A Vision in the Wilderness:
Two Camps Forge a Path of Mutual Ministry
Nestled in the beauty of the Pocono Mountains rest two Presbyterian camps that have been the foundation for a Christian experience that is like no other.
For more than five decades, Kirkwood Camp and Conference Center has birthed countless testimonies of the power of Christian camping. Stories of formative faith experiences echo throughout the hearts and minds of members of our presbytery and our churches.
Over time however, the realistic challenges of finances and decreased participation felt by many congregations, are also part of Kirkwood Campâ€™s story.
Five miles away from 127 Kirkwood Road is Lehigh Presbyteryâ€™s Camp Brainerd, which shares a similar narrative.
For over 60 years, Camp Brainerd has touched the lives of many with its natural sanctuary, offering respite and reflection. Like Kirkwood, the camp faced financial challenges that could not be ignored.
After much prayer, careful consideration, and hard decisions, Lehigh Presbytery approved joining with the Presbytery of Philadelphia to engage collaboratively in Christian camping ministry, using the current facility at Kirkwood.
The Holy Spirit is clearly walking alongside us on this journey, as after years of hypothetical, informal conversations, members of both presbyteries sat together in earnest consideration of a future together in Christian camping. The vote by Lehigh Presbytery to close and sell their camp is in no way a decision to end their commitment to the mission of their camping ministry. Instead, it is a step out in faith, as they commit to a new way of fulfilling that mission in light of current realities. It was this spirit of courage and boldness that brought our two presbyteries together to consider a joint ministry.
The Kirkwood leadership and Board had done much work to move toward becoming self-sustaining, and that journey has been rich with successes. The challenges, however, still remain. Joining in full partnership with Lehigh â€“ birthing something new with them â€“ became an opportunity of renewed life and vision.
Pictured: Executive Presbyter Ruth Santana-Grace, Business Manager Larry Davis and Vice Moderator Mike Henry. From Kirkwood: Director of Kirkwood, Gershon Gordon and Kirkwood's Finance Manager, Tim Peckham
It is in this spirit of a new dawn that on November 18 our presbytery will be asked to ratify the following actions that have already been approved by the Leadership Collegium and reviewed and approved by our Trustees.
That the Presbytery of Philadelphiaâ€™s Christian camping ministry (located at Kirkwood Camp) be joined with that of Lehigh Presbytery.
That a Transition Team be formed of equal members from each presbytery, and be tasked with ensuring a smooth and functioning camping ministry to include (but not be limited to): the adoption of a new name for the camp; a successful 2015 camping season; formation of a new Board of Directors with representation from each presbytery; sufficient staffing to ensure success of the camp.
That the Trustees of the Presbytery of Philadelphia be empowered to take such actions as are necessary to support this joint ministry, including registration of a new name, any changes to bylaws, and a new operating agreement with the new entity.
Brief Historic Background
These motions are a natural outgrowth following a four-year discernment process initiated by the former Committee on Mission Oversight that recommended a Study Group for Kirkwood at the November 30, 2010 meeting of the Presbytery of Philadelphia.
That Study Group, comprised of Jim Dormond, Bryant Anderson, Paul Bunting, Wanda Harris Cooper, Carroll Jenkins, Adan Mairena, and Rob McClellan, established goals to be met in order to keep the struggling camp afloat. Their report, submitted to the presbytery on November 29, 2011, included the following three-year benchmarks to be met in order to keep the camp open:
Restructure the Board of Directors into two smaller boards, one to manage business affairs, the other to oversee programs.
Establish regular board training in all aspects of camp and non-profit governance.
Grow participation by 10% each year over the next three years.
Develop alternative sources of revenue.
Develop clear Board and staff position descriptions.
Engage additional resources to provide advice and support for the Board and staff.
Increase engagement with churches within the presbytery.
Explore consolidation with other camps.
Evaluate ways that Christian camping may be afforded to our youth beyond the use of Kirkwood.
The Kirkwood Board worked hard and accomplished many of the benchmarks, but it was clear that the financial sustainability of the camp still needed to be strengthened.
As ideas and creative ways to support the presbyteryâ€™s commitment to Christian camping continued, the conversations about combining efforts with Camp Brainerd also continued.
To that end, on September 12, 2013, members of both Lehigh and Philadelphia presbyteries met to consider ways Camp Brainerd and Kirkwood might live into their common mission together. Lucy Rupe, Eric Borgstrom, Mike Henry, Larry Davis, Mary Deroo, and Courtenay Willcox met with four members of Lehigh Presbytery, along with Brian Frick, Associate for Camp and Conference Ministries of the PC(USA), and Sue Wonderland, Associate Director of the Synod of the Trinity.
By early 2014, it became evident that Lehigh Presbytery would not be able to support Camp Brainerd past the 2014 camping season. That reality led to renewed conversations with Camp Brainerdâ€™s Administrative Commission and representatives of our presbytery â€“ Presbytery Vice-Moderator Mike Henry and former Moderator Courtenay Willcox. While conversations around merger, closings, the selling of land, and the reduction of staff are difficult and painful, the representatives from both presbyteries agreed that combining resources would enable both presbyteries to live into their commitment and mission of providing meaningful experiences for youth and adults through Christian camping.
Lehigh Presbytery Takes Action
On September 23, 2014, at its stated meeting, Lehigh Presbytery made the emotional and difficult decision of joining with Kirkwood Camp and selling the property of Camp Brainerd.
â€œThanks so much for making the trip to Summit Hill to support the recommendations of our Camp Brainerd Task Group,â€ says Ruling Elder David Boltz, Moderator of the Lehigh Presbytery.
â€œThe remarks by Ruth Santana-Grace, Courtenay Willcox and Mike Henry effectively removed any doubt our commissioners may have had regarding Philadelphia presbyteryâ€™s support of a joint camping program and the potential it has for enhanced camping ministries for both of our presbyteries.â€
While the vote was unanimous, the heartache of leaving a sacred land was palpable.
Even so, members of Lehigh Presbytery are excited for what lies ahead. The Rev. Ruth Ann Christopher, convener of Camp Brainerdâ€™s Administrative Commission shares with us words of hope.
â€œWe are looking forward to this new adventure as we join with all of you in offering a strong Christian camping experience for our youth while envisioning possibilities for the future that will keep us faithful and vital in this important area of ministry,â€ says Christopher. â€œWe are humbled by the generosity of our sisters and brothers in Philadelphia presbytery and grateful to have such an exciting opportunity before us.â€
Our Hope for Christian Camping
Amid difficult transitions, we look to the future with hope, knowing that God is calling us in this new day to collaborate in ministry and mission. With the Presbytery of Philadelphiaâ€™s ratification on November 18, 2014, we will continue to dream dreams with Lehigh Presbytery about the future of Christian camping. â€œChristian camping has a long and beloved history in both Philadelphia and Lehigh presbyteries,â€ says Vice-Moderator Mike Henry.
â€œThe opportunity to join our camping ministries and missions will help insure that our children and young people will continue to have a place to encounter the wonder of Godâ€™s creation and make a personal, life-long connection. What a blessing it is to be able to take one plus one and come up with far more than two!â€
Going forward will mean a new dawn with a new name, the joining of resources, and a new way of supporting this meaningful ministry.
We are grateful for the faithful witness of Camp Brainerd and Kirkwood Camp, both of which have nurtured people - young and old - in their faith, and helped establish a love of Jesus Christ through Christian camping. In gratitude, we thank the many presbyters who have given their energy, intelligence, imagination, and love to this process of discovering where God is leading. May our prayers abound as both presbyteries continue to forge this new path and new way of doing ministry together.