins of Saint Paul UMC in St. Joseph attempted to propose an amendment, but it was ruled out of order because the question had been called. A hand vote was taken of the main motion to sell the four properties, and it passed.

Resolution 2 was again introduced, to sell Wilderness Camp to the Wilderness Retreat and Development Association for $1. Don Mowery moved to reduce the limit on debate on this motion from five speeches for and against to three. The motion was passed.

John Akins called the question. It was taken with a hand vote, and counted by the tellers. The count of was 429 in favor of Resolution 2, and 460 opposed, so the motion failed.

Alternative Resolution 3, to sell Jo-Ota to an association of the same name was presented next. After some debate Rev. Lee Porch, Zion UMC, made a motion to amend the motion to replace the $1 price with a price of $120,003 to be paid out over seven years($1 per first three years, $30,000 next four years), and the Jo-Ota Association would make an annual report to the conference. If the association could not maintain the payments for the term, the property would come back to the Conference.

Kenneth Pruitt of The Gathering called the question on the amendment to Resolution 3. The vote supported the amendment. The question was then called on Resolution 3 which would include the amendment. Resolution 3 passed, meaning Jo-Ota will be sold to the newly created JoOta Association.