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I encourage readers to read the previous posts in this blog series: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

Alternatives

As I noted at the beginning of this blog post, the Camping Board has recently clarified that financial concerns were not primary in their decision making process. However, they have also cited financial concerns in each of their communications about the decision. So, even if, as I have suggested, their are problems with the rest of the Camping Board’s process, does the economic situation make their decision necessary?

Financial concerns should never be the measure of our ministries. But it would also be irresponsible not to take account of our fiscal house. The question is: how economically troubled are Missouri’s United Methodist Camps?

Unfortunately, the communications from the Camping Board have not made the answer to that question clear. The Camping Board has reported the following:

  • $435,000 in apportionments is currently devoted to our camping ministries per year.
  • Last year, taking the above apportionments into account, the four camps in the Missouri Annual Conference ran a deficit of $48,428.
  •  This deficit is projected to rise over coming years to $175,000. (Presumably, this is projected on the basis of the assumption that no action is taken in relation to the Annual Conference’s camping ministries.)
  • The four camping facilities are in need of renovation and capital investment. Exactly how much is required is not clear. Two issues obscure the accounting:
    • First, the number reported varies in different communications. In their original announcement, the Camping board wrote that “our site directors reported to the Camping and Retreat Board earlier this year a projected need of $2,607,000 …” By the time that the October issue of The Missouri Methodist came out, this number seems to have been rounded up (?) by roughly $400,000 to make it “close to $3 million.”
    • Second, it is not clear what it means to claim that this sum is “necessary.” In the original announcement and in The Missouri Methodist, the Camping Board reported that this sum was required for “maintenance and property improvements in order to remain competitive for the future.” However, in their video presentation, the head of the Camping Board indicates that the site directors were asked three different questions: “what are the immediate things that need to get fixed? What things would you like to see get fixed? And then, kind of this visioning question. In the next three to five years what would be your dreams?” (34:45) The Camping Board indicated that the answer to the first question produced “an amount that was quite small.” In the following discussion, members of the Camping Board go on to conflate the “dream” number with “what would be necessary to keep us competitive.” Now, it seems to me that these two questions (“How much could you dream of doing?” and “How much would keep you competitive?”) are two quite different questions. And, given that it appears that the camp director were asked the question of what they could dream, and not what would keep them competitive, I don’t think we know the answer to the latter question.

So, given the above information, how bad is the situation? Are the camping facilities, to borrow a phrase from a friend, “an albatross around the neck of the Annual Conference”? Well, the Camping Board has not given us much to go on here, but there are reasons to think that the situation is not that bad at all.

The information that the Camping Board has presented us covers all four Missouri Annual Conference Camp’s together. The way that the information is presented suggests that there are only two options: (1) keep everything exactly as it is or (2) close down all four camps. But why are these the two options? Even critics of the Camping Board are not advocating leaving everything exactly the same. So why could we not explore other alternatives?

As it turns out, while the four camps together run at a deficit, there is reason to think that at least some of the camps independently are operating in the black. Take for instance a publicly accessible 2009-2010 financial report on Wilderness Retreat Development Center, one of the Conference’s camping facilities. According to this report, the camp had a secure financial standing at the time.  In fact, the camp’s assets increased significantly over the two year period covered. Unless things have changed radically in the last four years, it seems most probable that Wilderness Retreat is still operating in the black.  This immediately raises the question, if some of the camps are operating without a deficit in the current situation why would the Conference not wish to retain them?

The Camping Board has pointed out that if we don’t do anything to renovate our Camping ministries they are, over the long term, unsustainable. They have correctly noted that we need to improve management and usage of our camping facilities. What the Camping Board has not done is to adequately articulate why the only viable option is to eliminate all four camps and switch exclusively to non-facility based camping ministries.

While the Camping Board has provided some data on finances on Camping facilities in general, an adequate respectful discussion of the alternatives requires that the Camping Board answer further questions. Do all camps individually function at a deficit? Is the deficit equally distributed? Do some of our camps function at a “profitable” level? If so, why would there be a need to eliminate those camps? Why would it not be possible to sell some of the camps and invest proceeds in the remaining ones? How much capital investment would be necessary to keep one, or two, or three of our camping facilities “competitive”? How much, if any, of an increase in apportionments would be necessary to keep and improve one, or two, or three of the camps? Is there a way to outsource the management of some of our camps without abandoning entirely their place in our connexion?  Without answers to these questions, it is impossible to adequately assess the financial status of the Annual Conference’s camping facilities, and thus assess alternatives to the Camping Board’s proposal.

What is striking in retrospect is the lack of exploration of how we might preserve some of our camping facilities. As other areas of my inquiry have suggested, it appears that from very early on in the Camping Board’s process it had already been determined that keeping camping facilities was not a goal of the Board.  For many of us who have benefited greatly from our experiences at United Methodist camping facilities, including many (like myself) who received calls from God while at these camping facilities, such a lack of exploration reflects an undervaluing of our camping facilities.

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I conclude this blog series with Part VI.  Please tolla lege!

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