“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.”
~ John Muir
That’s not a typo. The Ohio Conference Board of Directors is preparing to auction of 131.9 acres of Pilgrim Hills that they consider “not used for programming purposes”. The acreage has been divided into 4 parcels, two in Holmes County and two in Coshocton County. Below you can see a map of the current camp property including the four parcels on the auction block. One thing to note – the parcels being auctioned off do not include Big Rocks.
According to a post on the Ohio Conference website on October 25th entitled Treasurer’s Notes: Outdoor Ministries and Camp Update by Conference Treasurer, Rev. Sam Buehrer, the surveying process should be done sometime in November and then a date for an auction will be set.
We are completely at a loss for words at this decision to not only sell ANY part of Pilgrim Hills, but that our Conference leadership would mislead us by saying they are only going to be selling off “logical parcels” of land in a letter to the Conference earlier this fall. We don’t consider logical parcels of land to be 35% of the entire property that we own. We have questioned our current Conference Moderator on this exact discrepency several weeks ago and have yet to be provided an answer to this question.
The argument that we don’t use much of the acreage that is being parceled off for auction isn’t the point. In 1993 the Ohio Conference purchased roughly 175 acres of property, including the 139.1 being auctioned off, in order to provide a buffer to the camping property so we wouldn’t have the worries of having neighbors on our doorstep. It also expanded the footprint of the camp and gave all of us more space in this beautiful corner of Ohio to retreat to, to unplug and tune out the rest of the world for a few hours and a larger piece of land to have an encounter with God.
We believe we lose a lot more when we auction off any part of our camps. We do a disservice to those who came before us who had the foresight and the vision and the courage to preserve these spaces for generations to come. We believe we lose a part of our identity as well as part of our commitment to our core goals.
“Not all who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
Sometimes the best sermon, the best therapy, the best pep talk, the best laughs…are not found inside a church. Sometimes they are found in the middle of the woods. Sometimes we need to wander to feel alive, to feel close to God. I would hate to see us lose 1/3 of our wandering space.
Many will argue that its contradictory to say on one that hand that we shouldn’t sell any land whatsoever, yet advocate for selling one of our camps entirely. Yes that’s correct and that is truly what we believe. We firmly believe that our best chance moving forward is to divest from one of our properties entirely and focus all of our attention on managing, repairing, developing and loving our remaining property. Moreover we believe that the site best positioned for us moving forward is Pilgrim Hills. The idea of selling off parcels of each site (there are supposedly plans to sell off similar parcels at Templed Hills, but nothing has been officially announced) is an easy way out. It’s taking the can and kicking it further down the road.
Our camps are being placed in the middle of bigger problems facing our Conference and our denomination and even mainline Christianity as a whole. The church is in a decline and in many instances giving towards levels of church governance is declining even faster. The situation in the Ohio Conference is even more complicated and confusing and frustrating for the average person in the pews. We have a structure with two levels of judicatory that essentially are dealing with identity crises themselves. My fear is that selling off a 1/3 of Pilgrim Hills to put a band-aid on the financial emergency facing our Conference will only provide a temporary fix and in a few years we will find ourselves staring at the same scary financial scenarios and 139 less acres of Pilgrim Hills.
Outdoor Ministries continues to be viewed as a liability instead of an asset. We continue to blame it for our financial struggles instead of celebrating it for the lives it has changed.
It is the position of Affirm Camp that we completely disagree with this decision to sell off any property at Pilgrim Hills. If the decision to ever actually, seriously consider selling goes forward than it should certainly not be completed without the following being done first:
- A decision made about the structure in the Ohio Conference. Selling any assets before the decisions are made about whether we are even going to have an Ohio Conference is simply irresponsible.
- An attempt at a legitimate Capital Campaign, the development of an Annual Fund and an engagement of our 60+ years of camp alumni to assist in the financial needs of the camp.
- Offer the land for sale to your local churches, camp families and camp alumni. Maybe we don’t have to worry about new neighbors at all.
- A plan for what the profits from the sale of this property would be used for.
- A commitment from the Conference leadership that the profits from the sale of any camp property would directly go towards paying down camp debt or capital repairs and/or capital improvements at our camps and a commitment to hiring an outdoor ministry executive. This ministry warrants and deserves this level of staffing.
- A long term vision plan for our Outdoor Ministries. Affirm Camp is offering the work of Kaleidoscope and their long-range feasibility and business plan study for Pilgrim Hills to the Ohio Conference Board of Directors. We will post that final report from Kaleidoscope in it’s entirety on this blog later this week.
As this situation continues to develop we will do our best to keep you informed on what we know to be fact. In the meantime continue to keep our camps and our leadership in your prayers as they face these difficult decisions during these uncertain times.
Happy Camping! -Affirm Camp Team