When I was a kid, I remember a story my dad told during a children’s moment in church. It was a story about a King’s decree that every porch should be swept in the kingdom to help beautify the realm. Any subject that did not have their porch swept by the following Tuesday evening would be arrested. Naturally, many people complied, but on that Tuesday morning, a woman stepped out to sweep her porch. Before she began, she noticed that her neighbor had not swept their porch. Fearing that her neighbor would not get their porch swept in time, she hurries over there and sweeps their porch. As she finished she noticed the next house also was not swept, so she hurriedly goes and cleans their porch. Every time she saw another house, her heart went out to her neighbors and did not want to see them get arrested – so she swept. She swept porches all day long until she noticed the king’s patrol out checking houses. Remembering that her porch was not swept, she rushed home only to find the king’s patrol waiting at her house. They read her the decree, and she told them that she was aware of it. The woman was arrested and hauled off.
As a kid, I thought that this could be a story of grace and forgiveness by the king for what she did for the community, but instead the lesson was stewardship. It was how we must be stewards of our time, resources, and institutions, so that we can endure and continue spreading the gospel message. While the story had many holes and pitfalls and could even be seen as absurd, it stuck with me. As I have aged and grayed, I recognize the need to protect important things, to value self worth, and to find ways to serve others without practicing self deprecating or destructive patterns for doing ministry. We make choices every day, and sometimes we are even thoughtful and evaluative of them. The world is hurting, and we provide relief when we can. However, when we fail to keep our churches strong and vibrant and fail to protect and nourish our resources and ministries that feed our congregations, we loose sight of the bigger picture. If the woman had swept her porch first, she still would have had time to help others and not get arrested. When the next decree comes, who will be there to help out? If the church looses its connection to the Divine or does not invest in ministries while fostering deep spiritual connections, then what is left?
Across the country, people are mourning and grieving when faced with realities of the costs associated with maintaining, improving, and operating an outdoor ministry program. Typically when churches face this reality, the campground has been on life support for many years, and there are few options remaining other than to sell their property and liquidate their assets in hopes that those assets will be used to grow the church and not be squandered.
I have been apart of these heartbreaking conversations before, and inevitably the comment is made that if we had known sooner, then we could have done things differently. Even the girl scouts have sold over 200 campgrounds in the past decade. Their challenge was refusing to change and be relevant to the girls of this generation. So many of the leaders wanted to force their experiences and fond memories of how it was on the current girl scouts, and perhaps with so many other choices available, the girls decided not to participate.
Operating an outdoor ministry is more than managing the day to day operations, financials, staffing, and programs; it is about casting a vision that reflects our evolving understanding of what it means to be church and being relevant and accessible to those in which we serve. One of the joys of serving as the Director of Outdoor Ministry is bumping into people who recognize Slumber Falls from my shirt or the vehicle in which I drive in town and hearing about how camp forever changed their lives. For some, camp was a time of making lifelong friends, for other camp was a place for respite and healing, and others camp was a place where they felt God the strongest. So many ministers received their calling as a result of their camping experience. So where does Slumber Falls Camp stand in a world that is changing and more injustices are coming to light in which we feel compelled to respond?
Slumber Falls Camp continues to improve with our passionate volunteers, generous donors, and legacy funds to improve certain aspects of the camp. The few individuals, groups, and churches that support the camp are immense. This year, we have a renovated and improved Shower House, the new swimming pool with diving board and waterslide was finished, John’s Cabin is nearing completion, the road and parking lot has been repaved, fiber lines for the improved internet are installed, and the grounds are being cleaned up. Slumber Falls Camp feeds the passion for so many of our people, and it also keeps young adults tied to the church in a time of great transition in their lives.
Groups are also enjoying the improvements and the spirit they find here, but the camp is still faced with challenges of revenue flow for operations. Part of this could be attributed to low camper numbers, declining group sizes, not maximizing our facilities, and policies which hinder us bringing in larger groups. The bottom line is that this trend is not sustainable. Between 2016 and 2017, the camp has run a combined deficit of nearly $100,000. Despite cutting costs this year, renegotiating contracts, and extreme resourcefulness and recycling, those savings of over $30,000 this year have prevented the deficit from being higher. We have been proactive in researching trends, improving our marketability, and developing plans that would make us viable. However, this requires changes in how we operate, and it could affect how we minister to our congregations. Simple solutions range from increasing camper participation in summer camps, policy changes on how rentals are booked, supporting the camp through church and person giving, and encouraging smaller groups to partner with each other to maximize usage of a weekend to free up other weekends for larger groups. We get calls from outside groups wishing to run their camps here during the summer. They could bring the numbers, but what is the cost to our ministry and witness as a church?
I have seen the work of the church from a bird’s eye view. Many ministries pull at our heartstrings, and rightly so, because we feel a strong call to care for our neighbors. We quickly realize that our resources are not enough to address all the struggles and injustices in the world. We are forced to prioritize. Slumber Falls Camp is a gem in the conference. We have a gorgeous location, strong ministries, and our property continues to improve, but I am not sure that we recognize the value of what we have and the importance of “sweeping” the camp’s porch(es). Outdoor ministries are unique, in that, the only limitations of how people are touched, relationships fostered and developed, and lives are transformed reside in our belief in the ministry, dedication to support this resource, and our imaginations. We are in a time to discern the value of Slumber Falls Camp. We are trending towards crises, but we have time. The Board of Directors, Camp Council, and conference leadership recognize how powerful this ministry is and what it can do for the spiritual growth and maturity of the conference. I hope that you spread the word about Slumber Falls and find ways to partner with the camp for mutual benefit. I am excited and hopeful for the future, and I hope that our paths cross soon!
Blessings and Peace from the Falls,