The Barnett Lodge consecration service began like a camping week — with exuberance and expectation — and ended like a camping week, with praise and thanksgiving.
Most of those gathered for the service on Saturday were past the age of giggles and childish chatter, but if you closed your eyes and listened to the crowd entering Fellowship Hall at the lodge, you heard exuberance and expectation — not unlike the voices of young people on their first day at camp.
It was the sound of many decades of children and youth, yet there was no age in the voices: no voices with wrinkles, no voices with gray hair and no voices that had gone to war. Every pair of hands and feet was youthful, hopeful and celebratory.
“Isn’t it wonderful how the old has blended in with the new,” observed Rev. Bill Barnes in his introductory comments. In that moment, his remark was true not only of the Warren W. Willis Camp renovation but also of the celebrating children of God in the Fellowship Hall and the church itself.
Barnes, the co-chair of the TOGETHER! for Kids and Camps capital campaign, told the 300 attendees about a woman in his St. Luke’s, Orlando, congregation who had kept her nametag and songbook from camp in 1952.
“She wasn’t a Methodist at the time she went to camp; she was invited by friends to come along with them,” Barnes recalled, adding that she became part of the future generations of the church.
|Bishop Whitaker with former campers Selma Marlowe of First UMC New Port Richey and "Barney" Barnett of First UMC Lakeland. Barnett is the grandson of Dr. Ira Barnett for whom the Barnett Lodge is named. -Photo by Alain Boniec
“I see potential, and I see what’s coming,” and it’s about future generations, echoed Rev. David McEntire, chairman of the Florida Conferences Trustees and incoming chairman for the Board on Camps and Retreats Ministries.
“During a time of global economic recession, our conference has chosen to grow and expand our outreach,” said McEntire, who also is senior pastor at First UMC, Lakeland.
“That's what happens when you follow God's lead, rather than rely upon economic forecasts. Faith in the unseen compels us to build for generations yet to come.
“While many conferences are closing or downsizing camping and retreat ministries, it is wonderful that the Florida Conference is faced with needing to expand facilities to accommodate the growing number of children, youth and adults who participate in our strong camping and retreat ministries,” he added.
“More importantly, lives are changed as people discover the depth of God's love in this unique and beautiful setting.”
Bishop Timothy Whitaker’s sermon was titled, “Will there be faith?” based on Luke 18:8: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”
“This building is not a monument; it is a mission,” Whitaker said. “[It is our job] to hand on our faith to the next generations. … This is the most important task we have. We need to be very intentional about telling others about Christ.”
|Elizabeth Hogan was Director of Food Service and her late husband, E.J., was camp superintendent from 1955-83. Camp capacity at that time had grown from 250 to 500. -Photo by Alain Boniec
The renovated Barnett Lodge, a symbol of that mission, is now enlarged by 7,131 square feet. It is the central activities center for the camp, housing a fellowship hall, a modernized kitchen serving two expanded dining halls, new administrative offices, a welcome center with snack bar and two new meeting rooms with outdoor terraces overlooking Lake Griffin.
The $4 million renovation and construction project has been the focus of the TOGETHER! for Kids and Camps campaign, which supports all the camps and retreats of the Florida Annual Conference.
“We have a beautiful space to minister and live in,” said Mike Standifer, the interim director of Camps and Retreats Ministries. “The renovation helps us remember where we came from and inspires us to look to the future for ministering to campers and year-round guests. We know our guests will be comfortable and experience God in new ways because of this space.”
During the end of the service, if you closed your eyes and listened, you heard joyful songs of praise and thanksgiving for God’s blessings, just like the voices of children and youth at the close of a camp experience.
Rev. Alex Shanks, outgoing chairman of the Board on Camps and Retreats and associate pastor at Christ UMC in Fort Lauderdale, concluded the service by noting that Warren W. Willis Camp will long serve as a testament to the Wesleyan faith.
“For years to come, we can always know what God can do.”