We are moving into the last month of summer at our camps, sometimes affectionately referred to as “the hills.” Summer camp had a wonderful season at the hills. Band camps have come to the hills. Running camps have run the hills. Voices of grief and of laughter have echoed off the hills. Work campers have come and volunteered their time at the hills. Time has marched on.
Your elected Board of Directors will meet in August. We will discuss work that has been done by the visioning team of the Ohio Conference. This team has worked hard to listen to God and one another, to think outside the box, to be creative and to come up with the beginnings of a plan. The Spirit of God has been working. (Read Interim Conference Minister John Gantt’s thoughts on this process.)
We will also be attending to our fiduciary responsibility — hearing recommendations from the Budget and Finance Committee (comprised of the conference board treasurer and treasurers from our associations) about the proposed 2018 budget and responses to the 2016 audit report. Your Board of Directors, including our volunteer treasurer, take this responsibility seriously.
The Annual Gathering, which is coming up Sept. 15 and 16, will also be part of our board agenda. The Annual Gathering Planning Team has been working hard to create a community gathering that will engaging in listening, learning and worshipping together. I hope you will join us at Westerville Community UCC.
We will also discuss the selling of Pilgrim Hills and moving to Templed Hills. A few people who are passionate about the Ohio Conference camping program have requested that the board reconsider their February decision (read more) in light of new information they have gathered. We will honor that request at this meeting. We will take all information into consideration.
Let me share some significant information that the board has weighed as they made the decision to sell Pilgrim Hills and planned to re-open Templed Hills. The primary reason the Board made the difficult decision to sell Pilgrim Hills was because we believe Templed Hills has some clear advantages when it comes to serving groups of adults, especially older adults. That’s not to say that we don’t want to continue to serve youth and children – we do! We believe that Templed Hills can more easily support a wider span of ages as we form faith at camp. In the long run it will also be easier to retrofit Templed Hills to effectively serve persons with mobility issues. Plans are already being made to install handicapped accessible restrooms on the main floor of Skipper Lodge (the dining hall) and in Memorial Hall, which has dormitories and gathering spaces. Memorial Hall is on the same level as Skipper so it is easy to get from the sleeping/meeting space to the dining hall.
Templed Hills, near Belleville, Ohio, is more easily accessible by car. United, Camps, Conferences and Retreats (UCCR) (Our ministry partner who has been managing the camp site for the last three years) reports that it is easier for them to book groups at Templed Hills because of the ease of accessibility. The churches and outside groups who use the site generate critical revenue to keeping the camp open. We also discovered that certain groups that had previously used Templed Hills chose not to use Pilgrim Hills because of the more difficult access.
We also have a responsibility to use funds wisely as we move forward with our camps. Several prospective buyers have already expressed interest in Pilgrim Hills, but sales prospects for Templed Hills are much more limited. A sale of Pilgrim Hills will provide funds to pay off a long-standing loan, set up a $1,000,000 endowment fund for future faith formation ministries and provide some funds toward further renovations at Templed Hills.
We understand that this is painful for some, including me. Pilgrim Hills is a “thin place” where God feels very close to me, but it is not the only place that God feels close. Templed Hills is also a “thin place” for many as well. And, God’s presence is felt in many other places in this world. Please keep the board and the entire conference in prayer as we move forward with difficult, but hope-filled, decisions.
God is still speaking,
Rev. Melinda Quellhorst
Pastor of Grace United Church of Christ
Moderator of the Ohio Conference