New life along an old lakeshore
|Two campers, a girl and her dad, wait patiently in the waters of Townline Lake as her pastor prepares for her baptism.
LAKEVIEW, Mich. (WMC) – “You only asked me to follow humbly.” Those words from a much-loved hymn come to mind following a lively conversation with Deb Steed, Camp Director and host of Lakeview Campground. On a fall day in 2010 she was told, “Starting tomorrow, you’re the boss.” Almost two years later, Deb says with enthusiasm, “To me this place belongs to God. How could anybody come to Lakeview and not love it? Look at the cross! Look at the lake! It’s beautiful!” A humble and passionate servant, indeed!
“Deb is a superb director,” says Naomi Garcia, Connectional Staff relating to camping. “She has renewed Lakeview’s ministries and operations to be the God-centered home in the outdoors it is destined to be. Deb has set focused and caring partnerships with a variety of congregations and ministry groups as the new standard of ministry at the camp.” (Check on their website here.)
Season of problems
So it is that the summer of 2012 finds Lakeview on the grow; which is quite a change from two years ago when all was in crisis on the shores of Townline Lake. The Rev. Jeremy Williams, chairperson of West Michigan’s Board of Christian Camping, said in his report to the Annual Conference: “We’ve had problems in recent years with huge deficits, largely because of malfeasance and fraud under one former director, but also because we didn’t have the processes and people in place to give thorough oversight and catch problems early.”
Williams went on to say that over the past two years “We’ve been putting tons of effort and fresh eyes on the problem, and we are working hard on making sure that in 2012 we run as close as possible to break-even … we have new fiscal coaching for our camp directors, to keep things going the right way.”
Williams notes that Deb Stead is one of two new camp directors, “charged with the task of paying back the deficit and regaining the trust of the many people who have supported camping at Lakeview and Albright. Both in their second year, they are doing great!”
Time of renewal
Deb’s efforts are succeeding because she keeps the focus on people. “Yes, there was a whole lot of growing last year and a whole lot of growing pains,” she remarks. She moved forward by putting together almost an entirely new crew. “Building a team takes time,” she remarks. “You have to nurture your staff and listen to them.” A new Site Committee was recruited that includes a camper from Battle Creek and another from St. Johns Pilgrim UMC. “I picked the right people,” Deb says. “Every week they ask, ‘How’s it going? What can I do to help?’”
Pastor Dale Golden, pastor of nearby Breckenridge UMC, sent Deb, “two awesome volunteers who are just like family.” The husband split all the wood for the camp last year and his wife comes to camp every weekend and “makes the prayer garden gorgeous.”
Growing the camp is what excites her the most. “I love it,” Deb reflects, “when someone says, ‘I never knew this place existed! Now I love this camp!’” She assists such individuals with ideas and goal-setting on how to nurture family camping experiences. “I tell groups, ‘Let’s work together,’” Deb says, “and we’re also open to working with the neighborhood on projects like the pike pond.” With encouragement, one church, Swartz Creek, grew from 16 sites to 35.
While some are discovering the joy of family camping for the first time, other churches like Sodus Chapel Hill UMC have a long-time relationship with Lakeview. That congregation celebrated 50 years of family camping at Lakeview with a birthday cake and sharing of memories. “Hank told us that their first year at Lakeview they camped under a tree with nuts on it. He said they think every nut off the tree was under their sleeping bags!” Deb laughs.
|Three generations from Sodus Chapel Hill UMC celebrate 50 years of family camping at Lakeview Campground.
What is the value of family camping? Naomi Garcia reflects: “I am often asked by parents how they might fix one of the most common dilemmas of parenting these days: ‘what can we do together, as a family, to get away from the constant bombardment of distractions?’” Her most frequent response is family camping. “Getting outdoors with the ones who matter most is a fine way to enjoy each other’s company while enjoying the greatest gift of simplicity and grandeur —God’s creation,” Naomi concludes.
Jeremy Williams adds, “There are some churches in our conference who have figured out that the church that camps together grows together. The best family camps are those that include a focused and thoughtful spiritual component--and not just a vacation by the lake.” He reminds us that West Michigan has three camps that are prepared to welcome family camps, including RV campers and more. They are Lakeview, Albright, and Lake Michigan.
“Family camping is so important to the future that Lake Michigan Camp is going to make it the primary focus of their ministry, starting in 2013.” Jeremy says then he clarifies. “Family doesn't mean parents and kids. Family means the whole church family, being that family together, away from the distractions of life at home.” Inter-generational experiences that build faith community are the growing edge of Christian camping nation-wide.
Deb Steed puts “recharging and refocusing” at the top of the list of family camping values. “Being with church friends other than in a Sunday setting strengthens relationships,” she says. Mid-week specials, a pastors-camp-free night, grandparents’ weekend, and movie night are all 2012 activities that are value-builders. Future plans include building cabins for those who have no RV and don’t like tents, improvements to shower facilities and replacement of wooden docks.
Big Picture focus
Jeremy Williams is transparent regarding the weight of the deficit that remains. “Albright’s deficit is $275,000 and Lakeview’s is about $220,000,” he estimates. A $250,000 loan from the Conference Board of Global Ministries is currently being paid back and the Conference Council on Finance and Administration is writing off $100,000 over five years.
In 2012 a “full-scale strategic plan” for Christian camping is underway for the first time. “It promises,” Jeremy says, “to make us stronger and stronger in the future and prepares us to charge into a capital campaign in 2013.” Run River Enterprises is assisting in these site plans, budget development and strategies for West Michigan’s entire camp program. “We are not going to let a story of fraud and lack of fiscal oversight hurt one of the most effective ministries West Michigan has,” he concludes.
Deb takes the “big picture” approach one step further. “When I saw the little girl being baptized in Townline Lake, I remembered what it was like when I was saved.” And then she summed up by saying, “Being here brings people closer to God.”
~Reported by Kay DeMoss, Weekly News senior writer. Photos supplied by Lakeview Camp.