Jenness Park Christian Camp has been placed for sale by the California Southern Baptist Convention. Screen Grab via Google Maps
(BP) Oklahoma Baptists announced May 18 that camps for children and youth will not be held this summer at Falls Creek Conference Center. Meanwhile, the California Baptist Convention (CSBC) Executive Board voted to permanently shutter and sell Jenness Park Christian Camp.
Falls Creek Youth Camp and CrossTimbers Children’s Mission Adventure Camp will not hold any camp sessions during the summer of 2020 due to factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Oklahoma Baptist leaders. In April, Oklahoma Baptists had announced tentative plans for a delayed start and revised schedule, with the provision to continually evaluate the plans and make a final decision by May 18. Those plans have been canceled.
“With a heavy heart, and after extensive consultation with pastors, lay leaders and information from public health officials, we have made the difficult decision to cancel all Falls Creek and CrossTimbers-Davis and CrossTimbers-Grand Lake sessions for 2020,” said Hance Dilbeck, executive director-treasurer with Oklahoma Baptists.
The Executive Committee of Oklahoma Baptists’ Board of Directors unanimously approved the decision. Oklahoma Baptists’ President Blake Gideon, who is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Edmond, Okla., leads the committee.
“In light of the fluidity of COVID-19,” Gideon said, “I affirm wholeheartedly the recent decision of the Oklahoma Baptist Executive Committee to cancel summer camps for 2020. During this time of uncertainty, safety and caution are of supreme importance. It is better to choose wisdom over desire.”
Plans for Indian Falls Creek and LifeWay Collegiate Week, which were previously scheduled for late July and early August, also were canceled.
“While these beloved camps will not be able to meet on the campgrounds in 2020,” Dilbeck said, “our convention staff is currently producing a ministry curriculum and localized event strategies to come alongside churches to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with young people across the state this summer.”
The alternate summer outreach plans, which will be unveiled in early June, will be led by Todd Sanders, Falls Creek program director, and Charlie Gatton, CrossTimbers program director.
Deficits, no revenue led to California decision on camp
Mounting deficits and no revenue from a 2020 camping season led to the CSBC Executive Board’s decision regarding Jenness Park Christian Camp.
The action calls for Jenness Park to be closed immediately and permanently shut down by June 30. The recommendation also gives CSBC corporate officers authorization to “take necessary actions” to sell the camp and its assets.
An amendment to the recommendation gives Southern Baptist churches and entities priority in purchasing the camp through June 30, 2020.
Jenness Park is a 160-acre camp owned by CSBC in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Sonora, Calif. The camp has been part of the California Southern Baptist family since 1953.
Victor Chayasirisobhon, chairman of the CSBC Executive Board and pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Anaheim, said the “decision to close JP is a very, very unfortunate situation. Every effort was made to help the camp survive. With everything going on, including the global pandemic, this was a sad and difficult decision.”
He added Jenness Park has played “a valuable part of CSBC ministry for many years and those blessed by JP’s ministry will continue to live out its legacy.”
Marc Tempesta, the CSBC’s chief financial officer, told Board members the Jenness Park staff would be offered employment through June 30.
CSBC Executive Director Bill Agee said the decision to close and sell Jenness Park “was not easy, nor was it impulsive.” Agee acknowledged the camp’s history and importance to California Baptists but said the camp is financially unsustainable, adding: “We have exhausted every avenue we know to keep the camp afloat.”
The camp had been operating at a deficit for several years, even while fully operational. The COVID-19 pandemic prevented the camp from operating, increasing the deficit to $70,000 a month.
Agee said the camps’ past losses were covered by CSBC reserves, but that “CSBC now has no reserve funds to cover the losses. With no revenue stream, Jenness Park is faced with insurmountable losses.”
Agee noted CSBC has made significant strides to “live within its means” by trimming more than $1 million from annual operating expenses.
Jenness Park was on a plan to balance its budget and become a self-sustaining CSBC entity by the beginning of 2021, but COVID-19 hit and derailed the plan. The camp also has a loan totaling $1.4 million. Costs for the loan (interest only at this time) are included in the deficit figures.
After the recommendation was amended to give Southern Baptist churches/entities priority through June 30, the 26 members present voted 25 to 1 to proceed with liquidating the property.
An FAQ about the board’s decision to sell the camp can be found here.
Terry Barone, CCBC communications team leader, contribute to this report.