By: Christa Meland
When Jerad Morey was a counselor at LYFE (Life Your Faith Everyday) Camp, he and other campers would sing “Day by day” as they held hands following worship and walked up to the top of Meditation Hill to silently pray.
Even after Morey returned home from Decision Hills Camp, singing that song was a way of incorporating his faith into his daily life. The lyrics essentially consist of a prayer—to “see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day.” The song was so meaningful to Morey, in fact, that he taught it to his children and has sung it to them at bedtime every night since his youngest son was born almost two years ago.
On Saturday, the day before Decision Hills was officially decommissioned as a United Methodist camp, Morey walked up to Meditation Hill with his sons and the three of them sang the song together. He wanted to sing it to his boys one last time in the place where he learned not only the song, but a great deal about himself.
Celebrating and remembering
Morey’s story was one of many shared last weekend as former campers celebrated and remembered the impact that Decision Hills Camp in Spicer made on their lives and faith journeys. More than 65 people attended a decommissioning service on Sunday to say goodbye to a sacred place that has a special place in their hearts. The weekend gathering, which included a variety of activities over a three-day period, was the last one at the camp, which will be marketed for sale in the coming weeks.
Rev. Robert Braudt, pastor at River Hills United Methodist Church in Burnsville, led Sunday’s service, which served as an emotional and meaningful farewell. Braudt previously served as dean of a youth camp at Decision Hills and as a member of Decision Hills’ board.
Braudt told attendees that he remembers standing in front of the three wooden crosses on Meditation Hill and looking out at the young people who were there and asking, “Lord, where are you going to take them? Where is their path going to lead?” Many have stood in that same spot and explored God’s call in their lives.
“This place, for many, is sanctuary,” he said.
Chris Carr, youth director at Lake Harriet United Methodist Church and a leader of LYFE Camp (which continues at Koronis Ministries in Paynesville), echoed that sentiment when he spoke during the service.
“We find holy ground in each of our lives in different places, and this was holy ground for me,” he said. “It was holy ground because it was a space that I was able to step out of the other parts of my life…step out of the challenges, step out of the drama…and be present—present with God, present with a community of people that I loved and trusted.”
When he was a leader at Decision Hills, he would take campers to Meditation Hill and ask them to channel the burdens in their lives—all of those things weighing them down or distancing them from a deeper relationship with God. They would focus those burdens into a rock, and then throw the rock to symbolize giving those things over to God.
For Kurt Johnson, a member of Normandale Hylands United Methodist Church in Bloomington and a longtime Decision Hills Camp participant, the camp was a place where he experienced God in some unexpected ways. He remembers the pride he felt when he saw his own children take steps in their faith while at camp.
“It gets into your heart, your skin, this place,” he said, adding that the joy of camp stayed with him even after he returned home.
At the Sunday service, after attendees sang together and shared memories of the camp, Braudt said: “The time has come for this congregation of Christ’s holy church, under God’s leadership, to disband and take leave of this place. It has been consecrated by the ministry of God’s holy word and sacraments. It has provided refuge and comfort for God’s people. It has served well. It is fitting, therefore, that we should take leave of this consecrated place, lifting up our hearts in thanksgiving for this common store of memories.”
Leading up to this day
Decision Hills was established as a Minnesota United Methodist camp in 1957. Since then, it has been part of the faith story of thousands of United Methodists, many of whom returned to the 111-acre camp year after year. It is where many people experienced a call to ministry.
But youth programming at Decision Hills has been suspended for more than two years (although some of the groups that met there, like LYFE Camp, continue to meet at other conference-owned campsites). Prior to that, Decision Hills was seeing a steady decline in participation, a large amount of required maintenance and upkeep, and a mounting deficit.
Last year, the conference’s Camp and Retreats Board (CRB) hired Kaleidoscope, Inc., a nationally recognized camp consultant, to study camp properties and suggest key moves to position them for long-term growth and financial stability. Divesting of Decision Hills was one of the group’s key recommendations—and earlier this year, the conference’s CRB made the difficult decision to move forward with that recommendation.
Selling Decision Hills has been a possibility for several years. Members of the 2012 annual conference session gave the conference’s Board of Trustees authorization to divest of Decision Hills in accordance with long-range goals and objectives for the camping ministry. This summer, the conference accepted requests for proposals from real estate companies that could work with it on the sale of the property; a company has been selected, and the property is expected to go up for sale in the coming weeks.
The sale will allow the camping and retreat ministry to focus on the conference’s three primary camp sites—Northern Pines Camp in Park Rapids, Koronis Ministries in Paynesville, and Camp Kowakan near Ely—and will position it for long-term growth and vitality.
Although Decision Hills won’t continue to impact people in the way it used to, its legacy will live on in those whose lives it touched.
“For me, Decision Hills Camp will always be…my view of heaven,” said Johnson.
*To view photos from Decision Hills' decommissioning service and farewell weekend, click here.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church