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Volunteers at Wesley Woods, one of Michigan's three camps

Members of the Annual Conference heard reports from Michigan Area United Methodist Camping on Friday, June 4, 2021. An exciting season is just ahead for our three camps.


STUART SMITH
(Chair) | DAVID BERKEY (Executive Director)
Michigan Area United Methodist Camping

June 4, 2021 | LANSING — 

As the current board chair of the Michigan Area United Methodist Camping organization, I am reporting today from Wesley Woods Camp and Retreat Center. God has blessed us with amazing properties to help us fulfill our mission of providing faith-forming programming and experiences for all our campers.

Stuart Smith made camp report to the conference
Stuart Smith, Chair of Michigan Area United Methodist Camping, reported to the 2021 Michigan Annual Conference from Wesley Woods Camp & Retreat, one of Michigan’s three Michigan Area camps. He made a progress report of the Strategic Plan introduced at last year’s conference session. ~ mic screenshot

On behalf of the entire Camping Board, I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you again this year and update you on our progress in fulfilling this invaluable mission and ministry.

As we mentioned last year, we developed and instituted a new Strategic Plan for the organization, which includes a new vision and focus on programming while concentrating our camp and retreat experiences to three locations: Wesley Woods Camp and Retreat Center, Lake Huron Retreat Center, and Lake Michigan Camp & Retreat.

Despite the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Board remains committed to this new Strategic Plan. It is working on various aspects of this plan to ensure the organization will remain strong and viable in the post-COVID-19 world.

A significant part of this new Strategic Plan is a renewed and directed focus on our programming, which the Rev David Berkey, our new Executive Director, will lead and cover in his comments. The other aspect of this Strategic Plan called for significant upgrades and improvements at our three camp locations. We informed you last year of the difficult decision to close and sell Judson Collins Center and Lakeview Family Campground to assist in funding these improvements. We also continued to market for sale the Crystal Springs Campground & Retreat Center, which we, unfortunately, had to close in 2019.

Earlier this year, we completed the sale of the Judson Collins and the Lakeview Campground properties. Recently, we accepted an offer on the Crystal Springs property from the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians. This sale is not expected to close until the summer of 2021. Out of respect to all those campers and people with deep connections to these sites, we conducted a Decommissioning Service at Judson Collins and Lakeview, with a planned service at Crystal Springs as we get closer to the actual closing date. We want to thank Bishop Bard for taking the time out of his busy schedule to lead the services at Judson Collins and Lakeview camps and hope his schedule will allow him to do the same at Crystal Springs.

These Decommission Services allow people to visit the sites one last time and recount all the great memories and vibrant ministries which occurred there over the years. We recognize the deep emotional attachment many people have to these sites and are committed to honoring these memories, along with the numerous gifts received over time, by placing Memorial Boards at our remaining camp locations.

Nicole is director at Wesley Woods, one of Michigan's three camps
One of three awesome Michigan Conference camps. Nicole Holton serves as site director at Wesley Woods Camp & Retreat near Dowling, MI. The season begins with “Unbreakable,” a high school camp, in June and closes with Family Camp in August. ~ umcamping photo

One of the other tasks the Board undertook this past year was developing a Master Plan for our three camp and retreat centers. This Master Plan identifies the key property and facility improvements needed at each location to ensure their operations are sustainable well into the future. This work was led by Kaleidoscope, in collaboration with the architectural team at DK Design Group and included defining and quantifying the facility needs at each location in relation to the planned ministry and programming unique to each location, assessing and reviewing all aspects of each property, developing an initial property layout showing areas of improvement or development, and creating conceptual plans of new or improved facilities.

This Master Plan was presented to our board in March of this year, and as you can imagine, there was a lot to absorb and understand within these plans. We need to consider the importance of our programming and camper experience and our ability to fund these projects. Although the recent sale of camp properties can help cover some of the anticipated costs, we need to address many deferred renovation projects while keeping funds available for future investments.

A small task force of our board has already reviewed this work and has identified several key priority projects which we look to get started on right away. Here at Wesley Woods, this would include developing a new recreation area that would include challenge courses, a mountain bike course, and a soccer/utility-type field. Also, two new cabin-type pavilions with restrooms will be added and located close to the current pods of cabins, allowing campers access to a restroom without having to walk to the updated central bathhouse. Finally, we will complete a general renewal or refresh to a number of the existing buildings, such as the main lodge, the offices, and a number of smaller deferred maintenance-type projects.

Lake Huron Retreat Center, one of three Michigan Conference camps
The Rev. Ann Emerson (left), director at Lake Huron Retreat Center, enjoys a moment with participants of the God’s Treasures Camp hosted in July 2019. This four-night experience for adults with special needs returns in 2021 with two camps, one in June and another in July. ~ Facebook photo/Lake Huron Retreat Center

At Lake Michigan, this would include two new bathhouses, one on the North Side of camp and one on the South Side of camp, along with two new toilet houses on the South Side of camp. Like Wesley Woods, the goal is to provide restroom facilities close to the current cluster of tents, cabins, and campsites. Finally, in keeping with the same concept, the restrooms in the Dining Hall will be reworked and updated, allowing us to now use this building year-round, which will be great for late fall, winter, and early spring retreats.

Although the facilities at Lake Huron are structurally sound and well maintained, they are still in need of some updates and improvements. The heating and cooling systems in the Littleton and Ragland buildings will be replaced and updated along with Ragland and the office building roofs.

This may seem like a lot (and it is!), but these are the core foundational projects needed to help us deliver the quality programming our campers expect and deserve. More projects are coming, and we are developing materials to share, which will help you understand and visualize all these changes and updates.

