As the Warren Willis Camp turns 75 this year, it's still "a sacred space"Conference News Missions and Outreach
The year was 1944, and Florida Methodists had a dream. Their vision was to build a camp, but not just any camp. It would be designed for young people to encounter Jesus in ways they had never imagined.
There would be exploring, camaraderie, lessons, and songs that leave an indelible mark on the individual. They would savor his creation of nature and beauty. They would form lifelong relationships with fellow campers and workers who joined them on their journey of discovery.
It is a sacred place, or what Mike Standifer called "active isolation, that intentional moment of separation that allowed them to grow closer to God when they were able to walk away from everything else."
Standifer serves as the Director for the Warren Willis United Methodist Camp and Conference Center and the Florida United Methodist Camps and Retreats Director.
It took four years from the original vision until the camp opened on 47 acres acquired from the city of Leesburg and the Central Florida Boy Scout Council. And this year, the camp is still going strong, celebrating its 75th anniversary amid remembrance of the past and a watchful eye for what is to come.
Camp programs continue to take place every summer, with youth programs in the spring and fall. The camp hosts retreat groups from churches, schools and colleges, and nonprofit groups across the state.
"It has been a place for 75 years for young people and adults to come to this holy ground. When folks are here and away from our norm, we're more in tune with actually hearing God. This place has been set aside for that distinct work to happen," Standifer said.
"Way back when incredible folks had a vision for this place, they truly put in motion a place for folks to begin a relationship with Christ or deepen a relationship with Christ if they already had one. They could celebrate the past, current, and future."
While the main celebration is scheduled for the weekend of Sept. 8-10, the entire summer camping season will be connected to the anniversary in multiple ways.
"We're going to do some things during the summer with campers here to celebrate some past activities that may have been done back in the day to celebrate this great heritage of this place," he said.
This summer will be a time for people who served on summer staff over the years to return and celebrate lives changed for Christ.
Asked if there was any way to calculate just how many lives were changed at the camp, Standifer said that while the executive team is trying to make an educated guess at the number, it likely could reach "thousands. Tens of thousands. The Lord only knows what that number is."
He has seen the camp from all sides—as a camper in the early 1980s, a leadership team member from 1987-91, then as the Youth Director for The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church from 1993-2005.
Standifer left the latter position in 2005 when he was named Director of the camp.
|The lodges at the Warren Willis Camp|
He oversaw the renovation and expansion of Barnett Lodge with additional dining
That enabled the camp to increase the conferences, meetings, and camping it could accommodate.
"We were able to have more people at a time. We literally can feed 700 people at a time," he said.
Before COVID-19, the camp could handle 494 overnight campers. That has not fully rebounded, but that number could increase as concerns wane about the virus. And Standifer stressed that the ongoing issue of disaffiliation wouldn't lead to anyone from a church that leaves the Conference being barred from attending.
"Absolutely, they can come. Our door is open," he said.
But he added, "We are United Methodist."
Joe Henderson is the News Content Editor for FLUMC.org
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