Wednesday, September 17, 2014

An Open Blog 6.2: An Interlude Parable about the "Main Thing" before returning to the "Main Thing."

A Man enters the hospital for surgery.  A mass has been found in his leg.  Thinking it to be cancer his doctor refers him to a surgeon to excise the curious lump.  As the surgeon cuts into the leg for a look around he finds the mass and removes it.  Over time the lab work comes back.  It wasn't a cancerous growth, but an atrophied calf muscle.  It seems that for years the man has failed to exercise, he hasn't built up the muscle.  His calf had become so week that it was barely able to support his weight and had diminished in it's usefulness.  The surgeon had his instructions.  He was under orders, "remove the mass!"  He used all his skill to surgically rid the body of the withering flesh.  The family and the physicians all agreed; had the man only taken responsibility to invest in a new pair of running shoes or a gym membership, his leg would have been saved.  Instead this vital muscle is gone forever.

Will the man ever walk again?  Of course, but a vital muscle has been removed, there will forever be a limp and he will need the aid of crutches to get to where he is going.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

An Open Blog 6: Distractions from "The Main Thing." (Part One)

My friend and former conference Lay Leader, Larry Fagan, had a fondness for quoting a particular phrase.  Every Annual Conference included his reminder that we were being called upon to "Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing."  It's taken me a while to fully appreciate this concept, however I've come to realize that, as a pastor, this is my job.  I make it my task to be the person on point for the main thing.  Every congregation has a mission statement, that's the main thing.  As a pastor my job is to live out the mission statement in my daily life in such a way that I am both the example as well as the chief educator, equipper, and motivator moving the congregation toward the fulfillment of that mission.  My job is to keep the main thing the main thing.
At New McKendree I found that the mission statement was to "Make new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." As the leader of the main thing, if I find that the mission statement doesn't fulfill the gospel, then I should lead the congregation to change their missional focus.  In working with New McKendree, I've encouraged them to change their mission statement to drop one word.  I think it's become a more Wesleyan statement now.  It's become one I can lead toward.  It now reads "Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."  Did you catch the difference?  We'll come back to that difference in a little bit.
If it's my job to lead in the direction of the mission statement then it is fair that I should be measured by my fruitfulness toward it.  At the end of a day, how have I made disciples or led the congregation to do so?  At the end of a week, how have I made disciples or led the congregation to do so?  At year's end, how have I made disciples or led the congregation to do so?  That's how you lead in the direction of the mission, measure it.  But not only measure it, hold me accountable to it.  The Pastor Parish committee sets disciple making goals for me and every time we meet we ask how I'm doing.  At the end of the year, my effectiveness in the task is evaluated.  I not only have the job, but I'm accountable to it and measured by it.
Our Annual Conference has a mission statement. (When I speak of the Annual Conference here I'm referring to the Bishop, Staff, Mission Council, Teams, Committees and Boards.)  That mission statement is "Leading congregations to lead people to active faith in Jesus Christ."  I think it's fair that congregations ask about the effectiveness of the Annual Conference (AC) in accomplishing the mission.  Is our AC leading us to lead people to active faith in Jesus Christ?  In a lot of ways, I celebrate with a resounding "YES!"  Bishop Schnase's books have been the content of his messages to us, and his messages have become his books.  These words of wisdom have given our congregations very clear and measurable "practices".  Those practices are transferable to the individual as life practice, a modern day offering of the "Ordinances of God" in my interpretation.  He has pointed to which "levers" will effect change for the future of the collective of congregations as a whole and therefore, effect change for the individual congregation to be better able to lead people to active faith in Jesus Christ, the main thing.
I would point out that Bob Farr's work with congregational development has been nothing short of transformative.  New congregations are reaching new people in under served places.  HCI is changing our local churches from aimless decline to purposeful, missional serrvice.  I, and the congregations I've served, have benefited from the office of Pastoral Excellence through Pastoral Leadership Development.  These on-going learning experiences have done more to enhance my ministry leadership than the "continuing education units" we're required to accrue.  The office of Connectional Ministries has provided Safe Sanctuaries upgrades that are woefully under appreciated and the sessions of Annual Conference have become both a joy to attend and relevant to everyday ministry.  If you were to ask me if the AC is leading toward it's mission, I'd have to say "yes" and there are both measurables and reportables to show for it.
BUT.  Isn't there always a "BUT"?  I have an issue with our AC that has been a sticking point for a long time.  It's illustrated in New McKendree's mission statement and my edit.  It's "New."  My issue is with "New."  Is it that I am not interested in new disciples.  Of course not.  Ask the people at New McKendree, some would accuse me of having little other focus.  That would be unfair, but if perception is reality, I guess I'll lose that argument.  My issue with "new" is that it isn't Wesleyan.  Ours is the faith of a three-fold understanding of grace.  As such our ministries should be prevenient; actively bringing God's love out of the church building and into a world that has yet to embrace God's loving grace.  Our ministries should be justifying.  We should seek to present the Good News of God's atoning sacrifice through Jesus Christ.  Our message should seek ways to be so compelling that people would "flee from the wrath to come."  We should also be sanctifying in our activities, looking for ways to move our congregants deeper in their faith.  This movement toward Christian perfection is a hallmark of our theology and should be our ecclesiology as well.
I understand this push toward "new".  It's fair to say that our congregations have spent far too much time and energy on their own sanctification that they've missed the other two movements of grace.  I would also say that a great many of our activities in church were more about serving the self-centered focus of our membership than about real movement toward God's perfecting grace.  That feigned and shallow self-righteousness has fallen far short of God's sanctifying grace.  The way to move us back to real sanctification has been to swing the pendulum far away from self and put a laser focus on the people who haven't been recipient's of the churches purveyance of prevenience.  The feigned systems of sanctification need to be exorcised and the valuable systems of prevenient and justifying grace need to be exercised.  (Bob Farr's two books are great illustrators of what this should look like.  I commend them to you.)
The issue for me is that a truly Wesleyan ecclesiology would never swing a pendulum but insist upon all three.  Our congregations should be training grounds for God's grace.  Grace is the unmerited love of God.  That love is to be lived out in our lives through the great commandment to love God with our whole being (the self made up of heart, soul, mind and strength) and to love our neighbor with that very same being (the same self we have offered to God.)  The truth is that we can't parse out the difference between when prevenient grace ends,justifying grace kicks in, and sanctifying grace takes over.  That's because there isn't three graces.  There is one grace that we describe in three different ways.  The most mature of all Christ followers experiences God's prevenient grace in their daily life.  The most mature of all Christ followers recognizes their own deep need for the atoning sacrifice.  The most mature of all Christ followers seeks God's perfecting grace at all times and longs for nothing more.
So, tell me, with that theological construct, when does a "new" follower become less important?  When do they shift away from our focus?  "Making disciples" means focusing on all three.  If I seek only to make "new" disciples, I'll make a few; quite a few if I'm good.  But if I seek as my mission to make disciples "new" and not so new, then I'll be creating a whole congregation that is focused upon the task of the newness of a person just having that dawning of God's love, as well as aiding each other in the pursuit of being perfected in God's love.

