Conference’s Camp Board makes difficult decision to end Servant Heart Ministries

September 26, 2013

By: Christa Meland

Servant Heart Ministries, which offers short-term mission trips under the Minnesota Conference’s camping and retreats program, will cease operations later this year.

The decision to wind down the program was made by the conference’s Camp and Retreat Board, whose primary focus is providing excellent ministries for children and youth through the conference’s residential camps. While the board affirmed that Servant Heart Ministries is a worthwhile offering, it was not identified as one of the key areas that will help the camping and retreats program move forward.

For the past few months, the conference’s camping and retreats program has been working with Kaleidoscope, Inc., a nationally recognized camp consultant, to explore its camping-related offerings and create a business plan that will ensure their ability to be vital and viable ministries.   

Kaleidoscope worked closely with the Camp and Retreat Board to identify the best and most essential ministries offered by the camping program, and it made strategic recommendations that would preserve and build upon those focus areas.

Kaleidoscope found that although Servant Heart has provided positive experiences for youth groups, it was ultimately diffusing staff time and resources rather than focusing them on the camping and retreats offerings that were most effective—the residential camps. Consequently, ending Servant Heart Ministries was one of Kaleidoscope’s key operational recommendations.

Servant Heart will end 2013 with a substantial financial deficit, and participation projections for the next five years indicated that the program would have had to continue to be heavily subsidized in order to survive. Additionally, many of the groups that it served were from out of state.

“As challenging as it is to face these decisions, it is critical for us to invest in areas where there is promise and potential and to ensure that all camping offerings closely align with our mission to provide quality camp and retreat experiences in which Christ is offered to as many people as possible to raise up faithful disciples so that the world is transformed,” says Minnesota Conference Director of Camping Keith Shew. “Focusing on what we do best is important as we seek to move camping forward. As we developed our comprehensive business plan, it became obvious that Servant Heart Ministries would continue to struggle.”

Servant Heart Ministries began in 2010 as a continuation of mission outreach program Urban Servants, which dates back to 1995. Servant Heart initially operated as a program of Camp Kingswood, which the conference sold earlier this year.

Servant Heart arranges custom service projects, mostly for youth. Service projects arranged through the program have taken place in both urban and rural settings, and they’ve included tasks like painting, gardening, clean up, home repairs, light construction, and food services. Some groups also assisted with recovery efforts at disaster response sites.

Since January, the program has been led by Abigail Ozanne, who works closely with Shew.

“Abigail and her staff did a wonderful job,” says Shew. “We appreciate their dedication and passion to the program, which heavily contributed to the positive experiences that participants had.”

The Minnesota Conference still owns and operates Camp Koronis in Paynesville and Northern Pines Camp in Park Rapids, and it leases property to run Camp KoWaKan near Ely. Meanwhile, Star Lake Wilderness Camp in Pequot Lakes has been leased to an independent wilderness camping organization, and summer youth programming has been suspended at Decision Hills Camp in Spicer; the conference still owns the Decision Hills property, and Kaleidoscope is helping it determine what to do with that land.

In late June, the Minnesota Conference closed on a $2.25 million sale of Camp Kingswood to the Three Rivers Park District. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the 127-acre Mound property is being used to pay down camp debt, and the remaining funds are being used to support the camping and retreats ministry. Following the sale, the Minnesota Conference’s board of trustees formed a working group to identify the best ways to strategically reinvest in camping and retreats—and those discussions are ongoing.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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