Last time, we talked about Camp Meeting, 2013, in South Central Conference and how the Lord blessed our gathering.
Every year, I make it a habit to visit at least one other camp meeting, in another conference. I do that to learn how others do camp meeting and to try and put that knowledge to use to benefit South Central.
This year, I had the privilege of visiting three other camp meetings, besides the two that we have in our conference. From the end of May, until the end of June, I was on a “Camp Meeting high”.
Here is what I learned:
(1) Camp Meetings Are Special: I already knew that, but my camp meeting experiences this year reminded me of that once more.
The two camp meetings that I visited after ours, Southeastern Conference and Allegheny West, had powerful Sabbath services, just as the Lord blessed us to have powerful Sabbath worship services at our camp meeting.
I left those two worship services reminded again why camp meetings are important. I remember what my younger sister said to me when she returned home after spending the entire time at our camp meeting: She said to me that all of the money that we spent (and we spent a ton) was worth it.
I felt the same way when I left Southeastern and Allegheny West: Whatever they spent was worth it as well (and I asked-they spent a ton, too. Well, Allegheny West spent more like a “quarter ton”, because they only had a weekend. But, relative to the size of their conference and the size of their workforce, camp meeting was not inexpensive for them, either. Southeastern had a full camp meeting, as we did, and they spent a ton).
Which leads me to the second thing that I learned-again:
(2) Camp Meetings Are Expensive-Even If You Have Your Own Campground: There is a persistent belief that if you have your own campground, you can save money on camp meeting.
It is true that we pay both Oakwood University and the Oakwood University Church for the use of their facilities. It is also true that if we added up all of the monies that we have spent in renting facilities for camp meeting and summer camp for our young people and for things like Prayer Summits, Youth Summit, etc, all of those rental fees could have purchased and built our own facility-and, all of those things are very true.
But what gets lost sometimes is that campgrounds have to be developed, maintained, upgraded and, subsidized-in other words, campgrounds typically do not pay for themselves.The conferences that operate them, pay for them every year in their operating budget.
Each of the 3 camp meetings that I visited (Georgia-Cumberland was the third; I did not talk about their Sabbath worship service because I was not there as a participant-I was there because they were kind enough to invite me to be the speaker) all have their own campground/conference center. While I shall not divulge the exact figures the administrators of each of those conferences gave me of the cost of operating those facilities, I shall tell you that the combined operational subsidy from those 3 conferences to their campground/conference center was seven figures. And, after these conferences spent seven figures to operate their campground/conference center, they still had to spend money on camp meeting. In Southeastern’s case, they spent every bit as much as we did for camp meeting, even though they have their own campground.
That is because, to really have a quality camp meeting, there are some costs that exist,regardless of whether or not you have a campground. You have to transport and partially feed your workers. You have programming costs, e.g., Children and Youth Programs, as well as seminars for adults. You have guest speakers for Youth, Young Adults and Adult Services. All of those costs are the same, whether or not you have your own campground.
Then-there are housing costs. Having your own campground does not automatically mean that you have no housing costs-in fact, usually; it means you have greater costs.
That is because it is very difficult (and very expensive) to build a campground that is big enough to lodge campers and the conference staff. For example, in South Central, we probably have 120-130 staff people to house (and that does not include the education staff that comes the first weekend), plus guests.
That means that, just to house our staff and guests, we need 140 rooms or so-that is the size of a decent-sized hotel. Then, you have to have facilities to house the campers. And, those facilities have to be maintained and upgraded.
Neither Southeastern nor Allegheny West have housing to accommodate both their staff and campers. Southeastern (and I suspect Allegheny West as well) house their staff in hotels. It costs them far more to house their staff than it costs us to house our staff at Wade Hall.
The Sabbath I visited Southeastern, the Conference President was taking up a special offering. They had just spent half a million dollars because the county where their campground is located, required them to re-wire a portion of their campground. They were also opening up their new 1.7 million dollar dining hall (it’s very nice).
But, however nice their camp ground is, there is simply no way that we could absorb the impact that doing everything that it takes to operate a campground would have on our bottom line without significantly altering how we operate in the South Central Conference. If we had to put hundreds of thousand into a campground/conference center, that would be a wonderful thing to have, but it would mean not having some other things. In this conference, it would mean having fewer workers, i.e., fewer Pastors, fewer teachers, fewer people in the conference office, etc.
When I first became a conference administrator, Elder Seth Bardu, who was the Conference Treasurer at that time, told me something that I have never forgotten. He said, “Every dollar that you spend in one place, is a dollar that you cannot spend some place else”. That is just the way it is. If you do not have unlimited resources, you have to make choices and set priorities.
That is what makes leadership difficult sometimes. Because resources are not unlimited, that means there are some things-some good things-that we would like to do, that we cannot do, or that we have to stop doing or do differently or have to do at a later time. And there are always people who, with good reason, want to see those things done and done the same way that they have always been done and done now. That dilemma is part of leadership.
Spending the kind of money that we have to spend to have a full camp meeting in South Central, means making choices. Having camp meeting in our conference means not having some other things. I would imagine that is why so many conferences no longer have camp meeting for the full 10 days.
Having a full camp meeting is a choice that we in South Central have chosen to make. I really believe that it has been a blessing to our conference. In our final installment on Camp Meeting, 2013, I shall finish sharing my experiences that I was blessed to have in visiting other camp meetings.