What in the world does this have to do with camping and retreat ministries?  My sixth post will have to come in more than one part.  Stay tuned.... Oh, and thanks for reading.    

Friday, September 12, 2014

An Open Blog 5: Funding Clarification and Other Financially Motivated Questions

I was sent some minutes from the Liberty meeting on the topic of Camping and Retreat Ministries (CRM).  They were helpful to me, but some things were hard to understand without some clarification.  I may call the conference office, then again maybe not.  (To be honest, I see some of this as an exercise in futility and I'm growing tired quickly..)

How have camps been funded?
CRM funding has come from three sources (depending on how you care to divide them.)  Apportionments, User Fees, Direct Contributions.
Apportionments made up about 2/3 of the funding in 2002 and shrank to about 1/3 or less of the funding in 2012.
User Fees are camper fees and group rental fees.  They made up about most of the remaining income.
Direct contributions were from churches, UMM, UMW and individual donors who chose to give to the operations of the camps.  Most of which were site specific and not to the conference CRM for operations.
There are a few other sources that didn't make up a large percentage and these are worth mentioning as there will need to be some conclusion to the future use.  Each of the sites received funds from various endowments.  Some of these were as small as Certificates of Deposits that may fund one or two camper fees for children from a particular county and specific to the camp they could attend.  Others were as large as the Agnew Trust that funded about $30,000 annually for the operation of Jo-Ota.  I'm glad I won't be involved in figuring out what happens to those.

What happens to the property?
Now that's a good question  I'm going to need a legal expert in church law to answer that.  However, it may not be as "easy" as reading and interpreting the Book of Discipline. (BOD)  It also depends upon the Discipline's bearing on the separately incorporated CRM.
Another issue may be covenant restrictions made at the time of donation.  Now we're going to have to bring in History and Archives to help us out (I'm so glad I've invested in that used book sale at Annual Conference each year.  They finally are going to have something more to do then just archive stuff, now they can do some important research.)  The stories I've heard may only be lore or legend.  However, I recall that the Barrow family that donated Jo-Ota's property stated that if the property ever ceased being used by Methodists for camping that it would go back to the family for ownership.  If no family could be found, it became the property of Clarence UMC.  Finding that deed may be impossible as the donation goes back to the 1950's.  I've heard the same about the Whitener family and Blue Mountain.  Part of the Whitener family worshipped at Salem-In-Ladue when I was an associate there.  If they are still there they probably would remember as they were adults when that property was given.  What a hornets nest.
Does anyone know anything about either of these?  How about Wilderness and Galilee?

What happens to the funds if property is sold?
Likely a money grab.  One suggestion that was put before us was the idea of one central camp instead of four regional ones.  A very quick estimate of the value of our property (pessimistic as this was done post 2008) led us to believe that the cost of constructing one camp that could do what we were doing at 4 would be about $3-4 million short of our sale.  Property is expensive, construction is expensive.  The conference was participating in a theology of scarcity and we were getting mixed messages from the conference staff as to what we could and couldn't do.  So we dropped it.
So what happens to the funds?  According to the BOD, a local church that sells property can only used the funds for debt reduction or for capital improvements.  I don't know if that's the case with conference property.  If so, then we can pay down the cost of the addition to the conference office and endow it for the future since that would be the only other conference owned property.  (Yeah, I confess, I put that in just to stir up the hornets nest a little more.  I'll see Father John at the high school football game tonight and seek absolution for that one.)

Can we just have our weeks of camp somewhere else?
Immediately after hearing of this change I started researching other sites.  I found that some other event directors had done the same.  It appears we're too late.  The late hour of this decision puts us about 18 months out on camp availability.  At least I found this true with the sites I called that I thought were up to the standards we had at our four sites (standards that must have fallen over the last two years if they can't even seem to secure insurance for the sites as indicated during the Liberty meeting.)

Do the sites really need $2,500,000 in capital funds in the next year?
My answer will be very subjective, and I'll equivocate.  Yes and No.  The site directors were asked to share what they needed.  First, what do they need in the next year "must have to function effectively maintain basic services."  The second was "Longer Term (5 Years) must have to provide acceptable level of camping."  Finally, "Wish List."
I have spoken to two of the site directors and neither would have written their report the same way under threat of job loss and camp closure.  I've also read the one submitted by Jo-Ota.  Having camped there the last 14 years and been privy to the operational details as a CRM board member, I can say with confidence "NO" Jo-Ota didn't NEED all $873,800 they wrote in the three categories.
In years past we asked the Site Directors to go through this sort of exercise.  It helped us in planning for future capital campaigns... we were never given the green light on.
Are some of the things on the list important, YES.  If you want to have a camp you ought to have a camp, not allow that it go into disrepair and move us beyond usability.  Remember Epworth!!!???
Does Jo-Ota NEED a $700,000 retreat center, we could have done fine without it.  Does Wilderness NEED a $1,500,000 dining hall, probably, but they could have done something about it.
My point here is that the motivation for asking the question and the motivation for answering may have been at cross purposes.  If you want to show the futility of a camping ministry, ask how much it costs to run it.  If you want to have a premier facility ask what the Site Directors need the board to get busy doing.  Those were the two different motivations.  I think there was a lack of clear communication here that caused the board and Annual Conference staff to draw conclusions they wanted to draw.

