Seminary points the way for camps, conference leaders

195-04-cover.jpgColumbia Theological Seminary is betting that Presbyterian camps and conference centers have a future.


While many presbyteries struggle to support such facilities, the seminary has opened a program to train people to work in them.


The Compass Points certification program — operated jointly by Columbia seminary and the Presbyterian Church Camp and Conference Association (PCCCA) — is starting its second year of classes. It will honor its first graduates at the association’s annual meeting in November.


Participants take a series of eight classes, each offered over two or three days on a two-year repeating cycle. The classes, in subjects ranging from nonprofit business management to theology, are held at the PCCCA annual conference each fall and at Columbia Seminary in Decatur, Ga., in the spring.


The starting point for developing Compass Points, said Joel Winchip, executive director of the Presbyterian Church Camp and Conference Association, was a joint assessment of what camp professionals need to know. “Camp and conference ministry is like the last of the generalist positions,” he said. “It really is just about everything.”


The idea of professional preparation for that work is part of an intentional effort among seminaries, including Columbia, to prepare people for a wide range of leadership positions in the church.


While many of the 160 Presbyterian camps and conference centers in the United States and Canada are strapped financially, they are also deeply valued by some Presbyterians — often as a “thin place” where formative faith experiences take place, Winchip said.


Steve Hayner, the president of Columbia Seminary, is one of those for whom a camp experience proved formative — including in his early years of ministry.


Research shows that “the stickiness of faith,” the likelihood it will last into adulthood, is influenced by family but also by “what happens in community,” Hayner said in an interview.


There is probably no better opportunity for deep relationship than when people go away for a weekend or a week of camp. These are really life-changing opportunities,” both for children and sometimes for adults, off on retreats.


In the Scripture, it’s clear that whenever God wants to do something new in the life of God’s people, he takes them on a journey,” Hayner said. “You get pulled out of your normal context … There, God’s spirit has the opportunity to do something fresh and new.” O


Compass Points certification program


By Joel Winchip


The Compass Points certification program consists of eight courses of study, which are offered on a repeating two-year cycle. These classes include Articulating Our Mission, Role and Value; Biblical and Theological Foundations; Program Design and Implementation; Personnel and Leadership; Non-Profit Business Management; Development; Site Administration; and The Capstone Event. Participants in this program may be considering a call to camp and conference ministry, may be new to the field, or may be seeking to widen their base of knowledge.


Two certification courses are scheduled back-to-back during the week of March 17-23. Non-Profit Business Management (taught by Dan Scheneman and Maria Shupe) and Development (taught by Rich Swartwood and Scott Henderson) will be offered at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga. Participants can take one class or both.


The course titled Articulating our Mission, Role and Value will also be offered as a pre-event (Nov. 7-10) before the Presbyterian Church Camp and Conference Association’s annual conference at Zephyr Point Presbyterian Conference Center in Lake Tahoe, Nev. The faculty for this class will be Peter Surgenor and Betty Angelini.


To learn more about these courses or the whole Compass Points program, you can go to


JOEL WINCHIP is executive director of the Presbyterian Church Camp and Conference Association.


Spare change, inspirational setting foster children’s Christian faith


By John Sniffen



Spare change once jangling in pockets and purses is being transformed into growing, learning, outdoor faith experiences for children who might not otherwise have them.


Told that Presbyterian Mo-Ranch Assembly bookstore customers did not always take their change after making purchases — they felt it was not worth picking up — Dick Powell, president and CEO of the Synod of the Sun-related conference center, saw an opportunity.


Gathered together, those “expendable” pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters could be put to good use. Powell estimated that the spare change from the 42,000-plus guests who come to Mo-Ranch annually could make dreams possible. Every child in every Presbyterian-related children’s home in the synod — as well as students at Presbyterian Pan American prep school in Kingsville, Texas — could attend a camp or other event at Mo-Ranch each year.


Study after study reports the positive impact a single week in a camp setting can have on a child,” says Powell. “A week of encouragement, accountability, nurture and love builds trust and self-esteem, and helps children see the world with new hope and confidence. The challenge is that many of the children in these institutions do not have the money to come to camp or a conference.”

So last summer Mo-Ranch started inviting guests to leave pocket change in coin envelopes provided in rooms. Congregations and Presbyterian Women’s groups around the synod were also invited to participate.


In amounts ranging from pennies to $10,000, Mo-Ranch’s Change for Children campaign raised $25,700 in about six months. For that amount, 45 boys and girls could attend weeklong camps at the conference center located 90 miles northwest of San Antonio in the Texas Hill Country.


And children are already benefiting from that “expendable” change.


There are many lessons to be learned in such an inspirational environment,” wrote a group from the Presbyterian Children’s Home of Amarillo, which held a retreat at Mo-Ranch after receiving support from Change for Children. “What each and every one of us has learned during this very unique week will be used and taught to many others.”


JOHN SNIFFEN is director of communications and church relations, Presbyterian Mo-Ranch Assembly in Hunt, Texas. He formerly served as associate editor for both Presbyterians Today and The Presbyterian Outlook.