Paralyzed by Fear: My Time on the Camp Board–Frustrated
This is not the United Methodist Church of my childhood. There have been too many significant changes to conclude otherwise. For instance, the small United Methodist junior college I attended closed. The United Methodist seminary from whence I graduated moved because it could not be sustained in its historic setting. These decisions were made without my input or permission. Those changes made me anxious. I will admit I expressed some of my fearfulness as anger. With the passing of time and in the cool light of reason, I have come to understand that the decisions to close my junior college and move my seminary were undertaken for good reasons by thoughtful leaders—even though the alumni/ae may not have agreed.
Consider the way we now do campus ministry in Missouri. It is very different than the way we used to do it. The old way was not working as well as it once did. Significant change was recommended. There was objection and anxiety. Change was instituted and now we have more local church involvement and more students participating in campus ministry than ever before.
It is a common pattern. Change in the familiar leads to fear and disappointment frequently resulting in anger. Thankfully, with the passing of time, there often comes acceptance and an appreciative understanding of why the change was instituted.
At this time there is another recommended change that has given rise to considerable debate, disagreement, anger and disappointment. This has to do with the way we do camping in our conference. Contrary to popular opinion, this recommendation is neither rash nor surprising. It is the result of years of changing circumstances and a series of decisions that have inevitably led to the need for significant change.
Let me cite two factors that, I believe, have been critical in bringing us to where we are today: (1) The closing of college campus ministry sites; and (2) A new conference mission statement calling for every conference ministry (camping included) to be “Leading congregations to lead people to actively follow Jesus Christ.”
The change in campus ministry created anxiety on the camping board about whether or not similar significant change might come to its ministry. To ensure against that eventuality, the camping board responded by altering its mission to claim that camping in Missouri had to be done on four sites. That decision, obviously, made a priority of funding and supporting each of those sites.
Implementing the new conference ministry mission statement created a conundrum for the camping board. The common understanding was that the local congregations through apportionments and volunteers supported the camping program. The new conference mission statement was interpreted to say that local congregations should not serve the camping program. The camping programs should serve the local congregation.
In order to be faithful to the new mission of serving congregations as well as to ensure that Missouri camping would continue in four locations, the camping board decided that their entire camping program needed to become self-sufficient. To reach that goal, camp fees were raised on local congregations. Site utilization also had to be increased. This was addressed by adding “Retreat Center” as a function of the camps. As retreat centers the camps needed to rent to non-United Methodist groups. This led to the need for each camp to seek certification from the American Camping Association (ACA). Meeting ACA standards increased operational cost.
During this time, site directors began to promote capital campaigns for the addition of an “Anchor” at each camp site. This might mean the addition of a swimming pool, a dining hall, a tabernacle or some other building improvement. On the one hand, these “Anchors” were significant camp improvements. On the other hand, they got people to invest in the property, feel a closer attachment to camp and, thus, make it less likely that a decision could be made to sell the camp. As one director told me, “They can’t sell the camps if we have debt by creating these ‘Anchors’”.
It seems that the 2005-2012 camping board was, in attempts to follow the vision of the conference, straying even further from it.