Bringing the outdoors in
By Jessica Brodie
United Methodist camp ministry leaders are getting ready this month to start Phase 2 of their master plan for Asbury Hills.
At Annual Conference in June, South Carolina Conference Camps & Retreat Ministries was authorized to begin reaching out to United Methodist churches across the state to fundraise for their capital campaign. The campaign will fund Asbury Hill’s new worship center, which would accommodate approximately 400 people and equip the camp to host large groups with keynote speakers who need an indoor space.
Arthur Spriggs, Camps & Retreat Ministries executive director, said this space is something he’s been wanting for a while.
“We do so much in the out-of-doors, but one of the things that shocked me was we were never able to attract our own United Methodist women’s groups,” Spriggs said. “It always bothered me.”
They have 300 beds at Asbury Hills and can accommodate large groups, but when he asked why Asbury Hills was not an option for them, he learned it was because of the camp’s lack of adequate indoor space. In the off-season especially, many groups prefer to have an indoor venue where attendees can hear a keynote speaker while all sitting together.
Learning this opened Spriggs’ eyes, and soon he realized not having an indoor worship center was causing them to turn away 11-12 groups a year on average.
“They’ll call and say, ‘Hey, we want to come,’ but it’s always, ‘Sorry, we can’t host you because we don’t have an indoor space for 200 plus. We’ve got the beds and can feed you in our dining hall, but … .’”
Spriggs and Camps & Retreat Ministries’ staff and board did the math on what it would take to increase their capacity and realized it wasn’t too much of a stretch.
Now, they have plans to build a $5 million worship center at Asbury Hills. They have already raised $1.5 million thanks to proceeds from the sale of their Sewee property and also private contributions, Spriggs said, so they are not starting from zero.
The capital campaign will take three years, and they hope to be able to break ground on the new center at the end of that time.
They are calling it a worship-multipurpose building, and they plan to incorporate as much of the outdoors into the design and planning as possible. For example, the doors will be 360 degrees to bring as much of the outside in as they can.
Additional rooms and breakout space are also part of the design.
Spriggs said the center will help by generating additional revenue for the camp, but that is not why they want to do it.
While the extra funds will help create sustainability for long-term camping, at the root is the idea of helping as many people as possible embrace the beauty and accessibility of the outdoors through the conference’s Camps & Retreat Ministries.
“Several of our camps around the country closed for good during the pandemic because they didn’t have a ‘rainy day’ plan,” Spriggs said. “We were very fortunate we did have an operating reserve that allowed us to hang on during that tough time.”
The new center will help build that reserve even more by creating additional revenue.
The center, as Phase 2 of the master plan, comes on the heels of the camp’s Phase 1, which was the building of their swimming pool.
They plan to begin fundraising as soon as possible. Camp ends after the first week in August, and they’ll plan to head to churches soon after.
Spriggs said naming opportunities will be available, and the board has been working very hard to make the effort happen.
“It’s really been a great summer,” Spriggs said.
In addition to the capital campaign, Camps & Retreat Ministries is also gearing up for another exciting venture: the grand opening of their Sea Islands property. They have 60 beds and already hosted their first group there, and they invite all to head to their open house Sept. 16. For more information on the Sea Islands Open House or on the Asbury Hills worship-multipurpose building, visit https://sccarm.org