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The Camping Board of the Missouri Annual conference has recently produced several responses to some of the objections to the decision they publicized several weeks ago. Taking these communications seriously, I wish to offer a response. Not all of my comments will be entirely original.  I have gained a great deal by following exchanges through social media and in actual face to face conversations with members of the Conference, and I owe a great deal to many other participants in the conversation.  However, part of my goal here is to present a systematic and more comprehensive critique than has been offered elsewhere.  To do this will take a bit of sustained work. As such, this will be the first of a multi-part blog posting exploring the work of the Camping Board.

Let me begin by suggesting how much I appreciate the work of the Camping Board. The Body of Christ needs servants, and the members of this Board are to be commended for their service. They have worked for two years on these issues, and have certainly started a broad discussion across the Annual Conference. Some of the ideas they have proposed for the development of camping activities for new generations are quite promising. Whatever my disagreements with the Board, I appreciate their efforts, and take their arguments and conclusions to be offered in good faith. I encourage all in the discussion to refrain from laying blame where we might better build up the Body of Christ through critical and prayerful engagement!

This is the kind of engagement I am attempting to offer here. In order to organize my thoughts, I shall gather them under several headings. However, as the reader will note, there are themes that cross several headings and will cross several installments of this blog post.

Communication

I appreciate that the Camping Board has acknowledged serious problems in the way that they have communicated about their decision. In an open letter from the Board, they note that they “mishandled the flow of information and did not lead with vision.”

This is a very helpful admission and readjustment. The original publication of the decision made it appear that the main drivers of the Board’s decision were economic. Those economic concerns must still be addressed. But the later communications from the board make clear that the true driving concerns for their decision were “theological and philosophical.” Since this is the case, we should take some time to analyze the theology and philosophy upon which their decision was made. I will return to this in my next blog post.

Before that, however, I lament that communication problems continue. In the open letter, the Board suggests that they are going to hold a set of meetings “to present our proposals for camping as we go forward into a new future.” In the Camping Board’s online presentation, the Chair of the Board also speaks of their work product as “a proposal”, and notes that according to their proposal “we would dismiss the current site directors.” (48:20) He then goes on to state that the Camping Board believes “we have an exciting new direction, and it just will not include, if the Annual Conference agrees with this direction, it will not include the properties … (48:55)

These statements are, at the very least, misleading. In the Camping Board’s original announcement the Board made clear that the directors of Missouri’s camps had already been let go. A proposal is a suggestion put forward for discussion. Proposals are made before decisions are enacted, not after. We cannot simply act as if the plan is not already being carried out. If the Board now wishes to have a genuine discussion of their plan as a proposal, steps must be taken to preserve other options for the future, including keeping Missouri’s camps.

Implementation

This point raises another question. It would have been reasonable to begin this discussion with an actual proposal, instead of executing a radical revision of the Annual Conference’s Camping ministries without public announcement. Why did the Board decide to first implement, then announce? Given that their decision is based on missional rather than economic concerns, what was the rush? Why could the enactment of this plan not have waited until discussion across the Annual Conference led to consensus?

The failure here is not simply a matter of communication. The way that the Camping Board’s decision has been implemented gives rise to questions about the decision itself. As the Board recognizes, in the light of their activities, some have “have lost faith and trust in the Annual Conference.” This is doubtless related to the way in which this process has played itself out thus far. By acting first and announcing later, the Camping Board has raised questions of whether there was a strategic choice that it was better to apologize later than ask permission ahead of time. In short, the means of execution have shaken many member’s trust in the Annual Conference. Correcting this takes more than a new effort at communicating clearly; it will require building trust again. A good start would be to find a way to stop implementing the decision until there has been sufficient discussion and consensus is reached across the Annual Conference.

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Please also visit my next blog post, where I continue my critique.

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