Let me begin, again, by noting my appreciation for the work of the Camping Board. I believe that the members of the Board have been placed in a difficult position, and I imagine that their job has been immensely frustrating given the amount of work they have put in, only to give rise to the breadth and depth of the negative reactions to their decision. As I will note again at the end of this piece, I believe we are called to work together as one body with the Camping Board. My questions and critiques grow out of this central concern.

A little short of a month ago, I started posting a series of blog posts on the decision by the United Methodist Camping Board in Missouri to close our four Camp locations. As I noted at that point, the Camping Board had acknowledged that it had failed in adequately communicating about the decision, and wished to offer its “proposals” for further dialogue within the broader Church. In my blog, I took the Camping Board to be acting in good faith in attempting now to start a dialogue, and I offered a set of critiques and questions for the Camping Board.

In the weeks since my last posting, the activities of the Camping Board have not led to a productive process of dialogue and discernment which includes the broader Church. Unfortunately, the most plausible interpretation of their actions is too often that the Camping Board is most interested in managing the situation so that whatever “dialogue” is allowed, it comes only after the decision is a fait accompli.

I am yet hopeful that this interpretation is incorrect. While manipulation of information, spin, and political theater are staples of our Worldly politics in this country, it would be a shame if they became usual practice amongst the leaders of our Annual Conference.

As such, I would like to ask again that the Camping Board find a way to allow for productive dialogue on this issue. As I have suggested in past blog posts, this would require stopping implementation of their decision until such dialogue is engaged. Further, I would like to prompt the Camping Board to clear the air concerning why many of their activities have made it look like they are (1) attempting to create the appearance of consensus approving of their proposals where no broad consensus exists, and (2) carrying through implementation of their decision before substantial dialogue is possible. As such, I offer the following questions for the Camping Board:

On October 9th, there was what the Camping Board has called an “open meeting” which was attended by the members of the Camping Board, the Mission Council, the Council on Finance & Administration, and the Board of Trustees. At this meeting the latter three committees voted on the Camping Board’s “proposals.” The first two committees voted unanimously in favor of the proposals. The Board of Trustees voted in favor with one dissenting vote. (Who dissented was not recorded because it was an “open meeting.”)

Despite the assiduous efforts of advocates for our camp sites to watch for information from the conference, no one outside of the invited committees was aware that the meeting was taking place. Was there a public announcement about the existence of this “open” meeting? If so, where was the announcement? If not, what does it mean to claim that the meeting was “open”?

Did the votes of the various committees serve some necessary parliamentary purpose? If so, did any express concern that your proposal was already being implemented prior to their voting on the proposal? If not, why was this vote held? And why was it held before the public meetings you have promised to allow for dialogue on your proposals?

Were the votes taken by secret ballot? If not, are you not concerned that voting members might be influenced by the appearance that the hierarchy of the Church is pushing this change? Given this concern (which I have heard expressed many times my clergy across the Conference), and given that you want to avoid the appearance of coercion in the midst of our dialogue, will you include in your proposal for a vote from the Annual Conference that the vote be by secret ballot?[1]

On October 16th, you published the first of a series of answers to what you call Frequently Asked Questions.

In September, when acknowledging that you have not communicated well, you indicated that you had heard many “objections to our proposals” from members of the Church. Since that time, you and other leaders of the Conference have received a petition objecting to your proposals with more than 2,800 signatures. Multiple meetings have been held around the state so that advocates of our camps can exchange information, make plans, and formulate questions for the Board. Your own facebook page is filled with conference members who are offering critical questions. I and others have offered critiques and questions, including requests for release of more financial information about the particular camps. As such, it seems likely that statistically the most “frequently asked questions” to your committee concern objections to your proposals. However, in your FAQ, instead of addressing questions about your process and your reasoning, you have chosen to answer only questions “regarding the 2015 camping season”; questions that concern what will happen after your proposals are enacted. Given the overwhelming evidence of substantive objections to your proposals why have you not yet attempted to address these questions? Which of your forthcoming FAQ’s will be directed toward these questions? Since your online presentation itself, and the reasoning therein have come under serious critique, will your future FAQ’s go beyond this presentation in addressing these criticisms?