I have one more post on the subject before I go silent.  If you have any questions, I'm glad to try to answer them for  you.  Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

An Open Blog 4: As Promised "Figures Lie and Liars Figure."

Darrell was a friend of mine a long time ago.  He replaced me in the sales position I was in as I moved over to another part of the company. I trained him for a couple of months and then went on to be a salesman in another division. Our friendship grew from there.  Eventually I became his boss as I became sales manager over both divisions.  Because we had this friendship, Darrell always felt free to speak frankly with me. It never hurt our relationship because I trusted him and he trusted me. One of the things that Darrell would say to me whenever I would throw numbers around, and I was quite good at throwing numbers around, was "figures lie and liars figure".  I only offer up this story because I want the spirit in which I share these figures to be clear. I'm friends with some of the people I'm going to call to question. And I'm also adept at making figure say whatever I want to make them say. I hope our friendship is intact when I'm finished.  I'm not attacking, I'm simply asking.

In my previous blog post I made it clear that it is my belief that Camping and Retreat Ministries (CRM) is an extension of the conference. If the conference mission is to "lead congregations to lead people to active faith in Jesus Christ" then it follows that CRM is called to do that through camping and retreats. 

When I was on the Board, one of my frustrations with the way CRM effectiveness was measured was the constant focus on summer camp ministry.  We were always being asked, "How many kids went to summer camp."  It seems we kept forgetting that we were Camping AND Retreat ministries. Retreats were an important part of what we did.  We asked the site directors to spend a lot of time seeking to fill camps; not just eight weeks in the summer but 52 weeks a year. It seems almost every weekend those camps were occupied. When it comes to measuring the effectiveness of a Camping and Retreat ministry, using summer camps as the litmus test for the effectiveness of a ministry is akin to using only worship attendance to discern the health of a church.  What about small groups, professions of faith, dollars to mission... apportionment payout?  Each of these is important.  

In 2009 there were nearly 10,000 United Methodists who used our camps. They came from 300 churches.  That means that about 35% of our churches were served.  The "2000 kids in summer camp attendance / 20% of churches" measurement used as justification for the action recently taken is an unfortunate measurement that falls far short of the actual use of the four sites.

In 2011, the last year I have numbers, 283 churches participated in Summer Camps.  That is roughly 33% of the total churches in our conference. Apparently 2014 only had 20% of our churches represented. When the board managed the Executive Director of CRM we were clear that large part of his job was promoting camps to churches that were not availing themselves of our ministry. I suspect that the void left by the absence of anyone in that role led to this decrease.  What I'm saying is, CRM is being held responsible for a measurement it didn't take responsibility to maintain. That responsibility came under the auspices of the Annual Conference Office the day they took the Executive Director job under their management (see my previous post) Who do we hold accountable for that lapse in diligence?

One more statistic that can't be ignored is that in 2009 there were 422 "young adults" who had a leadership role as volunteers and employees in our summer camp ministry.  Summer camp has been an excellent training ground as young adults have been able to experience leadership in this "incubator" type setting.  Since we have put such a strong emphasis on our next generations, we've hired a Catalyst to engage next generations, and CRM has adopted a mission statement that focuses on next generations, what leadership training opportunities will engage such a large number of young adults?

Moving forward, I think it would be wise to share with the Annual Conference membership the measurement by which this ministry is going to be held accountable.  As I believe we should be more about the number of churches than the number of participants (refer again to the conference mission statement) what is the goal for participation?  Who will be responsible for achievement of this projected goal?  Who will be held accountable?

While I'm on the subject of accountability; as I read the Annual Conference budget for CRM for 2015 it shows $522,000, an increase of $29,000. $245,000 of those funds are designated for Site Directors Support (Line 172) and $50,000 for Camp Improvements (line 177).  Can I assume that those line items will go unspent in 2015?  If so, will the conference budget be reduced by nearly $300,000 and apportioned appropriately?  The Annual Conference membership voted on a budget with certain assumptions.  If those assumptions are not to be fulfilled, I think it unreasonable to expect that those funds could be spent in a different direction without the approval of the membership.  Perhaps I'm wrong.  Maybe the Mission Council has authority to make these mid-year adjustments without seeking the will of the membership of the Conference.  Can someone provide clarification?

Another detail that is related has to do with a property issue.  The Executive Director of CRM was provided with a parsonage.  That property was owned by CRM and not the Annual Conference Board of Trustees.  With no Executive Director, was that parsonage sold?  If so, what was the disposition of that asset? According to Article IX of the bylaws of Missouri United Methodist Camping and Retreat Ministries, the activities of the board should not contradict with the Book of Discipline.   Per Discipline a local church can only use the proceeds of the sale of a physical asset for either capital improvements or for debt reduction. General operations is not one of the options.  CRM has no indebtedness, so what was improved with those assets?  I'm only asking because, at a time when questions are coming from several uninformed directions, full transparency is vital.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

An open Blog 3: History of the World, Part 2

I am disappointed in myself when I make a promise that I fail to live up to; yet I'm doing it again.  So much conversation on this issue causes me to change my direction.  I'm still going to get to the part where we have fun with statistics (What I call "Figures Lie and Liars Figure") but you'll have to wait a little longer.  There is still some history to write that brings us a little closer to understanding where we are today.

