(PNS) – What a difference a year makes.
When Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase, co-directors of Stony Point Center—one of three national conference centers of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—gave their Sept. 15 report to the Finance Committee of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB), their enthusiasm was both palpable and contagious.
“We experienced a remarkable financial turnaround this year,” Ruling Elder Rick Ufford-Chase began. “Our hope is that we will finish the year in the black.”
This was indeed good news for the financially-challenged education and retreat center, which only one short year ago was $160,000 in the red, a figure that fell well outside of the 2015 milestone set for Stony Point by the PMAB. In 2014, the PMAB set a series of financial milestones for Stony Point with the goal of making it financially sustainable by December 31, 2017.
The milestones, which are enumerated in a report presented to the board at its September 17–19, 2014, meeting, call for an operating loss no worse than $90,000 in 2014; an operating loss no worse than $60,000 in 2015; an operating loss no worse than $30,000 in 2016; and an operating income/loss at break-even status in 2017. The agreement further states that “if the overall objectives are not met during any two successive years, the Presbyterian Mission Agency will begin the process of winding down operations.” In 2017, Stony Point will also be expected to complete a three-year process of incrementally assuming $90,000 in annual payments to the Presbyterian Mission Agency for administrative overhead.
According to Stony Point’s financials and Rick Ufford-Chase’s accompanying narrative, the center is “expecting to come in at $26,000 in the red, still within the milestone,” but nevertheless “hoping” to end 2016 in the black.
“Rick and Kitty looked to me like a couple transformed,” said the Rev. Ken Godshall, PMAB chair. “It was great to see them so encouraged and so motivated by this chain of events.”
Because the Ufford-Chases knew that this year was especially critical—Stony Point, he said, could not afford to “miss milestones two years in a row”—their strategy to change their financial outlook was direct, intentional, and primarily achieved through a proactive effort to increase sales.
“They’ve put in this really rigorous sales program, and that’s what has turned it all around,” said the Rev. Charles B. “Chip” Hardwick, director of Theology, Formation, and Evangelism, under which Stony Point’s ministry is housed. “Because conference centers like Stony Point have such high fixed costs, sales going up is the key to the turnaround.”
As a result of Stony Point’s increased sales efforts—which are boosted by new, online technology, the exploration of alternate uses for the property, and grant applications—Rick Ufford-Chase announced that Stony Point had just landed a $140,000 contract for 2017, “the biggest single contract that we have had in our eight years at Stony Point.” He also reported a total of $450,000 in contracts already secured for next year, “easily doubling anything the center has previously had in hand.”
In the light of all of the acute focus on Stony Point’s dramatic financial reversal, Hardwick was quick to put the milestones in perspective.
“It’s not that we’re trying to make these financial goals an end in themselves,” he said. “We’re trying to reach the financial goals because they permit us to continue to have the ministry at Stony Point that we have. We need to keep the main thing the main thing—and that’s the ministry of Stony Point.”
At the heart of that ministry is Stony Point’s Community of Living Traditions, a multifaith community dedicated to the practice and study of hospitality, nonviolence, and justice.
“The multifaith community at Stony Point is the best kind of interfaith relations, because its residents are not trying to look for the least common denominator,” said Hardwick, “but rather each member of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian community is a full embodiment of their faith, embracing the joys and challenges that come when people of different traditions work hard to live together in peace.”
Rick Ufford-Chase confirmed in his report that “more and more guest groups are choosing Stony Point Center because they appreciate our values and commitments.”
Following the September 17–19 PMAB meeting, both the Ufford-Chases and Hardwick returned to Stony Point in New York’s scenic Hudson River Valley for its third annual Farm-to-Table Gala. The gala, held this year on September 18, is a harvest festival and fundraiser designed to support the continued development of Stony Point Center as an incubator for food justice and multifaith community organizing.
“My headline for Stony Point is that the ecumenical, interfaith program which they have developed is resonating in that part of the country and at this time in the life of the church,” Godshall said. “That’s good news.”
During Hardwick’s most recent visit to attend the annual fundraising gala, a cornerstone of the center’s ongoing campaign to raise $300,000, he was once again able to experience firsthand how the guests who come to Stony Point are “more and more people for whom this interfaith and non-violent witness matters.”
“They want to come into contact with these interfaith communities,” he said. “They want to experience the ministries for peace and non-violence—so the witness is not just theoretical, but it’s actual to the guests who come to Stony Point. At the gala, I said that Stony Point helps show the Presbyterian Church and the world what it means for us to love God and love our neighbors and live out the radical hospitality that Jesus modeled in his life toward people of other faiths.”
Although Stony Point’s forecast is promising, Hardwick advised the continued practice of good stewardship for the remainder of the year.
Turning toward the Ufford-Chases as they concluded their report, PMAB and Finance Committee member, the Rev. Chad Herring, said, “I believe we have seen how hard you are working—clearly you are doing yeoman’s work. God willing that you make this milestone.”
by Emily Enders Odom, Presbyterian News Service