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Camp and retreat ministry gets overhaul with 'master plan'

Camp and retreat ministry gets overhaul with 'master plan'

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Camp and retreat ministry gets overhaul with 'master plan'

Feb. 24, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0446}

An e-Review Feature
By John M. De Marco**

The Florida Conference Camp and Retreat Ministry is undergoing a major overhaul guided by what staff and board members are calling the master plan, which will be presented during the "Witness With Power" 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event June 1-3.

The goal of the plan is to help the ministry become more intentional about equipping churches to utilize its facilities for a deeper walk with Christ.

A first step in that direction has been a realignment of personnel at the conference's four facilities — the Life Enrichment Center (LEC) and Warren W. Willis Youth Camp in Leesburg, the South Florida Camp at Alva and the Lake Asbury Retreat Center (LARC) near Jacksonville.

LAKELAND — The Rev. David Berkey, executive director of the Florida Conference Camp and Retreat Ministry, shares some of his goals for the ministry with delegates at the "One Body One Spirit" 2005 Florida Annual Conference Event. Photo by Geoff Anderson, Photo #06-313.

Under the direction of a board created in 2004 to revision the ministry, the conference hired the Rev. David Berkey last year as executive director of the camp and retreat ministry. Berkey's job is to oversee all aspects of the ministry and facilities. He held a similar position in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference for a decade before coming to Florida.

The conference has also hired Melinda Trotti, a veteran camping and retreat programming director and Berkey's wife, to ramp up the ministry's programming and hospitality efforts.

"One of the things we were charged to do was hire a director, to get someone on staff who had experience in camping," said the Rev. Gary Spencer, who serves as chairman of the camp and retreat ministry board. "We feel like we found the best person in the country."

Spencer said the second task was to develop a master plan. "The big shift from the past is that we are trying to integrate programming with hosting the sites," he said. "The direction of the board in terms of staffing is to hire folks who will be able to run each of the camps and maintain the facilities, as well as promote programming."

Spencer said he believes churches will benefit from that integrated approach. "The camp will either be helping you or working with your ministry or offering a ministry that your local church can come and participate in. There may be a way for us to add some value or benefit to your program, such as offering the ropes course, that assists in community building."

With that goal in mind Berkey named Mike Standifer, who has overseen the conference-wide summer camp program for many years, as director of the Willis site to focus on activities there. Martha Pierce has become director of the South Florida camp, while Scott McClendon continues as manager of LARC. Berkey said he will hire a director at LARC once its operation is large enough to support a director position.

The move to having directors at each camp resulted in eliminating manager positions at the Willis camp and LEC last October.
"Each of the directors will be responsible for their camps. David's role is to be the person who oversees all of that," Spencer said. "The board's role is to work with the director and establish policies and guidelines for the camps and to help set a mission for the camp. We don't see ourselves as micromanaging the camps."

Berkey hired Kaleidoscope Inc., a consulting firm led by a 20-year veteran of camping ministries, to develop the overall master plan. The first phase involved a process of determining vision, mission, structure and personnel.

"The first part was to look at the alignment of all the things that happen under camp, conference and retreat ministries," Berkey said, adding the biggest issue was the summer camp ministry, the largest program run by the conference. It typically has been perceived as a separate, outside group, independent of the conference camping program.

"To have that integrated into one under the auspices of the board was important," he said. "The board provides the umbrella, oversight and expertise to help them (summer camp staff) take care of a program that involves more than 3,500 youth and children and volunteers and staff."

LEESBURG — Youth get ready to begin a team-building activity during a week of summer camp at the Warren W. Willis Youth Camp. Photo courtesy of the Florida Conference Camp and Retreat Ministry, Photo #06-314. Web photo only.

Standifer, who will continue to lead the summer camp ministry as part of his responsibilities as director of the Willis camp, agrees with that assessment.

"In the past, summer camp really was, to a certain extent, seen as an outside group coming in to rent the facility," he said. "Now, we literally are one and the same. We've always been one and the same, but there wasn't the feeling that we were all in ministry together."