The point in my first post was to call us all on the over-emphasis we place on specific locations when it comes to our faith.  I think it's a faith maturity issue for us.  We love the place we worship so much that when someone is sitting in our pew it messes with our whole experience of worship.  Those of us who are itinerant Elders in our system have the needed maturity forced upon us with every new appointment.  What we come to find out is, we can experience and proclaim Christ in the new pulpit even though our view is much different.  Does it hurt, you bet it does.  I would love to go back to Good Shepherd, Macon, The Oak and Salem-in-Ladue and gaze out upon those familiar faces that helped me grow in my faith and ministry.  However, I've come to appreciate, due to the unwelcome part of itineracy, that Jesus shows up in every place and not just in one place.  So that idolatry of place was the intent of my first post.  I also would concede at the same time the deep seated need for the familiar that allows us to experience Christ in new ways; tradition of place and liturgy and ministry and programs aid in that experience.

In my second post I hope you noticed the constraints what systems put on our camping ministry.  I don't mean to say "shame on you."  I sincerely meant it as "shame on us."  The call of the people of the Missouri Conference has been to hold the line on apportionments.  The call of the people of the Missouri Conference has been to hold the line on camper fees.  As a board member we experienced this frustration.  With rising costs and limited income streams, we did what we could.

One side point to this post that I also think is important is a correction to the statement on the Conference website, that camps "lost money."  In not-for-profit ministry you never "lose money," you are simply "under funded."  Why is this important?  "Losing money" suggests you have put a value on the lives and souls of the people whose lives were changed in the ministry.  No one would want to de-value them.  "Losing money" also suggests that a ministry has a profit motive, and that isn't the case either.  The reality is, through the downward pressure of apportionments and the imagined cap on camper fees, our conference was under-funding camps.  This caused the demise of Epworth and, shame on us all, seems to have meant the demise of our other four sites.

When you under-fund a ministry you participate in deferred maintenance, you must expect a decrease in services, and, as has happened, the number of people in our conference who participate in the ministry (a mere 2000 youth and 170 churches by the conferences statement) decreases.

So, let me share a little more on my experience with Camping and Retreat board membership and leadership from 2002 to 2012.  The decision to change the direction of our campus ministries was a shot across the bow of camping and retreats that caused us all to question the integrity of our bowel control.  We were the second largest line item on apportionments after Campus ministry.  (Not really, but I'll get to that whenever I get to the statistics post.)  While we were told that Pathways, the predecessor to the Mission Council, was not looking at camping at all, we still felt the implied pressure.  So we asked questions of people on Pathways, what should we be doing.  The answer was pretty universal and had a couple of points.

The first thing we had to do was to figure out how we were aligning the mission of Camping and Retreat Ministries with the mission of the Conference?  Namely, how were we "Leading Congregations to Lead People to Active Faith in Jesus Christ."  This was a new orientation for us.  In the past we thought it was our job to provide camping and retreat ministries that would lead people to Jesus Christ.  We were cutting out the middle man - congregations.  In this case, though, the middle man is the most important focus of the Conference.  Paradigm shift is an overused phrase, but it is exactly what was required.  I will confess that up to the point of leaving the board as the president in 2012, we never got there.  I'll take that blame if you'll take blame for under-funding the ministry.  Wink.

An important step we took was to change our mission statement.  Prior to this time it was a long and convoluted statement we couldn't possibly remember.  The new one was simple "Leading Congregations to Lead People to Active Faith in Jesus Christ... through camping and retreat ministries."  We knew we had to develop ways to empower the local church in camping and retreats.  As I said we never got there.

Another side note, it was reported in a statement from Rev. Ann Mowery (and she presents it in a way that I assume Rev. Ron Watts was in on the statement) that the board didn't have a mission statement when they began to meet.  That's simply not true.  One of the failures in our system is that when we replace 100% of a board we lose the important history.  Our new mission statement was a part of our board minutes.  It could be argued that we never got there, but we did have one and we believed in it.   I count Ann and Ron as friends and mean no offense, but there was a history before they arrived on the scene.

The other point that came from Pathways is a clue toward what recently took place.  As a board we were encouraged to take the site directors out of the conversation.  Why?  Stake holders are rarely able to consider completely new directions.  The experience with Campus ministry suggested that those who were economically and professionally vested in the ministry were making decisions based upon the continuation of a current direction.  Our site directors had a trusted voice at the table, but there is no doubt they influenced the decisions, we wanted their input.  It would also be fair to say that Lee and I were heavily invested as were most people on the board at that time.  Lee had years of experience in conference camping and had a great deal of influence on the current design.  At the time I became president I had eight years of experience leading conference camp events of that same design, as did most of the board.  We were probably too close to the question to be able to properly respond to it.

What does this mean going forward?  First, the only adequate mission statement for Camping and Retreat Ministries is the conference mission statement.  The new statement that Rev Mowery quotes comes close.  I think it fails in that it only addresses new generations.  In a future post I'll point out that new generations are not the only people who come to faith through retreats.  So moving forward, whatever is proposed should be measured against the way in which it assists the local church in making disciples.

The second goes to all the complaints about the process used to arrive at this controversial decision.  I agree with that process... in part.  Many people who are close to camping are complaining because they weren't consulted in the process.  Why would they be?  The question was, "How do we serve those 80% of churches who aren't using the ministry?"  You don't ask the current users who are already using the ministry that same question.  It's marketing 101, if you want to add to your market base, you ask those who are not customers what they are looking for in the service you offer and why they aren't using it.  That's why I wasn't consulted.  I get that.  They already had me as a user of camps.

The part that I don't get is that they've eliminated the service venue in which I participate.  Remember years ago when Coca-Cola eliminated their original recipe and came out with New Coke?  It was a fiasco.  Only later when they brought back Coke Classic did they get back their customer base and actually show a net growth in service.  Our conference just introduced New Camps.  They've alienated 170 churches and 2000 youth and children (and their families, who by the way fund the apportionment system.)  A lesson from the most classic blunder in marketing history would have suggested that you could have both rather than an either or scenario.  A saying I constantly borrow from an old friend is, "A farmer doesn't begin building a new barn by tearing down the old one."

