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    The Upper New York Conference of The United Methodist Church


    news article

    Strengthening Camp and Retreat Centers

    November 7, 2017 / By Pam Harris, Director, Run River Enterprises

    My work through an Extension Ministry appointment is to serve as a consultant to faith-based camp and retreat centers. In 19 years of working with camp and retreat ministries, our organization has worked with nearly 300 sites of ministry in almost 200 organizations. We have worked with nearly all denominations, in most US states, and three Canadian provinces. Some projects result in strategic, long-range plans, which guide the ministry into the future they envision for themselves. Some projects help a denomination to make decisions concerning the viability of a ministry. Some projects focus on helping a Board to be stronger, or create a plan for fiscal viability, or enable a ministry to raise capital funds.

    Like most forms of ministry, there is an almost infinite variety in the tasks to be done. In any given month, I lead worship, talk with church leaders about where God is calling them in ministry, talk with young adults about how God is a part of their life, perform data analysis using statistical and GIS analysis, create business and marketing plans, develop site maps, draft building concepts, and write reports. In a typical year, I drive 40-50 thousand miles and work with 15-18 ministries.

    My work helps to extend the ministry of the Upper New York Conference throughout the United States and Canada. Countless lives are impacted each year at camp and retreat centers, as children, youth, and adults discover God’s love, discern direction for their lives, and commit themselves to lives of faith.

    One of the aspects of my ministry that is most important to me is to help organizations deepen their theological understanding of Camp and Retreat Ministry. For me, these ministries are deeply sacramental, and increasing our understanding of that helps to remind us that these ministries are essential to what it means to be the church in the world.

    Camp is an expression of the ministry of baptism. We are marked as children of God at our baptism, and we spend our whole lives learning how to live into that identity. Camp is a place where we can more fully realize that identity. Retreat and Conference ministries are ministries of the Lord’s Table, an expression of the hospitality that God extends to the entire world. In Jesus Christ, God opens his arms and welcomes the world, and we reflect that welcome as we open our sites to guests and groups.

    There is so much involved in helping camp and retreat centers successfully exemplify how to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places.

    A strong mission is critical. To sustain a strong mission and accomplish meaningful programs, ministries must be strong as organizations. Often, we work in strengthening Boards, helping organizations to increase resources, and helping to establish strong management practices.

    Keep in mind that Camp and Retreat Ministries are ministries that almost always involve a physical setting. Sometimes those settings have been neglected and must be dramatically improved. Sometimes those settings limit the ways a ministry might serve and new facilities are needed to expand the impact.

    There have been some changes in the past 19 years. Increasingly, Camp and Retreat Ministries must rely less on subsidies from denominations and more on revenue from programs and gifts from donors. Financial management is increasingly sophisticated and effective marketing is essential.

    It is always immensely rewarding when we are invited to the groundbreaking or dedication of a new facility we helped to plan, or we hear that a new program has succeeded or a ministry has met its financial goals for a year.

    Camps and Retreat centers are communities of spiritual practice. Sometimes, those practices which enable us to live out our identity as children of God seem like an overlay on our routine lives. At camp, or on a retreat, those practices are integrated into everything we do. It is truly an experience where “everything is done in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

    Camp and Retreat Ministries is more than the programs and experiences that happen at these sites of ministry. One project that I am just beginning is a way to document the amount of land for which we in the church have stewardship through these sites of ministry. It is a significant act of caring for God’s earth to preserve these spaces of beauty and grandeur.

    I am grateful to be able to serve the church in this way. As we all seek to follow where God may lead, and create a faithful future for the church, Camp and Retreat Ministries is an essential part of that.

    Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in teh Fall 2017 issue of the Advocate, which focused on the them of being God's love to our neighbors in all places.


    With more than 168,000 members, the Upper New York Annual (Regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church comprises 867 local churches and 65 new faith communities in 12 districts, covering 48,000 square miles in 49 of the 62 counties in New York state. Our mission is to “live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places."