Recently, there was an announcement from our Conference office concerning the future of the camping and retreat program of the United Methodist churches in Missouri. The Camping Board has decided that summer camps for 2015 will not continue at our four traditional camp sites. Instead, they are proposing that some of our camps be held at Central Methodist University in Fayette, MO. In addition, day camps will bring camp experiences to local church communities. Each unit will come with trained staff to facilitate dramas, dynamic worship and engaging activities including a rock wall, water slides, archery, and bungee jump as a way to strengthen discipleship efforts of the local church.
This announcement, which was meant to be good news, was not received favorably by many of those who have been involved with the four traditional camp sites. I was one who did not initially respond well to this announcement of a new direction. Like so many others, I wondered why I had not heard any mention of this at Annual Conference. And I was angry. Two of those sites, Galilee and Wilderness have meant a great deal to me. It was at Galilee, as a camp counselor, that I clearly understood for the first time that I was a beloved child of God. As I continued to serve as camp counselor for a number of years at Galilee and at Wilderness, I saw many young lives changed as they discovered the power of Christ to renew, heal, and save. It was at Wilderness Camp that I received confirmation of my call to pastoral ministry.
I have deep emotional ties to the campers and counselors and directors that I have worked with over the years. I also feel deep emotional ties to the campgrounds themselves. As I have reflected on this announcement of this new direction, I have felt a heaviness of heart, a grief that I can’t quite put into words. Although camp is only for one week, the memories of what happen during those few days nurture and sustain the campers (and counselors) throughout the year until the next year’s camp. To have this spiritual lifeline so abruptly interrupted is, indeed, quite painful.
As I have prayed about this and examined my own heart, I now find myself ready to embrace the changes. One factor that helped me was to remember the fantastic experiences I had directing junior high canoe camps at the NRO campground along the Niangua River. These were conference-sponsored camps held on property that did not belong to the conference. We slept in tents, prepared our own meals, canoed down the river and stopped to play on the mud slides. Each night the campers led amazing, grace-filled worship services. These memories have reminded me that great camping experiences can happen anywhere because God is everywhere. I can easily envision students having a rewarding experience at Central Methodist University. Also, I am intrigued by the idea of a team bringing the camp experience to my community. I think we, in Weston, could get very excited about inviting everyone we know to the day camp activities outlined in the announcement. Just as Wesley took his preaching to the people, I am eager to offer camping and retreat experiences here in Weston.
I look forward to receiving more details of these new programs. Our camping and retreat programs are not going away, but they are being changed. Like any new endeavor, I am sure there will be elements that will need to be re-evaluated and adjusted. I pray that Missouri United Methodists will continue to transform lives through dynamic camping and retreat ministries. May God strengthen and bless those who design our new programs and may we see record numbers of persons of all ages discover and deepen their relationship to Christ!