Moving forward I would say that the new direction should be measured on how well they serve the 80% of churches who were not participating as well as the 20% they were.  Clearly the alienation that has taken place is going to make it difficult to serve that 20%.  Distrust goes a long way to prevent new ideas from having success.  Bear in mind that it doesn't matter if you serve over 2000 children and youth.  The conference needs to serve churches.  That's the number to count.  (At least in my own analysis of the mission.)

Now let me state the obvious for those who have read three posts and still aren't sure.  I oppose the decision made.  I'm sharing all the information that you are reading because I've been closer to the discussion than most.  I can understand how the decision was reached and I think I see most of the reason why, because I was on the board for 10 years and have been a leader in camps for the last 14.  I hope that the information I share share helps us enter into constructive and fruitful dialog with friends in the conference who have made decisions with which we disagree.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

An Open Blog, Part 2

Health History of an Ailing System
In my previous blog post I promised a different post follow up than I'm going to offer.  My prayerful reflection informed me that a short history might help us understand how we got to where we are.  Continuing to resurrect the ghost of Epworth, let's start with the early symptoms of a sick system.  For years prior to the close of Epworth, deferred maintenance was the way of the old MO East Conference.  Funds for camps were not readily available, apportioned funds were not raised and capital campaigns were discouraged.  Lee Walz, former director of Camping and Retreats used to tell the story that he once had to tell Terry Mefford to spend some money on maintenance.  Terry had been told for so long not to spend money at Jo-Ota that he was afraid to pull out the wallet at all.  That was what Lee inherited from the former East Conference.  The West was in a little better shape but Galillee was well past salvage when Lee came on board in in the late nineties.

In 2003, the first year a combined budget for the conference was released (2002 Journal) the total budget from apportionments was just shy of $1,000,000.  $150,000 was designated for capital expense.  That's about the cost of building one new cabin or renovating a couple of buildings.  The four sites have a combined 40 buildings.  As you can imagine, that money was coveted by each site director.
The 2014 budget for spending on camps was $500,000 less.  That's not completely fair because in 2008 something happened that represented a radical change in management of our camps.  I can't share this without some strong emotions, I'll try, but I won't succeed.  It was at the last meeting that Jerry Akins was the president of the board, he was turning over that responsibility to me.  Representatives from the conference office came to our meeting and asked if we wouldn't mind making a change in the way accounting was done.  Would we move some line items around so that the Director of Camping and the camp office administrative staff would fall under the the conference office staff instead of under the camping and retreat lines of the conference budget.  That seemed innocent enough to all of us but Jerry.  In hindsight, I wish we would have let Jerry convince us of his concerns, but he was willing to let this new board over rule him without a bitter fight.  With that vote the salaries of the director, 2 full time and one part time administrative person (only one position was filled as we were seeking to save funds, however all the funds necessary for the 2 1/2 positions were transferred) and the salaries of the site directors were moved to the conference, preserving health insurance for the site directors as they became employees of the conference and not Camping and Retreat Ministries.
Shortly after that meeting two events took place that placed camping on hold.  Lee Walz had a heart attack and Tammy Calcoate went on maternity leave.  Tammy returned after her leave (8 weeks?) only to find that she had been transferred out of camping and would now work for the office of Congregational Development, leaving camping still without any staff.  (It is my opinion that Tammy was, and is, the best and brightest of the administrative staff in that office, it's no wonder she was stolen away.)  Lee returned about a month later to limited access to administrative staff.  When he finally got someone designated to the work of the camp office it was a half time assignment.  Brenda, also had other responsibilities in the office that overwhelmed her to the point that we rarely got half of her time.
Having effectively crippled the camp office's work by allowing it to lie fallow the whole time Lee was gone, the camp board was also surprised by another revelation.  As we were no longer the employers of our staff, we were therefore not the managers either.  In other words, we had the legal, fiduciary responsibility for the property we owned (we were a non-profit, separately incorporated body in the state of Missouri) but we had no ability to manage the staff that managed our property.  To a person, those on the board at the time of that vote had no idea that we were voting to neuter our ability to make the much needed changes we knew had to come.  Many of us came away from this experience believing we were deceived by those who spoke to us from the conference office.  We felt we were miss-led to believe it was only an accounting adjustment, not a managerial shift.  (We knew there would be a shift in the administrative staff.  We were entering into this with the spirit that, when the camping office is slow, let's share our staff with the other conference needs.  And when we were busy, we would be reinforced by other conference staff.  That never happened.)
You would have to ask Lee Walz about the rest of this.  I don't want to speak for him, but my experience of Lee as he returned was that he was afraid to make any decisions.  The board would make a plan, and he'd have to have it cleared.  Instead of being a time to catalyze change, no changes were allowed.  It seemed a season of foot dragging.
In the midst of this inaction, camping was experiencing a constant decline in our budget.  The board would propose increases to cover much needed repairs and program expansion and the response would be a decrease.  At the same time, we were discouraged from proposing increases in camper fees.  We certainly wanted to hold the line, but costs to operate camps were ever increasing and conference support was decreasing.  When the idea of securing funds through an ongoing pledge campaign was discouraged.  I recall Lee saying that there were people who felt that would cause issues with the churches whose membership would be asked to contribute to camp operations, after all, they already paid apportionments.  With hands tied we did what we could.
Let's be clear, there is a cost to maintaining property and ministry.  If churches don't pay their apportionments, healthier churches have to step up.  Those healthier churches don't appreciate when their apportionments grow.  At the same time, camper fee increases were constantly attacked, sometimes by people in churches that weren't paying apportionments  That was frustrating.  I'm not sure where people thought the cost of camp operations were going to be covered. I suggest that the downward pressure on apportionments and camp fees is a theology of scarcity in Missouri Methodism.  A theology of scarcity is not Christian, it's not an acceptable theology, and yet it is the source of so many of our decisions we make in our conference.
I think the decision that was made to shutter our site ministries is based upon this theology of scarcity.  I don't blame them for making this decision.  It seems like a logical decision based upon the fact that camps are losing money.  But to tell the truth, they're not losing money, they are improperly funded.  15 years or more of increased costs, downward pressure from apportionments and demands to hold the line on camp fees have necessitated deferred maintenance and limited the possibility of making the changes necessary to face future generations.
What I've written also suggests additional ailments in the system, but for now I'll leave it to camping and retreat ministry.
Next time I'll write on my previously promoted topic, Figures Lie and Liars Figure.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

