First annual Camping Sunday set for February 26

   The floating cross at the Warren W. Willis Camp.

On Sunday Feb. 26, the Florida Annual Conference will observe its first annual “Camping Sunday.” Camping Sunday is the day members are asked to give or pledge ( to the Together! For Kids and Camps Campaign.
“The Camps and Retreat Ministries, in which we all share, hold a special place in the lives of literally thousands of people across the Florida Annual Conference,” said Bishop Timothy Whitaker.  “In many cases, our Conference leaders – both lay and clergy – have discovered a closer walk with God because of their camping experiences.  And, in fact, many of our active clergy have discerned their call to ministry while attending camp.”

“This is a ministry that has been changing lives for more than sixty years,” he said. “We feel that it is important that we join together to celebrate and support this ministry in our local churches on an annual basis so that we can keep it vital for current and future generations.”

According to Rev. Alex Shanks, Chair of the Board of Camps and Retreat Ministries, a primary goal of the event is to promote awareness of the camps.

 Camping is an investment in young people.

“By having a dedicated day to celebrate our rich camping tradition, we can broaden the knowledge base for a new generation of campers,” he said.  “We believe we are transforming lives and we want to share that in the local church.  Those of us who have been part of our camping tradition over the years call our four sites ‘sacred ground.’”

The conference’s camping and retreat sites are:

• Centenary Camp in Northwest Florida
• Riverside Retreat in Southwest Florida
• Life Enrichment Center in Central Florida
• Warren W. Willis Camp in Central Florida.

According to Shanks, each has unique programs and offerings and is open year-round to children, youth and adults across the conference.

“We think it is important to give local congregations a chance to see ‘what’s new’ at the camps,” Shanks said, “and to have an opportunity to invest in our young people.”

The Conference is currently conducting the Together! Campaign for Kids and Camps and is in the final stages of raising money to complete the renovation of Barnett Lodge, the central meeting, dining and activity center at Warren W. Willis Camp.  Ground-breaking took place in September and construction is underway.  The renovation will add more than 7,000 square feet of new space to the facility and update an additional 2,500 square feet.  The camp food service operation will be significantly enhanced by the project.  Two new meeting rooms and administrative offices will be added.
The campaign has received gifts of cash and pledges in excess of $3.25 million for the Barnett Lodge project, including a $2 million anchor gift from an anonymous donor.  Approximately $750,000 is needed to complete the project.

According to Shanks, the Board of Camps and Retreat Ministries and the Together! Campaign will be mailing advance information and resource kits to all conference churches.  The kits will contain DVD’s on the Barnett Lodge project, PowerPoint and jpg slides that can be used for presentations and news stories that can be shared with small groups or the congregation as a whole.   Order forms will be inserted in the information packets so that churches may order additional materials.

Churches that want to secure guest speakers for Camping Sunday may do so by calling Tom Wilkinson, Vice President, Development, The Florida United Methodist Foundation, at (866) 363-9673, ext. 7105.  Speaking requests will be handled on a first come first served basis.

The camping ministry has been changing lives for over 60 years.

“Through Camping Sunday, we are giving every Florida United Methodist an opportunity to invest in our youth,” Shanks said.  “We will make pledge cards available to each of the churches.  Donors also will be able to give online or through the Camping Sunday offering.”

Every gift to the campaign is being matched dollar-for-dollar by a matching grant jointly funded by Trish and Dan Bell of Coral Gables and by the Conference Board of Trustees.  In addition, ten percent of every dollar will be tithed to our camping scholarships program.

According to Shanks, the camps want every child to be able to have a camping experience, regardless of ability to pay.  “We work closely with churches to make sure everyone is welcome,” he said.  “We don’t want to turn anyone away.” 

During the summer of 2011, the Board of Camps and Retreat Ministries allocated $150,000 in scholarships for campers attending its four sites in Florida.
Having received the approval of the Council for Finance and Administration (CFA), Camping Sunday will henceforth be observed by the conference on the fourth Sunday of February each year.  “This is a great way to ensure that our camping program continues to thrive and remains available to future generations of Florida United Methodists,” Shanks said.


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