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


Sharyl said...

Well said, as always, Dave. We do miss your wisdom here on the other side of the state. What you said reminds me of my friend Tina who was saying good bye to her son and his family who had been living with Tina and her husband. She was very sad that they would no longer be there for her to love and dote on and watch her grandchildren grow. But she had a moment of clarity when she said to herself, "Who's your God, Tina?". We should not idolize and worship our children, our car or our beloved church camp. We must remember who we should be worshipping and is not these earthly things or even beloved family is God and God alone. We are here to make disciples for Christ and that can be done at church camp, at home or anywhere else we are. Tina misses her family and we will miss our camps. But what memories we have! We must remember who our God is. And we must move forward. As Pastor Mark says, the best is yet to be!

Unknown said...

Maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way but I.think what irritates me the most is the way that they did the workers and their families. They called them in with no warning to tell them longer needed them and didn't give them a say. They say they are taking a different.direction but why can't they include them somehow even if not at the camp sites? Instead they are jobless and soon to be homeless. Without any say. Just like the always move pastors and families... this world might not be fair but that.all just seems unfair!

john said...

sorry Pastor Dave it's not about geography

Pastor Dave said...

John, that's my point. Life and faith are not about the where. The place we meet Christ and grow in our faith will always be special to us, but it shouldn't be preserved just because it's our place. Christ is bigger than that.

However, I'm going to justify preservation of the space in future posts.

Unknown said...

Garrett Drake and Bishop Schnase need to be fired! This is not how any religions organization ought to be doing business.

Peggy J said...

In some ways it is about geography. Not about idolatry of space, but geography. 1) From the four corners of the state it is a 4-6 hour drive to CMU. Many families will/can not manage this. They will find other denomination's camps nearer to them, and will learn their ways. 2) There is something very different about being "away from it all" at a camp site that one just can't get at a college campus.
Can camp be held at CMU? Of course it can. Is it the best way to accomplish that particular ministry? I don't think so. I think we will lose a lot of campers.

Walt Fulps said...

It's the abruptness of it, IMHO. If we can't make the camps work financially, it might have been a better option to announce that fact with a deadline in place, i.e. "if we can't raise $x by this date to bring the finances up to date, we're going to have to shut down." Give the directors, staff and kids some time to absorb the facts of the matter. No one likes to have the rug pulled out from under them, and that's what this feels like. Seems far too business-like.

Tom Lemons said...

David: Well said. I can't wait until your next post.
Are my figures correct?
5.4% Of Annual Conference budget used for Camping and retreat ministries operating expenses
1.2% Additional need projected in two years for operating expenses (Lower if the conference overall budget increases in two years)
What percentage of AC budget will still be needed if the changes are made which move camping to Central Methodist University and Next Generation Ministries?

5.2% Of Annual Conference budget in addition needed for proposed facility improvements to existing camp facilities over the next 5 years
How urgent are these improvements needed? Could the time frame be longer than 5 years?

$233.00 Current cost to Annual Conference per camper
$ 0.003 Current cost per Missouri Conference UMC member per camper (less than one penny)
If attending camp is a significant spiritual experience, is this worth it?
Would the cost per camper be less at CMU or with NGM?

Unknown said...

Good point Peggy, one even somewhat centrally located camp/college/campus does not replace four camps that cover the large area of the state of Missouri. I have read comments regarding only 20% attendance from churches in the conference. Church attendance is down over all in the nation and God has been taken out of the schools and if government continues will be out of may more places in our nation. Camp is a special place that cannot be replaced with a college campus. Camp Wilderness offers a horse camp and I have not heard any ideas on that area being offered on campus. At camp my children have already developed another "family" at camp over the short three years they have attended. If this plan has been going on for two year why does it seem to be such as surprise to everyone in the UMC conference. I am sure we will learn more as the days and years go by about these decisions. May God's will be done.

Anonymous said...

A couple comments from myself who is directly affected with this decision. Firstly, I am very thankful for Garrett Drake and all he has done for us in these sad hours. I personally commend him for his work, and willingness to help provide for us. And for his ability to be ready to take what is coming. He did not make this decision. This is no one persons fault. We as Directors did what we were called to do to uphold the campsites and on our end, operate in the black every year. There is of course, much more I can say about this, but I will not. For the point here is not about money. Please, I urge everyone to be Christocentric. Keep CHRIST at your center. All things occur for the glory of GOD. If I helped to bring even one soul to CHRIST in my 3 years here at Blue Mountain, than it was an absolute success. I could lead the brigade of the "what ifs". I could head the charge of being angry at how this came about. I could be forefront in the wave to try and "save camps". But I will not. GOD knows what HE is doing, and it is up to HIM to decide such things. If this was the will of GOD, I dare not just say "so be it". I must say, "glory to GOD in highest! Praise HIS Holy name!" Many have gone through much worse than I have, and sang praises in the prisons, rejoiced while being persecuted, and glorified GOD while being sacrificed. While in this particular dark hour of my life I will stand and shout from the top of Van East, "glory to GOD! Hosanna in the highest!" Then I will go with a tear in my eye and a smile on my face and continue taking care of some 680 acres as very best I can until I am no longer here. A great runner is always best at the end of the race...for that is where he wins. -Erik Barton

Anonymous said...