An Open Blog to the Missouri United Methodist Conference on the Heels of the Decision Related to Camps

I would like to offer a response from one who has had a deep involvement in Missouri Conference camping over the last 14 years.  First, my resume as I hope it lends some credibility to the words I share.
I was trained by the Boy Scouts of America through my childhood camping experience as well as an adult professional in scouting.  I directed Camp Geiger, north of St. Joseph, Missouri in the summer of 1987 having been trained and certified by the national Boy Scout Council for the task.
I became involved in church camping through the prompting of a young man who desired that his pastor bring a spiritual component to the week of camp he would direct.  Through a series of events I became the director of that camp and have had the experience of directing camps at Jo-Ota for 14 years (24 total weeks of directing camp events.)
In 2002 I was elected to the Missouri East Conference Camping Board.  I served there until 2012.  In that time span I was involved in the uniting of two conference boards and was an active participant in all the decisions made by the board.  I was president of the board from 2008 to 2012.

I intend below to begin a conversation on this decision that I hope will be fruitful.  I don't desire to be divisive, but I do believe a carefully measured op-ed is necessary at this time.  This will be one of several posts.

Idolatry of Geography
I was at the conferences when we debated and finally decided to sell the property called "Epworth Among the Hills." From a business perspective, it made all the sense in the world.  I was sensitive to all the pain it caused.  When I joined the board in 2002 I recognized the struggle that many had gone through in that decision.  No one on the board recommended closing with malicious intent.  Epworth simply made no sense to the mission of the the ministry with the realization that Blue Mountain was so close and far better suited for the future of camping.
I recall those debates on the conference floor and the bitterness and tears.  I specifically remember one person speaking up.  I don't recall who it was (perhaps George Burgin, but I'm not sure.)  The persons speech was spot on and worthy of our recollection today.  I have words in my mind that I'm going to put in his mouth but I'll admit I'm probably romanticizing the speech to the point that my memory is is more legend than exact truth.  Here's what I remember:
I came to Christ at Epworth.  I met my wife at Epworth.  I heard my call to ministry at Epworth and I was married at Epworth.  It's time to sell Epworth!
In that speech was an important lesson on the idolatry of geography.  I'm trying to hold myself accountable to that sense of idolatry.  My children grew up at Jo-Ota, my son was on site staff and was married at Jo-Ota, I did the wedding.  I watched 6th graders become adults over a span of years at Jo-Ota.  I watched young adults grow deeper in their faith at Jo-Ota.  However, it was never the camp, it was never the "hallowed ground", it was the Spirit of God at work through the ministry of people who determined to love one another on behalf of God and to do it through camping ministry.

As we move forward in this discussion we have to try to lay aside our idolatrous fondness for geography known as Jo-Ota, Wilderness, Galilee, and Blue Mountain (as well as Epworth for those who have never been able to let it go.)  We need to be about the making of disciples, that's our calling as people of faith.

Now, with that said, I think the four sites we had as a conference were making disciples in a strong and vital, and especially fruitful way.  I'm not saying that improvements weren't necessary, they were and will forever be as we seek to reach new generations.  But our conversations can't be about saving the space, they must be about the best way to provide space for people to meet and deepen their relationship with Christ.

Idolatry of geography went out the window when the veil of the Holy of Holys was torn, rendering Mount Zion's Temple meaningless in our faith life.  To hold onto old buildings and old campgrounds just because Christ encountered us there is to suggest that Christ can only encounter us there.  We know that as sin in the Christian life.  However, to shut down ministry without recognizing it's full value and potential is equally sinful.

Next time Figures lie and Liars Figure

Sunday, October 13, 2013


If you struggle fitting God into your life...  
If you can't seem to figure out how to work religion into your day...
If you can't seem to wrap faith around  your soul...

There is a reason you are failing.
You are approaching it from the wrong direction.

Fit your life into the things of God...
And, work your day around the practice of your religion...
And, conform your soul to the will of God.

Give it all up to God, 
Everything to the One to whom it belongs,
And experience Grace life never before.

Monday, October 07, 2013

25 Years of Reaching Cape for Christ

Last night I attended the 25th anniversary of LaCroix UMC.  It was an incredibly inspiring worship service. The music was over the top excellent.  The prayers and rituals had such deep meaning.  The air of excitement over the past as well as the future of this ministry was contagious.  If you were there, I'm sure you understand.  If not, let me share a moving moment for me... actually, it was more like a moving movement in the service.

As we entered we were all given candles like the ones you use for a Christmas eve candle-lighting service.  At one point into the service the instructions were given by Pastor Ron Watts.  "If you either came to Christ for the first time or recommitted your life to Christ because of the ministries of LaCroix, please be the first to light your candle.  The rest, please hold off as the soloist will instruct you later in the song to light yours."  I watched the crowd in the darkened Show Me Center as the room brightened to the glow of about 1200 candles (I estimate that there was about 2500 there and at least half lit their candles.)  I have to tell you that at this point my eyes were misty with tears.  When people come to Christ I cry with joy.  I can't help it, it is moving to me.

