Two months after announcing their “proposal” to close all of Missouri’s United Methodist camp sites, and more than two months after the Camping Board began enacting its proposal to close Missouri’s Camps, the Camping Board has released more data on the economic status of the individual Camps in our Conference. This is a welcome response to many requests, and I would like to applaud the Camping Board for sharing this information. As always, I appreciate the service of the Board, and understand that they must be working from a very uncomfortable position in pushing for such massive change in our Conference.  I believe that they are motivated by their love of the Church and their desire to see the Church flourish.

Unfortunately, the way that the financial information has been presented continues to raise questions about why Camping Board communications are framed in such a way that they do not appear aimed at promoting public dialogue about the many alternatives available to the Conference in its current situation.

For context, let us review. In the original announcement of the Camping Board’s “proposal” the Board shared only blanket figures covering all of the camps in Missouri combined. According to that accounting, the Board announced that: “The conference receives on average about $435,000.00 in apportionments to subsidize the four properties in our conference. Even with all of our camping apportionment being used to subsidize these properties we ended this year with a $48,428.00 deficit.”

Several Camp advocates, myself included, suggested that this information was insufficiently complete to give a full picture of the fiscal health of the Conference’s camps. Without financial information on each camp individually, it would not be clear how each camp was faring. This is the information one would need to adequately assess a decision to close all four camps. So, the campaign began for the release of more complete financial information.

This was partially remedied by the release of the most recent FAQ. Unfortunately, the FAQ presents the financial data in quite a strange way (more on this in a moment). Below is the information that the Board provided on each camp.

Jo-Ota Blue Mtn. Galilee Wilderness
Total Revenue $207,006 $250,442 $251,348 $326,582
Total Expenses $325,748 $366,966 $417,557 $404,681
Difference ($118,742) ($116,524) ($166,209) ($78,099)

One will notice that here the $48,428 deficit from the Camping Board’s original announcement appears to have risen to become a shortfall of $479,574. Framed in this way, the data makes it appear that (1) each camp individually is functioning in the red and (2) the camps combined are functioning at a massive deficit.

So, what has happened? Why the apparent discrepancy between the statement of deficit in the first announcement and the initial account of the shortfall in the recent FAQ?

Well, the major difference here is in the way the data is presented. In its original announcement, the Camping Board categorized moneys from apportionments as “subsidies,” and then included these moneys within its analysis before it calculated the combined deficit of the camps. In the later analysis, the Camping Board presents the budgets for each camp independently.  But instead of accounting for apportionments before calculating shortfalls for each camp, it leaves the apportionments outside of its calculations until it has presented its initial account of the “total shortfall” of the camps. As the Board suggests in the paragraph following the above chart, when apportionments are included in the calculation in order to “make up” for the shortfall, the final deficit returns to $48,428. [1]

What should one make of this? Well, failing to include apportionments as part of the up front budget for Camping is strange for at least two reasons.

First, it treats the United Methodist camps in Missouri as if they are not a part of the ministry of the Church. As I have noted in previous blog posts, the Camping Board does appear to embrace an ecclesiology that fails to reflect United Methodist connexionalism. Even so, treating extension ministries as if they should all be economically self-supporting independent of apportionments is an extreme position. Imagine, for instance if such a requirement were put upon homeless ministries. The Church might end up regularly lamenting that it has to continue “subsidizing” this ministry!

Second, the Camping board is not proposing to eliminate the use of apportionments to fund camping activities. It is only proposing to disburse apportionments to different activities. If it talked in the same terms about its new proposals as it did about apportionments going to our current camps the Camping Board would have to suggest that it is proposing a new plan that will start out with a $435,000 shortfall (in addition to the reserve funds that it is spending on mobile camps).

That, however is not how the Board talks about the financial information around their own proposal. When they write about the apportionments designated for their new proposals, they state: “We are currently planning to maintain the present funding level.” Apportionments, which were treated as “subsidies” in their original analysis of camps, and presented as a way to make up “shortfalls” in their most recent analysis of camps, have assumed a role as part of normal “funding” when applied to the Camping Board’s own proposals.

Whatever their intention, the way the Board presents this information has the upshot of making the Camps look to be in financially worse shape than they would appear to be under alternate analysis.

For instance, what if the Board analyzed the camping budget in the same terms that is analyzes its own proposal; locating apportionments as part of the budgeted funding of the camps? Dispersing apportionments strategically (first to cover the needs of the camps with the smallest gaps between revenue and expenses and working ones way up), the resulting chart looks like this:

Jo-Ota Blue Mtn. Galilee Wilderness
Total Revenue $207,006 $250,442 $251,348 $326,582
Apportionment Funding $118,742 $116,524 $117,771 $78,099
Total Expenses $325,748 $366,966 $417,557 $404,681
Shortfall 0 0 ($48,438) 0

In other words, when analyzed in this way, with current levels of apportionments only one of Missouri’s United Methodist camps is running in the red. Three of them are running with no shortfall. If these numbers remained the same, elimination of one camp could leave Missouri Camping ministries with a funding surplus of $117,771. The elimination of two could leave the Conference a surplus of $236,513. On the basis of these numbers, if the Missouri Annual conference wanted to, it could maintain two of its camps while simultaneously directing 55% of its current camping apportionments (in addition to its reserve funds) toward new camping initiatives.

As has happened at every step of this process thus far, the results raise questions: Why does it appear that none of these alternatives were explored by the Camping Board? And why do the communications from the Camping Board continue to be structured in ways that make it harder for alternatives to become a topic for discussion now?

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[1] It turns out that the actual apportionments collected for camps in 2013 was $431,136.  This is a bit below average, leading to a slightly larger deficit that would otherwise have occurred.

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