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Religion

Methodist Ministry Camps in Missouri, Ozarks, to End as Officials Seek New Direction

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Changes are coming for Missouri Methodists, as leaders this month elected to discontinue all four of the denomination’s camps throughout the state, and release the officials that direct them. KSMU’s Bailey Wiles has reaction.

The decision on September 5 by the Missouri Annual Conference Camping and Retreat Board was made in part to save the organization money. The camp properties ended the year with a $48,000 deficit. That’s despite thousands of dollars in subsidies issued by the Missouri Annual Conference, the governing body of the United Methodist Church in the state.

Reverend Garrett Drake, a member of the Camping and Retreat Board, says the decision aims to better utilize resources, by moving the four camping properties into third party facilities.

“Let people know, this wasn’t a knee jerk reaction as it feels. This was a thought out process about how we move forward.”

In a statement on its website, the Missouri Conference said one new direction will provide for future camp programming on the campus of Central Methodist University. Officials hope various other new initiatives will allow for opportunities to help attract more young people.

“Currently, the Missouri Annual Conference has four properties throughout Missouri located in the corners of Missouri that facilitate camping and retreat ministries. Camp Jo-Ota, Camp Blue Mountain, Camp Galilee, and the Wilderness Retreat & Development Center,” Drake said.

The camps are meant to empower individuals and foster relationships. They also provide an environment to spread Christian love and equip campers with the faith and skills needed for re-entry into the world.

“We are here because God called us here. It was the camp board’s decision, the conference’s decision to go a different direction with the camping ministries. So they decided to terminate all of our positions,” Barton said.

Erik Barton is the site director for Blue Mountain Methodist Camp, located near Fredericktown in the Missouri Ozarks. He and his wife Christina’s final day at the camp will be December 1.

Barton doesn’t understand the camp’s decision, but is trying to stay positive. Barton says he’s trusting God will show him a future somewhere else.

“We are leaving the place better than we found it and we were able to change the culture that was here. And so we were looking forward to the future.”

Brittanee Jacobs has attended the Methodist camps since she was 8, and for the last several years has served as a camp employee. Jacobs said she witnessed the difference that Camp Galilee Director Raymond Varner had on participants at the El Dorado Springs site.

“You can see the impact on all the individuals who go there. I would see kids run up to Raymond, just so excited to see him. He has several hundred, almost a thousand campers in the summer and he remembers most of them. And you can just see what a big difference he has made on them just being a part of their lives for a few days to a week.”

Jacobs has started the SaveMOUMcamps Facebook page which hit 1,000 likes in 24 hours and now has over 2,700. Jacobs hopes that the camp directors can find peace and happiness in whatever God leads them.

It remains to be seen what happens to these camps. More than 2,000 United Methodists attend the camps each year. About 20 percent of churches in the Annual Conference send one or more campers.