I have decided to start a movement. Why not? Margaret Mead once said “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” The Outdoor Ministries in the Ohio Conference are a gigantic part of my life. For over 25 years I have spent a week in late June running all over Pilgrim Hills. You all know this, because I talk about it all of the time.
Our camps are in a precarious spot. The financial situation is looking more and more bleak everyday. For some this is the end of the road. If we can’t cut it financially, then it’s time to close up shop and move on. I don’t necessarily believe it’s that simple. In April, our Board of Directors will be meeting to look at options for the future of our Outdoor Ministries. I want to give them something to think about.
I believe that there is thousands of people who have had their lives changed by our camps for the past 50 years and have no idea that we are on the brink of having to make some extremely hard decisions about the future of our Outdoor Ministries program and our two campsites.
I also believe that there is power in petitions, in a unified voice, in making a statement. Myself and several of my Christian Education, Faith Formation and Youth Ministry colleagues are starting a campaign called Affirm Camp. The statements of affirmation are listed below. The goal of this campaign is to collect as many signatures as possible between now and May 1st and show our Conference Minister, Rev. Phil Hart and the Board of Directors that there is still an immense amount of support for our camping program in Ohio.
I hope that each one of you would sign this petition and pass it along to your friends you have from camp and have them pass it on their friends from camp. I hope that if you have never been to camp, but have watched and listened as children and adults pour their hearts out about camp at your Camp Sunday and realize the importance of camp, that you too would sign this petition.
We have set-up a page at change.org where you sign the petition electronically. Please share this on all of your social media sites, reach out to anyone you know who may have been touched by camp at some point and have them sign it too. Please visit http://www.affirmcamp.org today and help our voice be heard. You can also follow us on Twitter @affirmcamp for all the latest updates.
AFFIRM CAMP STATEMENT PAPER
To affirm something is to declare it as true or right. In the Ohio Conference of the U.C.C. our Outdoor Ministries programs are at a crossroads. For over a year now, one of our two sites has been put on “sabbatical” and completely shutdown and closed up. Our entire camp executive staff was let go around the same time and a discernment team was formed. The team was tasked with making a recommendation to the Ohio Conference Board of Directors regarding the future of the Outdoor Ministries. They have yet to offer any formal recommendations, so in the meantime here is ours…
WE AFFIRM THAT WE MUST CONTINUE OUR OUTDOOR MINISTRIES PROGRAMS. These retreats, these weeks of our summers, these events and workdays…they shape our faith journeys and the faith journeys of thousands of others. They provide us with places and opportunities to be in community, to experience God in nature and to grow in countless ways. You simply can’t put a price tag on these experiences. Experiences at Pilgrim Hills and Templed Hills have helped to solidify an identity for members of the Ohio Conference. Without these places and this programming, we have little or no opportunity to become the body of Christ together.
WE AFFIRM THAT A PHYSICAL CAMP LOCATION IS VITALLY IMPORTANT. At least one of our sites must be preserved. If we let go of both of these camps, we will never be able to purchase the same kind of natural property again. Programming is important, but place is equally important. Throughout the Bible, we read about sacred spaces, holy land, holy ground. Just as we experience God through community, through service, through worship, through music, through prayer, through study, so do we experience God in and through nature. Some people are claiming that the programming can be replicated without the sites. We strongly disagree. We need at least one of these sites. They have sacred history for us.
WE AFFIRM THAT CAMP IS STILL RELEVANT IN 2015. Some people are saying that camp is a thing of the past. That is simply not true. In the March/April issue of Camping Magazine there is an article entitled Camper Enrollment Continued Upward Trend in 2014, reporting that over 72% of camps reported higher enrollment last year. Camp in the United States is a $15 billion dollar industry and employs over 1.5 million people. Each year over 11 million children and adults attend camp in the United States. Camp is very much an active and important part of our social fabric and should be treated as such.
WE AFFIRM THAT CAMP IS AN ASSET. For many it comes down to a simple question – is camp an asset or a liability to the Ohio Conference? Financially it uses more resources than it brings in. So you could answer it simply by saying camp is a liability. That’s simple thinking without looking at the value and worth of a camp experience. We affirm that camp is ABSOLUTELY an asset to our Conference and every decision regarding camp should be looked at with that mindset. There is way more to this equation then a balance sheet and sales projections. Our camping programs, at our sites, have nurtured the faith of thousands of UCC members in our conference; those individuals, in turn, have become assets in their individual congregations and in many other settings.
WE AFFIRM THAT OUR CONFERENCE SHOULD PROVIDE A VISION FOR FUTURE FUNDING. We understand that the camps have been operating at a deficit and that deficit spending cannot continue. We vehemently disagree that the answer is for the sites to be sold and our programming to end. If we are a people who believe that “In Christ all things are possible”, then we cannot give up without considering every possible option. Selling one site and investing the proceeds into the other, informing every congregation about the current situation, and considering a capital campaign are all options we recommend. We believe that many people believe that OCWM dollars can and should be used to support the ministries we find valuable.
WE AFFIRM THAT GOD IS STILL SPEAKING ABOUT OUTDOOR MINISTRIES. As Educators, Youth Ministry Professionals, current and former campers, and others who believe in camp, we see a lot working with today’s young people. The need for a place and space to be yourself and be accepted and be loved unconditionally and be away, is so incredibly important. The lives of our young people are jammed-packed, fast, stressful, overwhelming, scary and complete chaos. We have a responsibility to respond to this by providing all of us, young and old alike, with space and a place to “be still and know that God is God.”
There is a bright future for Outdoor Ministries in the Ohio Conference if we want it. It needs vision, leadership, dedication, hard work and passionate individuals to make it happen. Those of us signed below and on the following pages believe in this ministry and believe there is a way to make it work. We appreciate your time and continue to pray for our Outdoor Ministries and all of the decisions that lie in front of us.
Thanks for your help in hopefully preserving this vital ministry.
Happy Camping and Petitioning!