Dear fellow Missouri United Methodists,
Even though we are yet to see any official word from our conference office or staff (I have been continually checking email, **SEE UPDATE BELOW**), the rumors appear to be true that all of our Camping & Retreat Ministries staff have been removed from their jobs (including site directors), and all four of our camping and retreat facilities will close. I know many who are grieving this sudden drastic change. I know it effects people I love and care for, people who have deeply invested in these ministries. So I ask you to keep the site directors and former employees in your prayers. We all grieve together.
Knowing the grieving process is different for everyone, some of you will be angry, mad, upset, frustrated. Others are sad and heartbroken. Some feel all of these things and once and are in shock and trying to sort through everything. I can only be honest about myself and my own thoughts. I am not angry about the change, but I might be about how it happened. I am not sad about the change, but I might saddened by how the change is handled. Because of this, I am not going to participate in a campaign to "Save MO Camps." Why am I not angry and sad about the change itself? Because I am reminded of this scripture, Romans 13:1-2:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
Now, I know the context for this verse is totally different than our current situation, but there is some similarity. Our Bishop, Robert Schnase, and Director of Next Generation Ministries, Garrett Drake, are both deeply committed Christians dedicated to doing their best to follow Christ. They are not Roman officials in the business of oppressing people. That means, we should probably trust them and respect their authority even more. So I am asking you to trust this decision, and embrace the change.
Bishop Schnase has repeatedly reminded us that the job of the Annual Conference Staff, facilities, and resources is to equip congregations to lead people to follow Jesus Christ. He has spent his time re-aligning everything to accomplish that purpose. This is not easy work. Specifically for this change, one question is "How are Camping and Retreat ministries equipping and helping local congregations lead people to follow Jesus Christ?" This can be answered positively by the numerous stories of people who have become deeply committed followers of Jesus Christ because of their experience at one of our camps.
But, this isn't the right question. There was another change that went into effect when we re-aligned college-age, youth and children's ministries into one office of Next Generation Ministries. The question now becomes "How can the conference best equip local congregations to reach children, teens, and young adults (people age 0-25) to follow Jesus Christ?" Asking this question gave the opportunity for us to re-think and re-do our approach to Campus Ministry and Youth Ministry and now Camping & Retreat Ministry at the Conference level. The goal is to make local churches better at these ministries. Which is a good thing! I want the two local churches I serve to have thriving children's, youth, college-age, and young adult ministries. That's why this change doesn't bother me. This change makes sense because it's aligning what we do with our goals of equipping local congregations. That's why you won't see me joining a campaign to #SaveMOCamps. I'm excited to see what's next. I hope you are too.
Now, this brings me to what does bother me, and what is concerning. The apparent lack of official communication regarding this change. It's almost noon on the Friday after staff were supposedly let go on Wednesday afternoon/evening. This is unacceptable. Also, what is next? Is there a plan for something new? Any kind of way forward? Not that I've heard. I'm sure there are some ideas and some goals and dreams, but apparently there's not a definitive plan, yet. Or, maybe there is and we just haven't heard because there has been no official communication.
So, I ask you to trust our leadership. They are not actively trying to lead us astray. They really are trying to do what's best for the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church. I ask you to pray for this situation. I ask you to be patient. I ask you to write out your thoughts privately and do whatever you need to grieve this change. But don't let any unwholesome talk be published, but only that which is for building up the body of Christ. I don't think you should campaign to "save MO camps" because it's too late for that. I doubt they will ever be the same, and that's ok. It is and will be a good thing. Not because what we had was bad, but because we are choosing to adapt to a changing context. The best thing you can do is jump on board with whatever is next. Reaching people age 0-25 is very important for the future of The Church and churches everywhere. It is an investment that will bear fruit for future generations yet to be born.
Rev. Ben Mulford
The following answers some of my concerns. At noon today, the conference posted the news to their website and sent it out via email. You can read the full thing here. Here are some highlights:
After two years of information gathering, conversations, visits to all camp sites, a financial and property analysis and prayerful discernment, the Missouri Annual Conference Camping and Retreat Board will be shifting how we facilitate the vital ministry of camping in the Missouri Annual Conference.
My only question is, why couldn't this have been sent out sooner? Other than that, this answers my question of "What's Next?" I pray that all of you will jump on board with it whole heartedly. Myself, I'm pretty excited as I have previously contemplated doing a camp at CMU. The opportunity to have a "day camp" in my neighborhood at a level of excellence that my church cannot provide is pretty exciting too. See, I understand why you were worried, but this looks pretty exciting!
I am a Software Developer, a career shift made in 2018. So far, I have experience with C# .Net and Angular. I continue to let curiosity lead me into learning new technologies. I plan to share what I learn along the way about technology and personal/career life. Previously, my vocation was United Methodist pastor. So in addition to coding, I'll share about theology, the Church and The Bible. I also enjoy running, music, and I'm a deeply committed father and husband. Maybe my experiences will help you. I know it helps me to share.