Submitted by Jeremy Albers & Rev. Dr. Don Longbottom
Slumber Falls Camp had an incredible summer of excited campers, amazing programming, and focus on God, creation, and spirituality. Reading through the evaluations, many campers felt that this was one of the best summers that they have experienced. Outdoor ministries and summer camps began in 1958 and have continued every year since then. In addition to retreats, camps, conferences, and meetings, the camp has also hosted individuals displaced by natural disasters and special ministries supported by our churches. What started out as an outdoor ministry program for the United Church of Christ, has grown to enhance the church universal, many secular organizations, and the well-being of our neighbors in need at a time of crisis in their lives.
In the past year and a half, there has been a lot of talk about the state of the camp and the future of Slumber Falls Camp. While the camp was in financial crisis at the beginning of 2017, when I came on board, the Board of Directors, Dr. Don Longbottom, and the Camp Council were in complete support of the camp, outdoor education ministries, and the importance of having a facility and programs like Slumber Falls Camp offers to the church and community. As a result of many groups canceling in 2016 (most due to new priests who reflect for a year before engaging in existing programs), the camp was hit hard financially. Fortunately, the camp had reserves which covered the loss of revenue for that year, but 2017 started without a reserve and group rentals did not pick up until February. It was clear to the leadership that we needed to get the camp in a position to be viable and withstand situations outside of our control that affects our finances.
We were proactive in setting goals to turn around the camp. The first step was to be transparent to our associations, churches, and connected parties. The next step included a hard look at financial spending, contracts, and other services to see if we could save money with different options, which we did and were able to save over $30,000 from our budgeted areas. We increased marketing to our pastors, churches, and local communities of the programs, facilities, and opportunities. In that time, we also lost campers, supporters, and revenue from those who felt that we should not be as inclusive to LGBTQ individuals. During this time, we were also combing through evaluations and suggestions on how we could improve the camp, which led to facility improvements such as road and parking lot repairs, cabin cleanings and remodeling, landscaping, new programming amenities such as Frisbee golf and the updated volleyball court, and new mattresses. The newly renovated pool and John’s Cabin were also needed additions. We were able to fund many of these projects through private donors, grants, and support from the South Central Conference. Earlier this year with the support of a long time camp supporter, we engaged in a process with the Business School at the University of Houston to help us create a strategic business plan. This plan has hundreds of hours researching other camps, interviewing key camping individuals throughout the United States, financial analysis, and idea gathering. The end result will be a solid plan for how we will operate for years to come.
As a result of all these new things occurring at the camp, we have heard that there is some confusion as to the direction of Slumber Falls Camp and that we only have a few more years so why support the camp. If the camp, board, and camp council had set idly by and did nothing, Slumber Falls Camp would face the same fate as many other denomination camps. We are not there yet, and we do not believe that we will be there anytime soon. Yes, the South Central Conference supported the camp with over $70,000, but half of that was for camp improvements such as the road, repairs to the director’s house, office computers, programs, and equipment, which was greatly needed. This year our camper numbers were similar to last year’s numbers, but we have also seen an increased interest in our facilities from larger retreat groups which are booking for this year and next year. We are already implementing parts of the business plan even though it is not quite done (mid-September). Ideally, the camp will be self-sufficient in a couple of years with a stronger financial position to help weather unforeseen storms.
In short, Slumber Falls Camp is in a much better position than the start of 2017, but we still have a way to go. We need advocates who recognize the life-transforming power of a week at church camp. We need our churches and families to spread the word that there is a place where all are welcomed, affirmed, and celebrated as children of God where we teach them what it means to be in an intentional Christian community. We need financial supporters of all levels to help with all aspects of the camps from giving as a Friend of the Camp, to supporting Scholarships and Mattresses, and those that are visionaries and underwriters for the big projects and development of this unique, outdoor ministry in the heart of Texas. Slumber Falls Camp has grown as a ministry over the past six decades and changed countless lives by bringing them to a stronger relationship with God. Slumber Falls Camp is a gem, and I love to give tours, talk history, and imagine the future. I hope that you can make a visit here; follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and our newsletter; and/or share our story with your family, friends, co-workers, and anyone that you meet. Blessings and peace to each of you as we journey together, celebrating as one body and bringing God’s light, love, and transformation to the world.
In Peace and Grace,
Rev. Jeremy Albers & Rev. Dr. Don Longbottom