Finally, the other key initiative during the past year was to search and hire a new Executive Director. The Rev. David Berkey joined us this past fall in this key leadership position. David comes to us most recently from the Cal-Pac Conference and brings a wealth of experience in leading and developing camping ministries across the US. Although he will probably miss visiting the United Methodist Camp in Hawaii, we hope he finds Michigan’s lakes to be equally appealing.

Before handing this off to David, who will provide a bit more on his background and an update on our operations, on behalf of the entire Board, we would like to thank you for your support and prayers over the past year. The last year has certainly been challenging, but our resolve to become a viable, self-sustaining camping ministry remains strong. We continue to hear how people are eager to come back to camp when it is safe to do so and are working hard to provide them with an experience built around our core principles of providing a meaningful Faith Formation programming along with a comfortable bed, a warm shower, and good food.

Now, I would like to introduce you to our new Executive Director, the Rev. David Berkey.

The camping report shared by Stuart Smith and David Berkey can be found at 4:32:30 on this video of the June 4 session of the Michigan Annual Conference. 

I am David Berkey, and I am pleased to be with you as the Executive Director of Michigan Area United Methodist Camping. I do have a confession. I am a native of Cleveland, OH, with all that entails. The good news is that I spent many wonderful summers growing up vacationing with family in Michigan on the lakes, in motel pools, and visiting cousins in Saginaw. My mother never missed her birthday chocolate cake sundae at Bill Knapp’s! Pure Michigan is a wonderful place for people of all ages to be renewed by God’s creation outdoors, and our mission is to help Pure Methodists find more and more opportunities to grow in faith together.

David Berkey announces camps are open this summer.
David Berkey, new Executive Director of Michigan Area United Methodist Camping, told members of the annual conference, “I want you to think of Michigan Area United Methodist Camping as your partner in the discipleship journey for all ages.” ~ mic screenshot ~ mic screenshot

I have come here via pastoral work in the New York Conference and 25 years of service at the conference level in camp and retreat ministries in the Eastern PA, Florida, and California-Pacific conferences. As the church undergoes radical change with the culture of the 21st century, COVID, and so many critical issues around mental health, racism, and the environment – now more than ever, outdoor experiences in community with others are so important and needed.

The Michigan Area United Methodist Camping organization has been through the challenging stages of forming a new entity, with ups and downs, achievements and failures, and it is now set on firm ground, ready to serve the Michigan Conference as a key partner in discipleship formation. I want to share with you a few of the operational changes that have positioned us for a sustainable future:

First of all, we have reduced staff and eliminated a central office location to be more nimble and financially sound. There is a St. Johns P.O. Box (134) instead of a St. Johns’ office. We have utilized technology to have less staff accomplishing greater things.

Second, financially, we received two PPP loans to cover payroll and fixed costs within the past year and re-organized our resources to provide only needed operational services until we can fully re-open.

Lastly, as we receive funds from the sale of camps, we are clear about setting these aside for capital improvements at Wesley Woods, Lake Huron, and Lake Michigan sites. We are grateful for the help of the Michigan United Methodist Foundation in separating these funds from operations and for caring for these dollars that are so critical to a sustainable future. 

As we prepare for a great summer and a time of safe re-opening, we are grateful for our site staff and directors’ hard work, especially directors Ann Emerson at Lake Huron, Nicole Holton at Wesley Woods, and our new director at Lake Michigan, Erik Bengston. This past year, we had to say goodbye to Dana Hunt at Lake Michigan and Cindy Haynes at Lakeview, both of whom provided outstanding leadership over many years.

When being interviewed for this position, I asked the question, “Are we camp properties that happen to run programs, or are we a program ministry that happens to own camps?” The answer that came back was what I was looking for – we are a program ministry seeking to “create transformative camp and retreat experiences that develop disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Erik Bengston is new director of Lake Michigan, one of Michigan's three camps
New Site Director Erik Bengston looks forward to welcoming campers to Lake Michigan Camp & Retreat. Here’s what happening at the Pentwater site this summer.  ~ Michigan Area UM Camping photo

To that end, I want you to think of Michigan Area United Methodist Camping as your partner in the discipleship journey for all ages. We hope to be your go-to resource for everything from mid-winter retreats to summer kayak adventures. As professionals in the field (literally), we can provide the structure for a spiritually renewing, discipleship enriching experience for children, youth, young adults, older adults, and families.

So, there are three ways this can happen:

  1. One is by registering for an event that we are leading – individual registrations, our program.
  2. Another is by booking an event for your church group at one of our sites – we are the host providing Christian hospitality.
  3. And finally, we are seeking partnerships to provide hybrid experiences where we work together on the process and the outcomes. An example this summer is our work with the Urban Camp out of Detroit, holding its event at Camp Michindoh. We are also networking with Michigammee, Lake Louise, and Bayshore to be mutually supportive in expanding our outreach to all of Michigan.

This brings me to summer and summer camps! Yes, we are reopening in 2021 for a summertime to ReConnect, ReCreate and ReNew! Our team of volunteer deans, along with our staff, have been preparing for months for this long-awaited return. We have worked diligently with the American Camp Association, the CDC, and local and state officials to provide protocols to keep everyone safe. Capacities are reduced, we will do as much as possible outside, and we will keep campers in cohorts or pods throughout the week to better manage a healthy environment. But it will still be CAMP, and it is back, better than ever! The bathhouse here at Wesley Woods is practically a new creation, and we can’t wait for you to see it!

God is with us as we seek to enrich lives through the camp and retreat experience for all in Michigan who yearn more than ever to reconnect, recreate and renew their relationship with Jesus Christ and one another outdoors. Keep us in prayer and join us on the journey!