The important thing here is to give glory to GOD through all things. Never have I poured out so much literal blood, sweat and tears into a place. Never before have I been in such anguish about making my own critical decisions since being here. But every moment of struggle I have encountered has been so that all who come here (including myself) have had the opportunity to grow in our relationship with CHRIST JESUS our LORD. If all I did in 3 years was to help GOD get in touch with even just ONE child/youth, then it was all worth it. David Israel is correct, while the sites themselves are beyond spectacular, without the relationships grown here through the HOLY SPIRIT they are all for naught in the sense what makes an area holy. Where two or more gather in HIS name, there HE will be...whether that be a tree in Africa, or a wonderful structure in Jackson, MO, or in a back room in China. (Each of these are actual churches that I know & love dearly by the way . It is our relationship with GOD, and our relationship with one another that makes a church, which makes a holy place. We are all sad and disappointed for many reasons...but we must remain joyful in praise in the glory of GOD. I will miss this place tremendously. If an Event Director spent 30 years running a camp session, they spent 30 weeks at camp - we will have spent 144 weeks in our time here by Dec 1st. Some of our predecessors were here far longer. Our attachments to these sites are undeniable, but we go where GOD sends us. And we must go gladly, with praise to our FATHER. So for right now I will be the very best Christian that I can be. I believe that things occur for the ultimate glorification of GOD. It is HIS will that is done, not my own. I have to trust that HE knows what HE is doing...otherwise we give our fate up to the whim of mankind. Our GOD is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. Nothing surprises HIM, nothing sneaks up on HIM, and nothing confounds HIM. HE is the Great I AM. As to the future, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow has enough worries of its own. We must be concerned with the time we have today, it is all we have to really work with if tomorrow never comes. Over the next 3 months I will be working feverishly to make Blue Mountain be the very best that I can make it in that amount of time. I will spend many days cutting weeds, grass, and downed timber; winterizing and cleaning 21 facilities and buildings, taking care of a vast amount of equipment and fixtures, all the while trying to keep a smile on my face and giving glory to GOD for my predicament. I do not know what will happen here, where all of the assets herein will go, or what the future holds in general for myself - but I will carry on joyfully in my dark hours so that I may shine bright for others to see, and do so for my SAVIOR JESUS. -amen. Erik Barton

David Colter said...

I no longer live in Missouri, but that doesn't diminish my feelings about the closing of the Missouri camps. I am one of the former Epworth Among the Hills campers. I feel that what mattered the most about church camp was the isolation - the removal from your comfort zone. CMU is not isolated enough, especially when McDonald's and DQ are a block away. Day camps aren't outside of your comfort zone either, because you still get to eat dinner and sleep at home.

We went into the wilderness and found God and ourselves. We might have gotten homesick, but then we found out that our fellow campers were our family as well. Year upon year we would have a family reunion and grow, as a whole, through our experiences. That turned camp into a comfort zone, and turned us into something more than we were before we got to camp.

One year, after singing It Only Takes a Spark around the campfire, one of the counselors told us something I will never forget. He said that we come to camp every year to reignite the fire of God's spark inside all of us and that, no matter how dark the days, all you needed to do was remember this campfire and look for your spark. You will always be able to find it - no matter how small it may be. No matter how far away you go from camp, this fire will be with you always. That turned camp into a comfort zone, and made me remember camp on my darkest days.

As a whole, I feel that the decision to close the camps was not "united" and very poorly executed. Many of the former campers now believe the United Methodist motto Open Hearts Open Minds Open Doors to be false. We feel betrayed by the 'behind closed doors' way this decision was made. It is my wish that campers and counselors from all 4 camps become united in one voice and at least try to be heard.

I moved to Texas(aka the wilderness) and started my own family. My kids go to United Methodist summer camp, and I hope they want to go for years to come. It might just be 4 nights, but it is away from their comfort zone. I hope that I have had a small part in showing my children the spark inside of themselves, and I hope they consider their fellow campers their family, as I still do.

Your brother in Christ(and camping),
David Colter

Brian said...

Sorry Dave, but you're flat out wrong. It comes down to poor business management from the top down over several years. It sounds like you have contributed to that idiocracy.

Anonymous said...

That's kind of rude....

Pastor Dave said...

Don't worry about Bryan. He's partially right. I was a part of the ailing system I write about in the next post. It's always easier to criticize the past when you weren't part of it. I'm blogging in hopes of a different future. One Bryan wouldn't be so quick to critique and might even be willing to participate in.

Anonymous said...

I must not have read your post correctly because we worship in the same place 52 Sundays a year. And it feels awkward to worship in another place. That's geography, right?

Unknown said...

I agree with Stephanie. I am more upset about the way the staff has been treated and without warning. I also agree with Pastor Dave, It is not about geography. I am most upset not because they have made a decision of closing camp, bu that they have chosen to close ALL the camps. While I would be in mourning for a while if they were to close Jo-Ota which is my home, I could learn to love another camp site. I just want a camp to have as my place of retreat.

Pastor Dave said...

To Anonymous, read my third post on this subject where address geography once more.

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.)