The Bishop’s Prompt
As I suggested in my last post, it is helpful to get a picture of the theology and philosophy that drove the Camping Board. Unfortunately, my judgment is that the theology and philosophy behind the decision are deeply problematic, especially when evaluated from the perspective of the Methodist tradition.
In the presentation on their process, the Camping Board notes that at the beginning of their work, they were prompted by a set of questions asked by the Bishop of the Missouri Annual Conference. One of the questions that appears to have weighed heavily on their work was: “How does Camping partner with local churches, since disciples are made at the local level?” (2:30)
Do we really believe the premise behind the question – that disciples are made only in the context of ministries offered by local congregations? If we do, we have come a long way from the Methodist tradition.
John Wesley refused to allow the Gospel to be bound within the limits of local church ministries. Wesley’s rejection of this boundedness went to the extent that he famously proclaimed that “The World is my Parish.” Wesley understood that disciples are made anyplace that God encounters God’s people. So, much to the Anglican hierarchy’s dismay, Wesley took the Gospel wherever he found people.
The question asked of the Camping Board, the question that seems to have shaped so much of the Camping Board’s work, begins by denying Wesley’s vision. Maintaining Camping facilities is a concrete way to make the World into our parish. It is only if we lose Wesley’s vision that we can embrace a theology and philosophy that fails to appreciate how locations like camping facilities function in our service to the World. (I shall return to this theme again in a later post on connexionalism)
Working from this question, the Camping Board articulated its mission as follows: “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.” (p. 6)
One thing immediately strikes me about this mission statement. The Camping and Retreat Ministries Board has (following the logic of the Bishop’s question) produced a mission statement for itself that does not include the words “camping” or “retreat.” In fact, the only institutions mentioned in the mission statement are “local churches”! From the very beginning the Board tasked with renovating our camping experiences in the Annual Conference has marginalized camping to the point that the concept has disappeared from its mission.
In fact, try a mental experiment with me. For a moment try to forget who it was that created this mission statement, then read the statement again. If you were to guess, would you ever conclude that its author was the Camping Board?
A second issue concerns the selection of their target audience. Camping experiences are quite important for next generation audiences, but why should the Board’s mission be limited exclusively to that group? One of the things that the financial reports of our Camp facilities establish is that they need to reach out to broader audiences, not more narrow groups. From the beginning, from the Bishop’s first question to the creation of the mission statement, the presumption appears to have been that maintaining Camping facilities was not a goal of the Board. From their first meetings, it appears, the die had been cast.
Composition of the Board
Taking the Camping Board at its word that it saw next generations as its target for ministry, another question immediately arises. Why were no next generation representatives included on the board? (Can you imagine having, say, a Board whose mission is Hispanic Ministries that had no Hispanic member?) The question of representation is a question I have heard multiple times from youth with whom I have discussed the camping decision. Many of those next generation members I have spoken with have also suggested that if their voices had been present, the Camping Board might have come to some quite different conclusions about camping facilities.
We should also ask why none of the present directors of camps in the Missouri Annual Conference were included on the Board. I do not doubt that the members of the Board have significant experiences with Camping, but it would seem reasonable for a Camping Board to at least include representation from people who have boots on the ground in this ministry area.
I encourage readers to continue on to read Part III of this blog post!