Standifer says the integration of facility and program enables the youth camp staff to focus on ministry as its top priority and goal.

"In the past, the camp was only a place where lodging and meals were provided. Now, we are to the point of hosting, partnering, directing and resourcing groups," he said. "It's very different from summer camp coming in and taking over the camp facilities for three months and leaving after it's over. We are one team, one year-round staff, in the camp and retreat ministries. We have the ability to be responsible for the program, facility, food service — everything."

The master plan will take about 18 months to complete. The board met with Kaleidoscope last month to discuss the master plan's physical layout and the missional purpose for the four sites. Some of what is being considered includes creating more meeting space and improving traffic flow at the LEC and providing more recreational opportunities and a new auditorium that can accommodate more people at the youth camp. The South Florida camp experienced a 35 percent increase in activity over the past year, according to Berkey, so potential plans for that site include adding lodging and creating a day camp program, as well as renaming it Riverside Retreat to highlight its location on the Caloosahatchee River. LARC would also have more lodging and a focus on day camp.

The board is also inviting laity and clergy to listening sessions March 6-9 to gain feedback from them on potential plans. The goal is to have a final proposal for the board on April 8 that can be presented at the upcoming annual conference session. Berkey said actual costs have not been determined, but he estimates it will take millions of dollars to make the improvements. Any changes will be done in phases as a result.

"The first step is for the conference to own this plan as the direction for us to go forward. The second step is the funding. It's possible that on April 8 the board will say it needs more time. We want to make sure it is the best possible plan. We don't want to rush into something just for the sake of getting it to annual conference in June, but it is on track to accomplish that," Berkey said.

General concepts of the plan also involve increasing the facilities at the Leesburg camps, such as more LEC meeting space, a new dining hall, a new recreation center and a small group retreat area. On the Willis side, the plan proposes a new auditorium for large group activities, converting the current recreation center to a gymnasium, building a new pool, and taking away some craft huts so more village-like concepts around the site, with program space related to each village area, can be built. Kitchens at both facilities in Leesburg would be upgraded, and more staff housing is needed.

ALVA — Youth at the Florida Conference South Florida Camp "support" each other during an activity designed to build teamwork and trust. Photo courtesy of the Florida Conference Camp and Retreat Ministry, Photo #06-315.

"At LARC, it's really too soon to say, but definitely we want to increase the beds there and focus on day camp as the first phase of getting more activity and more programming going on," Berkey added. "We want to keep it as a youth, children and family site, preserving the natural setting. At the South Florida camp, we're talking about adding 100 beds, with a small group retreat village and some meeting areas, a nature education area and a day camp area.

The board is also looking at its vision related to seven biblical foundations for ministry developed by an ad hoc group of United Methodist camp and retreat leaders, including Berkey and Trotti. This will be incorporated as part of the preamble of the master plan.

The listening sessions for the proposed master plan will take place March 6 in the Jacksonville area, focusing on LARC (2:30 p.m., Southside United Methodist Church; 6 p.m., Calvary United Methodist Church); March 7 in the Ft. Myers area, focusing on the South Florida camp (noon, First United Methodist Church, Ft. Myers; 6 p.m., South Florida Camp); and March 8-9, focusing on the Willis and LEC sites, respectively (March 8: noon, First United Methodist Church, Lakeland; March 9: noon, LEC).

"Our goal is to look at the needs of the churches, pastors, laypersons and leaders of the Florida Conference in the camp retreat ministry and to provide staff, facilities and ministries that are responding to those needs," Berkey said. "The approach now is to integrate ministry and facilities and to have staff who have that mindset and approach."

The conference has already established a new phone number that enables callers to connect with any of the camps through menu options for each camp. It's 866-UMCAMPS (862-2677), and groups and individuals are encouraged to begin using the number.

More information about the listening sessions can be obtained by contacting Berkey at 352-787-4654 or


This article relates to Florida Conference Camp and Retreat Ministry and "Witness With Power" 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant.