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Brian Frick is the Associate for Camp and Conferences Ministries with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He has been involved in camp and conference ministry since high school. For the past ten years, Brian has served as program director of Johnsonburg Center in New Jersey, Westminster Woods in California, and Heartland Center in Missouri.

Camp and conference ministry compliments and partners with other ministry aspects of our church to foster faith development and reflection. As our communities and our church changes, our ministries need to grow and adapt with creative and emergent programming and leadership to meet new realities.

These blogs entries, though varied, are intended to spur thought and conversation around the opportunities and challenges before us.

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September 1, 2009

Growing together

Just returned from a wonderful trip to Gilmer, TX.  That's 2 1/2 hours southeast of Dallas in East Texas if you have not been there before.
We had a great meeting of Grace Presbytery Camp Committee people and staff, along with Gilmont Center staff and program committee members.

Center of Camp Gilmont Compressed
The topic was - how do we keep camp and conference ministry alive and thriving in East Texas and Grace Presbytery with the changing reality of reduced staff and support from Grace Presbytery, the closing of another site within the bounds of Grace Presbytery (Prairie Valley) and the desire of Gilmont Center to continue to offer quality, even improved quality, camp for children and youth in the area and the Presbytery.

One reality is that the fruit of this gathering needs to be approved and accepted by two other bodies - the Presbytery (and the camp and conference committee) and the Gilmont Center board (and their program committee.)

The outcome was more than I could have hoped for and more than I believe most people in the room were expecting.

We began by focusing on Nehemiah who re-built Jerusalem.  I won't go into it here, but he did a wonderful job assessing the needs, assembling teams to focus on the task at hand and was able to withstand the consternation of those who would oppose change to bring Jerusalem back to a safe city that would grow back into the promised city of Abraham.  Amazing book.  If you are facing a change or working towards one, I recommend starting there.

But a camp and conference ministry is not a city, it is more like a tree.  So using a tree as an analogy, we were able to identify the parts of the ministry that are essential for its healthy survival.  The Heartwood is the dead center, or the past of the ministry, upon which all the new growth is hung. Without the heartwood in the trunk, the tree would collapse and the same is true of the ministry - it needs to know its past to be able to track to a healthy future.  Just as essential are roots to gather resources, branches to reach for the sun, leaves to produce energy and fruit.  Leaves and fruit grow and fall each year, just like our programs, but they are the delivery mechanism for our missional purpose.  They can change with the times, but are rooted in the same mission and supported by the same history.  It was a good jumping off ground.

From there, after some discussion, we broke into 3 groups that we thought were essential for laying a path for the future.  One focused on the immediate - how are we going to deliver camp for 2010?  It will be here before we know it.  The other two were more institutional but essential.  One worked on the Why of camp and conference ministry.  Why do we do what we do? Why is it important?  Why should it survive?  This re-affirmed and re-formed the basis of what camp and conference ministry is in the region and generated great talking points to share with Presbytery, churches, individuals and others.  It was wonderful to see the fruit of their discussions and how important and essential camp and conference ministry is in the future of Grace Presbytery.  The third group focused on a renewed Covenant between Grace Presbytery and Gilmont Center.  Who would provide what and what structure would we created to deliver camp and conferences for the Presbytery?  A lot of heated, but productive, collegial discussions emerged - but my take was that all of the group was saying the same thing but looking at it from different angles and experiences.

The outline of the Covenant that needs to be confirmed by Grace Presbytery and Gilmont Center were telling in the direction of their future and may serve other Presbyteries and centers in partnerships.  Grace Presbytery would elect members to the Gilmont Center Program Committee and that newly constituted committee would be responsible for the formation and delivery of summer camp and conferences that would serve Grace Presbytery and people throughout the region with quality retreat experiences rooted firmly in the Presbyterian reformed theological tradition.  It was essential that Grace Presbytery have input on a committee creating and implementing program so the programs would remain connected to and theologically in tune with the Presbytery.  It was equally important that the structure be housed under Gilmont Center.  The programs will be run at Gilmont, as they have been, and Gilmont has staff in place experienced in and dedicated to program implementation (they have supported Grace Presbytery Camps as well as their own outdoor schools for years).

It looks like a win-win and will of course take a lot of work to evolve, but all parties seemed to be happy and in approval.  Grace Presbytery have to give up direct control of the implementation but retains a seat at the table and serves as the theological anchor to the programs.  Gilmont Center has to take on the responsibility and financial implications of the camp program, but now has more input into the program to make it more efficient, financially sustainable, and adaptable to the campers of today and tomorrow.

I'm interested to watch this grow, but was honored to be invited to be a part of such a crucial evolution of a relationship between a Presbytery and it's camp.

(Please note that Gilmont Center is an incorporated entity and is not owned by the Presbytery but has historically partnered with and supported Presbytery programs.  Historically, there were three camp and conference centers within the bounds of the Presbytery, one was sold  years ago, Prairie Valley and Gilmont both hosted Grace Presbytery run camps for years, and this year Prairie Valley has ceased programmatic operations.  Prairie Valley and Gilmont were incorporated years ago to serve as partners, instead of wholly owned entities of Grace Presbytery.)

Gilmont Center Office and Welcome Center Gilmont Center Cabins