A few moments later in the service Pastor Ron introduced a man for whom he has the greatest respect, Pastor Bill Hybles of Willow Creek Community Church.  As Ron tried to walk off the stage, Bill grabbed him and brought him back to the center of the stage.  Bill praised Ron for his work of meeting the community on behalf of Christ.  Ron, in his normal humble fashion, tried to get off stage as fast as he could, but Bill would have nothing of it.  There was no point in the design of the service where Ron was to get credit for his work, however, Bill wouldn't let it go.  He said that, as the candles were lit he looked over at Ron and said something to the effect of "Look what your work has done in these lives."  (I wish I could remember Hybles exact words.)  He said that at that point Ron was unable to respond due to the emotion of the moment.  I understand that because I was there with him.

There are a lot of tasks that a pastor fulfills in the course of their daily and weekly work.  For me, none is more fulfilling than to assist others in finding their way back to God.  Thanks to Ron for the inspiring was he has led our conference in doing just that.

Friday, March 22, 2013

I was at physical therapy this morning (shoulder issues, growing older is not all it's cracked up to be.)  After setting me up with my next appointment, the receptionist said, "Have a great weekend."  It occurred to me, as I walked to my truck, that I approach weekends in a much different frame of mind than most others.  For me, Friday signals the final countdown to what God is going to do in our worship.  The weekend is work for me, and I often joke, "when you work one day a week you have to show up."

As I approach the weekend I have a sense of excitement about who I'm going to see, what I'm going to hear, what I'm going to say and pray, and how God is going to peel back the busy-ness of my worship-work and encounter my own soul.  What song will touch my soul? What prayer will open my heart to God's movement?  What phrase will I share in my message only to find that God meant it more for me than for you?

Honestly, I really don't get a weekend in the way most others do.  Friday is spent in wrapping up the sermon.  Far too often my Saturday is split between those household chores that you do and the finishing touches on the sermon that I should have had done during the week.  Then there's Saturday evening worship and Saturday night revisions.  (The people at Saturday night hear the stories that get no response or the jokes that are only funny to me.  I edit those based on their reaction and everybody else gets a more polished version.  My apologies and deep appreciation to the Saturday night service.  Most have no idea how vital your ministry is to those who worship on Sunday.)  Then Sunday is two worship services and often a meeting or two (or four on a recent Sunday.)

That sounds like I'm complaining, but really I'm not.  I don't get a weekend that involves a lot of playing around and relaxing.  I do get a weekend that drives me deeper into my faith walk.  So when someone wishes me "have a great weekend" I think I'll reply, "I hope your weekend is great as mine."

By the way, next Friday our TGIF will look a lot more like this....
I hope that will be as good for you as it has been for me.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Eatin' Out: El Puerta, Jackson, MO

I thought I would try my hand at being a food critic.  I've watched enough of the food and cooking channel that I feel qualified.  Afterall, how much Restaurant Impossible and Iron Chef do you need before you call yourself an expert?  I think I'm there.  So here I go:

Restaurant: El Puerto, Jackson St., Jackson, MO.
This is a newer restaurant in town.  Open for only a couple of weeks.
Overall it was a positive experience and I'd recommend trying it out and adding your comments below.
Outside appearance: (C) A little hard to find. The sign out front is clear enough on where to turn, but the restaurant sits behind the Chinese Buffet making it a little difficult.
Arrival: (A) The hostess was right at the door with a friendly greeting.  She offered us our choice of booth or table. We asked to sit somewhere that we could view the Cardinals game.  She sat us at a booth and changed the channel on the big screen to suit us.
Ordering: (B+) I inquired of the specials.  The hostess didn't know what it was.  She did however offer her recommendation.
Wait staff:  (A) Our drinks were never past half full before they were refilled.  The chips were refilled when we managed to empty the basket.
Food: (B)  The complementary chips and salsa were ok.  Chips were hot when served.  Salsa was watery, probably out of a jar, and mild to my taste and Nancy agreed.
 I had the Molcajete (Sp?). This is a large, steaming hot bowl filled with onions, peppers, cactus, green onions, and topped with strips of cheese and slices of avocado.  The sauce was tasty. Good spice and not heavy on the salt.  The choice was chicken or steak.  I chose the combination of both. It was served with three flour tortillas, which was plenty for me, though the server twice offered more. The presentation was beautiful (this pic is after I had already dug in.)  Overall it was very tasty.  My concerns would be that the cactus was mushy and the steak (carne asada style) was a bit overcooked.  Good flavor though.
Nancy had the Chimichanga.  She will usually eat half and save half for another meal.  This serving was far too small to take any home.  She had an ample serving of refried beans and rice.  I tried the beans and found them to be a bit bland.  I would have had to add some hot sauce were I to eat it.  She enjoyed the dish.

Overall (A-)  Spent $28 including 20% tip.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Check Please

  I'm a decent tipper.  I always have been.  When I was a salesman it was a way to assure that subsequent visits to the server's table would be a positive experience for my customer and me.  So, in essence, I was paying for future service rather than thanking for the present.  Over time I got to know some of the servers.  I learned that many were single mothers and struggling.  Some were in school and this was one of a couple of jobs that kept them in school.  They don't have benefits and their income is usually below minimum wage as employers assume tips will make up the difference.  (I don't even know if that's legal but I do know it happens.)  Tammy worked for me as a youth director and she was a server for many years.  She assured me that tipping meant the world to the servers.
  I tend to tip 20%, but not always.  If I go out to lunch with a group and we pay our own way, I most always tip 20%.  Afterall, if the bill is about $12 what's another $2.40?  But when the bill get's larger I begin to cringe. Sunday Nancy and I, the girls and two guests went to The Branding Iron after church.  The bill was $69.  20% would be $13.80.  Ouch... now my bill is over $82 and that seems like so much.  Why is it that my generosity wains when the amount grows?  It was my choice to buy.  The guests would have covered their own fare had I not picked it up.  If we all had paid our own way I would have encouraged anyone who asked to consider a 20% tip.  Did the waitress work any less because the table bill was consolidated?  Did she have to bring less drinks or plates of food?  Of course not.  So why my hesitation?
  It could be that I'm just stingy when the numbers get high.  I'm just not as generous as I'd like to think.  Perhaps it's a gender thing. Would I have gone 20% with a male server instead?  I hope that wouldn't enter into it.  The server was a person of color.  Did that matter?  I'd like to think I've curbed any bigotry and even tend to be more generous knowing the injustice that she faced day in and day out.  I also know that I tip less at a buffet than I do at a full service restaurant.  Is that because the buffets I visit tend to be Chinese?  Again, I believe it has more to do with service than bigotry.
  So why share this personal reflection?  Two reasons:
(1) This is a blog and people tend to do that in blogs.
(2) I think self-examination and self-awareness is what truly separates us from the animal kingdom.  Taking time to ask, "why do I do the things that I do?"(cross reference Romans 7:15) help you to become a better person.  In this blog alone I reflected on my own generosity, the justice issues centered on those who serve us, and the danger of allowing passive bigotry to rule my life (a habit I seek to eliminate from my life.)
   I encourage you to go through these acts of mental gymnastics.  Self-reflection, especially among those seeking to be disciples of Christ, is the root to moving closer to the image of Christ that will transform the world.  
   (By the way, I tipped 20% Sunday.)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

