Sumatanga Fights to Remain Open

6/10/2009

Camp gaining funds and guests to operate after September

This past weekend, the United Methodists of North Alabama met for their annual conference. Rev. Bob Murray, executive director of Sumatanga Camp and Retreat Center, gave his report on Friday afternoon.

During his report he noted in his 18-month tenure, Sumatanga has made improvements in hospitality, food, cleanliness and safety.

However, that wasn't the message Murray came to deliver. "I don't have good news for you today," he said. Sumatanga will run out of operating funds some time between August and September of this year. That means camp will not be able to pay staff, pay utilities bills or make payments to creditors. The camp is faced with shutting its doors to guests.

For more than 60 years, the camp has served guests of all denominations as a Christian camp and retreat center. The 1,700-acre site is open year round for families, churches, schools, and corporate groups. Accommodations range from RV hookups and cabins to dormitory style halls and motel style rooms.  It is best known for its summer camping program and the Walk to Emmaus. But it is also used year round by groups as diverse as cancer survivors, addicts in recovery, the Kairos prison ministry, campus ministries and local church family retreats. In recent years, more guests have chosen to get married at the open air chapel that overlooks camp from Chandler Mountain.

Unfortunately, overall usage of the camp outside of the summer months has been steadily declining for several years. While a business plan that aggressively markets the camp has been implemented, this decline combined with the recent recession have dramatically impacted group reservations.

If business continues on its current pace the camp will cease to exist as year-round camp and retreat center. The camp is currently $900,000 in debt and is running about $300,000 a year behind in revenue for its usage.

Rev. Murray shared that while he believes that Sumatanga is relevant to the ministry of the United Methodist Church and of North Alabama, it is the people of the conference who must ultimately decide if camp will continue as a vital ministry. He noted that the biggest help to Sumatanga would be for churches to make more use of the camp and have more overnight events there.

Following this report a passionate discussion from the floor began. A motion was made and approved for each church in the conference to take a special offering for the camp by the end of July. As well, a clergy person pledged $1,000 and challenged 100 other delegates to join him that day in making the same gift. A goal has been set to raise at least $300,000 in donations that can be used for operations by the end of the summer. As of Monday, June 8, over $85,000 had been received or pledged.

As Rev. Murray shared with a guest booking an event this week but without a guarantee that the camp will be open at that time, "I don't know yet what is God's ultimate plan for Camp Sumatanga. But I rest in the knowledge that His plan is perfect."

Churches were instructed during the Annual Conference session to send their special offering for Sumatanga through the Conference Treasurer’s Office.  Churches may mail checks marked "Sumatanga Special Offering" to North Alabama Conference 898 Arkadelphia Road, Birmingham, AL 35204.

Individuals may make donations through personal checks which can be mailed directly to Camp Sumatanga, 3616 Sumatanga Road, Gallant, AL 35972 and designated as "general donations."

Camp Sumatanga is on the web at www.sumatanga.org and their phone number is (256)538-9860.
 


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