In your FAQ, you explain that during the 2015 camping season, some of the UM residential camps will be held at “campgrounds owned by other denominations, independent campgrounds/retreat centers, or state camp sites.” This will be during a period when the United Methodist Church in Missouri still owns its own four camp sites. This plan, then, appears to require that we will be renting non-UMC camping space while allowing our own camps to lay fallow. What is the rationality behind such a plan? If the United Methodist Church was going to own its own camps at least through the 2015 season, why did it not choose to continue operating them through this season so that it did not end up in the position of having to simultaneously rent other facilities? What was the rush that required eliminating camp director positions prior to the Annual Conference decision on whether to accept your “proposal,” thus placing the United Methodist Church is such an apparently inefficient position? [2]

We all want to be on board with the direction that our Annual Conference is heading. We are all caught up together as members of the Body of Christ; in the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. But if we are to be of one body, we must also be of one mind. As you have noted, the way that your “proposals” were put forward have led some to lose “faith and trust in the Annual Conference.” I have spoken to members who are currently considering leaving the Church because of the appearance of Worldly politics around the camping decision. If we are to be one body, the right hand must be able to trust the left. But restoring trust requires trust building actions. Staying the same course only raises further questions about the process and decision itself. Your Church is hurting. Out of a sense of our common ministry, I pray that you would act upon your acknowledgement of past failings, enter into a new and more transparent process wherein the body of Christ might move forward through dialogue and consensus.

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[1] I posed these questions on the Camping and Recreations Facebook page, received the following response and responded again as follows. The exchange has failed to increase my hope.

Camping and Retreat Ministries:
Re: Open Meeting
It’s true while the Mission Council was discussed as the next step for affirming the proposal from the Camping Board and discussed openly at the Liberty Forum, in the Missouri Methodist, and at the Camp Board Meeting with the Bishop (also recorded on the video) , and advertised on the conference calendar, not many inquiries from organized groups were made about the meeting or details. Some individuals present and observing the Camp Board Meeting held with the Bishop expressed they would not be able to be present for the upcoming Mission Council because they were away on vacation. Chairs were setup to provide a space for individuals and food prepared for what we anticipated to be additional members who were not a member of one of the committees/boards..

Re: Moving Forward
The Camping Board has authority to direct the programming and personnel of the camping ministry. This does not require additional committees and can be instituted by the consensus of the Camping Board. Part of the proposal included the sale of all four properties. The meeting with these committees/boards served as a vetting process to the proposal for moving away from property management.

Re: Votes
Votes were taken through the method that each Chairman chose. The members have the freedom like clergy to disagree with the Camping Board or the “hierarchy of the Church.” Secrecy is not needed for authenticity or to present opposition.

My Response:

Re: Open Meeting – So, just to be clear, you mentioned in previous meetings that the Mission Board would be looking over the proposal.  You then expanded the meeting to include two more committees, put it on the Conference calendar, and never announced the location or time in any public forum (like, say, on this page). So, your position is that people could in theory have known about the meeting which was not publicly announced if they had inquired about it, and thus it was an open meeting?  You realize what a strange claim this is, right?

Re: Moving Forward – Your answer seems to confuse “vetting” and “approving.”  If the purpose was to get the proposal vetted, the committees would have been voting on whether the proposal was in good order, properly worded, etc.  Yet your press release claims that they voted to approve of the proposals.  Was there any reason for this vote other than PR?

Re:Voting – You write that: “Secrecy is not needed for authenticity or to present opposition.” I hope and pray that the hierarchy of the Church would not abuse its power to punish clergy members who dissent on this plan.  But whether or not this would actually happen is not the issue.  The question is whether many members of the Conference fear that it might happen.  I have spoken to many who do. If the Camping Board is interested in avoiding the appearance of coercion, you need to take this into account. To do otherwise is either unrealistic or itself an abuse of power.

[2] Again, I posited this question on the Facebook page for Camping and Retreat Ministries.  At this point, despite continued exchanges, I have not received what I would take to be a clear answer.  However, I encourage readers to go by the page and judge for themselves. In addition there you can find many more interesting discussions and participate yourselves!

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