That Yellow Car

  "Sacrifice means to give up something you love for something you love even more." (Rev. Craig Groeschel)
I used that quote in my sermon today and it resonated with a lot of people.  Sacrifice is a part of the Christian faith and it runs so counter to our culture.  We all seem to be tuned into the radio station WIFM (What's In it For Me?)  Included in that attitude is our desire to get ahead. (This post is related to my rant on competition from a few weeks ago.)  If you don't believe that we have a natural, or even unnatural, drive to get ahead go to Wal-mart early in the morning on Black Friday or really any other day.  We fight for parking, fight for product and fight for our place in line to check out.
  It's not only at Wal-Mart.  At my last church you didn't want to be in the parking lot during the week when the pre-school parents were picking up and dropping off their kids.  It was simply a dangerous place to be.  My office is now about a block and a half from the High School.  Don't try to leave the office at 3:05 pm, it's just not wise.  We drive like it's a race for first every day.
  Jesus told us that the first would be last and the last, first.  He also said, Whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all.  Paul encourages us to honor one another above self, to serve one another humbly in love, and to encourage one another as we humbly build each other up.  This runs so contrary to what we've been taught through our culture.
  As I arrived at High Street for worship today I watched as an elderly member of our congregation searched for a close parking spot.  I know her well enough to know that she would have difficulty walking a long way.  Most of the close up spots were taken by those who had arrived earlier.  South Campus was similar except for a yellow car.
   I am proud of the fact that I'm relatively healthy.  I recognize that I can walk along way without growing weary.  It's a small thing, but I seek the farthest parking spot from the doors of the church. (On Easter I parked across the street at South Elementary School.) I do that to allow those who are visiting and those who are less healthy to park closer.  For the last couple of weeks I haven't been able to take the far spot from the door in the gravel lot at South because someone in a little yellow car beat me to it.  Thanks to the owner for being last on purpose.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Faith and Politics

Just a quick thought, there are so many people who are freaked out about faith in politics. All politicians act upon some set of beliefs.  Many worship at the throne of re-election. Some are focused upon the success of their political party. Still others are single issue ideologues. So why is it that the idea that someone would act on a belief system that is theo-centric difficult for some to swallow?
   A humanist acts upon belief in the human race. An atheist acts on the belief that there is no tomorrow. Animal rights activists believe that animals deserve the same rights as humans and act upon that belief. So to say that a Christian shouldn't let their beliefs influence their politics is simply prejudicial.
  Voting would be a lot easier if we knew what someone believed and could trust they would live that in office.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

It's What You Do!

   I walked into Casey's this morning to get a cup of coffee.  It was free and it only cost me $13.31.  You're thinking, I hope that was a delicious cup... it was.  Best cup I've ever had.
   As I entered I heard the cashier saying to a guy "There must be someone in town who can lend you a hand."  There was a guy standing there looking int an empty wallet.  I got my coffee and walked up to a register.  The girl there said, "I can't ring you up until he's done."  (Now let me make a side note.  I never have cash on me.  This week when I deposited my paycheck I went ahead an got $100.  I don't know why.  I just knew we had some things going on this weekend and cash is so much more convenient sometimes.  So I got the cash.)  At that point I think I understood why I had the urge to get that cash at the bank.  I started to have the same feeling, but even stronger, that said, "Here is why you got the cash, Dave."  I said to the cashier, add my coffee on top of his bill and I'll cover it.  She said, "His bill is $23.31. $20 for gas and $1.31 for the Coke."  I told her I'd cover it for him, just add my coffee.  Now here's the cool part, the guy at the register next to me said, "I'll cover half."  Together we bucked up and the cashier gave me the cup of coffee.
  The other benefactor and I were on our way out the door before the guy knew his bill was paid.  He caught me getting into the car and said, "Can I get your number so I can pay you back."  I told him he couldn't pay me back.  I asked him to find a church that suits him (suggested New McKendree) and when he had $20 in his pocket put it in the offering plate.  He didn't owe me, he owed God.
   Here's my take aways from today:
1) Listen to the promptings of God.  He's always preparing you to make a difference in the lives of others.
2) Kindness is contagious.  I don't know if the guy next to me in line would have bucked up for half if I hadn't got it started.  Be the example for others to follow.
3) Always be prepared to share with others why you share with others.  The invitation to Church was my way of inviting the guy to meet Christ.
4) You can't out give God, but you are intended to try.

That was a good cup of coffee.

Dave is the Lead Pastor at...
New McKendree United Methodist Church
225 S. High St., Jackson, MO 63755
Saturday Worship 5:00 pm, Sunday 9:00 am at High St. Campus 11:00 am at South Campus (1775 S. Hope St.)