By: Victoria Rebeck
United Methodist camping and retreats ministry has a long and effective ministry in Minnesota. It’s drawn people, especially youth, closer to God and into lifelong Christian service as lay and clergy.
And it’s always been evolving to adapt to changes in family life and youth culture, the Retreats and Camping Ministry Team reported on Wednesday.
After a number of years of growth at the turn of this century, recent years have brought a significant decrease in campers—from 6,109 in 2003 to 3,315 in 2011. The ministry is in approximately $900,000 in debt. A professional analysis of the ministry indicates that our camp population would fit in about two and half camps compared to the six sites currently used.
“The world has changed. Our children’s world is changing. Our churches are changing,” said Kent Johnson (Excelsior United Methodist Church) of the RCMT. And as it has in the past, the camping ministry must adapt to those changes.
The team’s vision, said team member Matt Sipe (Delano UMC), is to have 152 children a week in summer at our camps, where they are deepening their faith, building self confidence and leadership skills, maturing in Christ, and building a faith that sustains them for a lifetime.
To create a staff-lead, volunteer-assisted program that is appealing to children and their caregivers, financially viable, and continually re-evaluated on its effectiveness at building faith in young people, the team proposes the sale of two campgrounds, Star Lake Wilderness Camp and Camp Kingswood. Proceeds would be reinvested in the ministry and decrease its current indebtedness. Camps would focus on youth and children and take place at Northern Pines and Koronis Ministries.
A number of conference members who’ve experienced life-changing ministry at Star Lake spoke against the sale of that property. They praised Star Lake’s wilderness quality, its shoreline and acreage, and the way camps there shaped their faith or that of young people in their churches.
“Star Lake is a gem,” said Craig Haberman (Tracy United Methodist Church). “I appreciate the RCMT’s intentionality of visioning and decision making process. But I believe [the site evaluations] made by the landscape architect are subjective. I don’t have the same criteria. Could RCMT do its plan without selling Star Lake for two to four years?”
“My church has been revitalized in exciting ways through Star Lake,” said Mark Woodward of Faith United Methodist Church, Eyota. “My young people asked me to ask us not to divest of Star Lake. We need to be resilient in allowing an emerging ministry to take place at Star Lake.”
The RCMT expressed appreciation for Star Lake and its ministries. The team’s assessment, however—drawing on findings from an independent consultant—was that classic residential camps could reach the most children and youth, and that Northern Pines and Koronis were best equipped to provide such camps.
“Our heart is bigger than our resources now,” said Cindy Gregorson, director of ministries. “We have limited staff and volunteers, time, energy, and resources.
“The sites are tools to get the ministry done,” she said. “We cannot afford to maintain these sites effectively and keep them maintained. We are in the ministry business, not the land business.”
Conference members will vote on the proposal on Thursday.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church