The Conference Board of Directors met for their regular fall meeting last Saturday, the 5th, at Lancaster Seminary. We had a very full agenda and there's a lot to share. I hope you will take the time to read all the way through this, as we try to keep you informed of our decisions.
I an extremely grateful for the leadership of our conference staff and all of the good work they have been doing on our behalf. I am delighted to work with the Rev. Dr. Carolyne (Carrie) Call as she begins her ministry among us. She has already accomplished a lot and is an inspiration to us all. The Rev. Nora Foust continues her fine work that we so deeply appreciate as she encourages and supports the work of our committees on ministry and so many other teaching and organizational activities she is doing. On top of that she is continuing to pursue her D. Min. program at Lancaster Theological Seminary. We are very pleased with the work of our new Administrative Assistant, Paul Keller. He has so many gifts that he has already shared for the conference's benefit. I hope you've noticed that our weekly newsletter has continued and improved without a blip and when he can't find something that is needed, he proceeds to make it happen anyway! Laura Dalton also continues her work making sure that church profiles and candidates for ministry in our churches continue to flow properly. We also appreciate Scott's continuing work with our chaplains and providing a new offering for the boundary training requirements we need.
Last spring the Revs. John Fureman, Sally Dries and Richard Gordon agreed to serve as Interim Search and Call Associates in a part-time capacity, working directly with the churches in their assigned associations. This seems to be working well, so the Board has voted to keep these 3 area positions in place, at least for the next 2 years, when we will again do an evaluation of the program. Since they all agreed to serve on an interim basis, they may decide not to continue. However, their replacements will be found.
We have had a very active task group looking at all the conference job descriptions very capably led by the Rev. DiAnn Baxley. The Board approved their recommendation for a new Associate Conference Minister for Transitions to replace the previous ACM job description. This position will include oversight of the Search and Call Associates, working with the profiles submitted by churches, overseeing the profiles submitted for the openings for new pastoral leadership and being the liaison with the national settings of the church. The ACM will also be responsible for working with the new Church Empowerment Team that was also approved by the Board. We are blessed to have folk with a passion for church empowerment (formerly called vitality) who have volunteered their time and expertise to develop a plan for a new program that will assist our churches wanting to do the work to become stronger and grow in their ministries or deal with other particular situations they may be facing. The ACM will also be providing support for and developing the skills of interims, designated and supply pastors. The job description will be posted this week. A new search committee has been appointed: Rev. Dennis Weidler (York), Jerry Thomason (Mercersburg), Linda Vignati (Harrisburg), Marilyn Meech (Lebanon), Mike Gibbs (York) and Rev. Jes Kast (Northern), as well as Rev. Dr. Carrie Call and Rev. Ann Graves, ex officio. Three of these folk are on the Board and 3 are not. We hope to have a new ACM in place by next spring. As part of this re-vamping of positions, we also voted to upgrade the salary scale for our ACM positions. This was made possible through the re-working of our other conference office staff positions. When the new ACM is chosen, the receptionist/profile coordinator position will be eliminated as well as discontinuing the Director of Communications/ Generosity position. These positions have been folded into the Office Manager and ACM positions, as well as some responsibilities taken on by the Transitional Conference Minister.
As most of you know, Hartman Center is our beloved conference church camping facility in Milroy, PA. Over the years many of our churches have sent their children and youth to its summer offerings, and this experience has overwhelmingly shaped the lives of many who have come. We know that outdoor camp experience makes a big difference in the faith lives of both children and adults alike. The sad fact of our current society is that this experience is less and less supported and seemingly less valued by many folks. The Board and committees on Hartman Center have spent many hours over the past several years, along with hours and hours of volunteer time working and assessing what the future of the camp should be. This fall, we received the resignation of the camp and retreats director for the past few years, the Rev. Patty Dodds. We will have a summer camp program next year! The Board has approved the search for a replacement - perhaps two people - to take on this position for next year. We're hoping to get a brochure out for next summer in time for Christmas this year, with the hope of increased enrollment for the 2020 summer camp season. Rev. David Bushnell has been working and pushing very hard to see that the craft center is redone and that the planned renovations for Michaux Lodge this fall proceed as planned. Over $7000 was raised for the craft center and insurance money received after the damage to the Stone House last year will be used for the work on Michaux Lodge. In addition Dave has organized several adult retreats for this fall and winter. We are so grateful for Dave's love and dedication along with all of his volunteers, to see that these needed renovations happen. He is also working hard to encourage the churches to use the camp for their church retreats and to plan special events there. The fact is that our camp is grossly underutilized by the adults of our churches for retreats and other events.
In spite of all these dedicated efforts, there are still many very hard realities that we must face. It is costing the conference $125,000 a year just to provide summer camp programs for 5 weeks. This last summer we had a total of 235 paid campers attending. With support staff and all there was a total of 288 folk there. This is way down from previous years. The reality we face is that we don't have the kind of funding in our conference to continue this pattern much longer. In truth, we don't charge enough for the camping week to cover the actual costs of the camping experience, even with many volunteers.
Over the years there have been many maintenance needs that have not been addressed and the infrastructure of the camp is not in good shape. Churches are not using the camp for their retreats because it does not meet current demands. Society is changing, as we know from our own church experiences. Groups outside the UCC that might use the camp are turning away because the facilities are not up to date, making UCCR's work very difficult. We have no control over the decisions that have been made in the past, but there are many needs that should be met now and in the near future, but cannot because of limited funds.
The trends around camping in general have drastically changed, and the demand for sports camps, the arts, sciences, and technology have created many alternative summer camp options for our young people. Frankly, Hartman Center is very underused most of the year, leading to the situation we now face.
In light of all these concerns and considerations, last Saturday the Board of Directors unanimously passed the following motion: "To approve the recommendation from the Hartman Center Committee to explore the possibility of selling all of Hartman Center with the potential of camp closure as early as December 31st, 2020."
I am deeply aware of the pain and distress this will action cause for many people. It may bring deep mourning for this loss that has become so much a part of our life as a conference. Be assured that the Hartman Center Committee of the Board is doing its very best to be responsible in serving the needs of the conference. The camp has been appraised, the Hartman family has been contacted and a process is happening to obtain releases on the deed restrictions. We are aware that even at this late date, it is possible for things to happen that can reverse what may seem inevitable and I would love to see us able to make that happen, but we have talked about needing a miracle at this point. We need more good trained leaders to step up to the plate. For the conference to keep it open, as mentioned earlier, we need $125-$150,000 per year and that would still not cover the cost of infrastructure needs. If we shutter the camp, it will take $35 - $40,000 a year to maintain it until a sale or other future is determined. Many conferences around the UCC have had to make this painful decision, so we are not alone in this. There is still opportunity to discuss all this with committee and board members. Come to the Fall Festival on Saturday and support all the activities, enjoy the fall season and fill up on chicken and waffles. Consider how you might volunteer to lend a hand, now and in the future.
It is not the intention of anyone to give up on the camping experience for our conference youth and adults. If the camp is closed, there will be an opportunity to create new possibilities for an outdoor ministry experiences such as renting a week at another camp for a week or developing other activities that include service opportunities and other things that our creative minds may imagine. Do not hesitate to contact any member of the Board of Directors or Hartman Center committee members with your concerns and ideas. Meanwhile, may we continue to pray and work through a process that will serve the mission of Penn Central Conference.
Peace and blessings,
Rev. Ann Graves
Moderator, Penn Central Conference Board of Directors