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.
Honest conversations about the future are essential, but sometimes tough to start and changed with emotions.
Many of our sites are located in close proximity or serve more than one Presbytery. Often times we might find competition for a limited number of participants, or even a competition for funding.
What if we took the step to look at the ministry. The "why" of what we do - serving others with camp and conference ministry in the name of Jesus Christ. Use this as a starting point for our conversations with others, and then looked at how "awesome" our site and program is? What if we were able to put "us" aside and look at how we can partner and share resources. Ways we can work together. Ways we can support each other or even ways we can share resources.
Often times when I broach the subject of cooperation and sharing, I get tacit agreement that the idea is good, but the reality of politics, territoriality, and ownership tend to get in the way of honest conversations. We often (and this is natural and understandable) revert to survival - how can we make our ministry vital and sustainable? Instead of getting to the bigger question of how can we be sure that camp and conference ministry continues to serve our church and our community in our region in the future.
We all know resources and funding are getting harder and harder to come by. Many of us have reached out, expanded our programming, dealt with things we have avoided, and forged solid relationships with our Presbyteries, our communities and other missions. Those sites and leaders are to be commended.
Others of us either don't have the luxury because of geography, demographics and funding, or have not found the creative way to continue to do our ministry in new and creative ways that are also sustaining.
When we get to a point where funds are not available to sustain ourselves, when do we start the conversation of partnership, sharing, or even desolving our ministry so that our congregations can use the resources to partner with another Presbyterian center or even a center of another denomination?
When do we step back and decide if it is our physical site that is holding back out ministry?
And if that is a conclusion we come to, how do we engage others, Presbyteries and governing bodies to start with, in that conversation in a healthy way?
I recently talked to a good pastor friend of mine who was the head of a camp committee in a Presbytery that decided to close one site and combine the resources into their other site so the site and more importantly, the ministry could be stronger. The surviving site is thriving - has it's challenges, but it's moving forward. When talking to him he said "Brian. I was young and dumb. You can't image the hornets nest I walked into in that conversation and decision. It was tough and many people were upset at me and the decision but it was the right one. Look at the ministry now. It has a chance to survive and continue doing what we started these ministries for in the first place. Welcome campers and participants with the saving love of Jesus Christ. That made all the harshness worth it."
He was brave. He was a realist. And he had the integrity to go through that tough process.
I am not say that all of our sites are in this situation, but if you are, when do you, and how do you face that reality?
And just as important, how do you lead others in such a way that positive change that sustains the ministry can be the driving factor in a "safe" way?