By John W. Coleman
Eastern PA Conference members heard a resolution presented Oct. 5 that would authorize the conference to sell up to 50+/- acres of land at Innabah Camp & Retreat Center to pay off budget deficits and Innabah’s large payroll liability. The deficits at the conference’s three residential camps, have mounted in the wake of financial losses caused by closures of summer camps and scheduled retreats during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Rev. Don Keller, Camp & Retreat Ministries Board Chairman, presented the resolution to a preliminary conference session that took place in a Zoom webinar format. The session was held primarily so that members could practice use of the new e-Ballot secure online voting system. He also responded to questions about the proposal.
The resolution will be voted on along with others at the Annual Conference Oct. 13, but no debates or amendments will be allowed. That temporary rule change was approved at a called conference session August 26.
“The pandemic has severely curtailed (our) operations and brought our operating income nearly to a halt,” Keller reported. Despite severe spending cuts and staff furloughs, and while conference agencies, churches and individual donors have rallied to support the camp ministry, he said, “we are still facing drastic shortfalls for budget years 2020 and 2021.”
Innabah is one of four camp and retreat centers owned by the conference and spread out among its four districts. Three—Innabah, Pocono Plateau and Gretna Glen are residential camp sites. Carson Simpson Farm is primarily a camp for daytime use.
The Camp & Retreat Ministries Board and site directors have worked closely with the Conference’s Board of Trustees, Council on Finance and Administration, Human Resources Committee and Bishop Peggy Johnson to deliberate over the budget shortfalls and enact solutions.
“The sale of property is not an option we entertain lightly, but rather is a last resort” Keller explained. “The request of up to 50 acres is intended to give the Camping Board and the Trustees the option to sell less if that will meet the needs.” But, he added, the identified acreage has been “carefully selected from the 179 acres that currently make up Camp Innabah, so as to not change or interfere with camp programming.”
While the current total shortfall is approximately $40,000, Innabah has a payroll debt of $395,000 that has accumulated over the past six years, according to Conference Treasurer James Brown. Lost revenue from the cancellation of spring retreats and summer camps prevented payment on those debts this year. Moreover, the camps anticipate a “significant deficit for the first six months of 2021,” Keller said, due to the ongoing pandemic.
The board chairman answered several posed questions regarding the land selected, possible alternatives to its sale and the conference’s need for four camps. He also agreed to a request to publish on the conference website a map of the camp, with the areas considered for sale clearly marked.
Bishop Johnson reminded members that there will be no debate or amendments offered at the Annual Conference business session on Oct. 13. “But we do want to receive and respond to all questions members may have,” she said. “There’s just no way to do a complicated Parliamentary procedure with this kind of (webinar) meeting format. And voting this way (via e-Ballot) was something overwhelmingly supported by our vote in late August.