Centenary Camp closes, but the memories of 60 years will live onMissions and Outreach
A few miles outside the Gadsden County town of Quincy, about 40 miles west of Tallahassee, lies a beautiful green space of memories known as Centenary Camp.
The 38-acre camp was founded in 1960, initially as a summer youth ministry for Centenary United Methodist Church. For more than 60 years, volunteers from the church and others in the surrounding area helped keep the camp in working order.
People were married there. Once a year, Centenary UMC members held a Sunday service there. There were family outings, church picnics, and, of course, camps. Children learned to swim and socialize there. And most important, people met Jesus there.
It survived hurricanes and hard times, but continued to bless lives.
|Volunteers work to reopen hiking trails at Centenary Campa following storm damage|
However, the cost of keeping the camp dormitories and other facilities in top shape had long since become too much for the church to shoulder. The Florida Conference took over the operation in 2009 and invested in upgrades to bring the facility into usable condition.
Unfortunately, the Conference finally reached the difficult decision to sell the land to a local Quincy businessman, who said he wouldn't continue operating the camp.
So, on April 25, members and friends gathered one last time to say goodbye to a place that meant so much for so many. Nearly 150 people showed up for some food, fun, and to reminiscence.
"We invited everybody we could think of whoever had a connection to the camp," Centenary member Kay Roach said. "There are so many great memories associated with it. We did the Walk To Emmaus there.
"We have Hispanic children here who have never been to camp, so we gave those children that experience. Many of them had never spent the night away from home, so we just invited them to come somewhere for a fun time.
Many of them didn't know who Jesus was. This church certainly supported that. People all over the district helped."
Wayne Wiatt, the Senior Pastor at Trinity UMC in Tallahassee and the North West District Superintendent, first attended the camp in 1965 when he was in the fourth grade.
In a message at the farewell celebration, he recalled hikes to the creek, cooking hot dogs on sticks over an open fire, and services at the chapel were all part of a wonderful first childhood camp memory. It's also where he became friends with David McEntire, now the Senior Pastor at First UMC, Lakeland.
David's aunt, Grace Brinks, served as the Christian education director for 18 years at Centenary and was the camp director.
"We arrived to a warm welcome, met our counselors, and unpacked into our assigned footlockers. I remember working so hard to win inspection for our cabin and smelling those great homemade biscuits in the morning, coming from the kitchen windows of my friend, David McEntire's Aunt Grace," Rev. Wiatt said.
"The butter and tupelo honey made breakfast taste like a dessert."
In the early 1970s, Rev. McEntire and his wife served as Centenary counselors.
"I made a commitment to serve Jesus Christ one week at camp and felt my first call to ministry while at the camp. That was 51 years ago," he said.
"I must say that Centenary had a remarkable and wonderful impact on my life. I have lifelong friends and still cherish my time there. I pray that the camp is used to help and encourage others."
However, the thread that holds the story of Centenary together is the untold number of children whose spiritual journeys began at the camp. The counselors and leaders served as the hands and feet of Jesus to introduce young people to a wonderous, loving Savior.
A 2014 story on FLUMC brought that point home.
"They're starving for it. We've seen a lot of kids that have come to know Jesus through this camp," said Donna Bruns, who Centenary with her husband, Dave, for 12 years before retiring to Moultrie, Georgia in 2018.
These children received spiritual nourishment, and for many living in homes where there wasn't enough to eat, they received three meals a day, all mixed with fun and fellowship.
Along with Bible study and prayer, the children could enjoy active sports, crafts, and, of course, swimming.
"So many impoverished children have no access to swimming lessons," Donna said then. "We bring them in and teach them to swim and teach them about Jesus."
Just getting children to the camp sometimes required Donna to go on door-to-door recruiting trips. She and her husband helped organize fundraisers so kids whose families couldn't afford the fees could have scholarships.
There were day camps and overnight camps, and each summer, they served more than 250 young people. The camp also provided opportunities for older students to serve as counselors and mentors.
|Crafts were a big part of life at Centenary Camp|
In the future, the camp facilities will be used to house seasonal workers for the High Hope Farms section of the Gadsden Tomato Company.
Graves Williams, one of the company founders, said the grounds had everything he needed,
"I have 650 employees that come in twice a year to run my packing houses and pick tomatoes. I've got two large camps for them, but I needed more. I've had to rent every motel in the Quincy area for them. When this camp became available to them, it just made sense," he said.
"I'll say this, the church kept that place in first-class condition."
Unfortunately, Graves said the high cost of liability insurance made it prohibitive to use the grounds for any purpose other than housing workers.
"I know from a financial standpoint it had to happen," Kay Roach said. "I understand that. It did take a lot to run it from month to month. I'm sorry to see it happen, but I understand why it did."
Yes, it's sad that an era has ended.
Memories don't end, though. Friendships and lessons learned don't end for the thousands of children and young adults who experienced Centenary over more than a half-century.
Saying goodbye doesn't mean you forget, and in that sense, Centenary Camp will always be with them.
Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for FLUMC.org.
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