What is the future of Stony Point Center?  Mission Agency Board to consider $10.3 million proposal

A group within the Presbyterian Mission Agency considering the future of Stony Point Center is recommending spending at least $10.3 million on capital improvements at Stony Point over the next decade, plus $300,000 over the next three years in additional staffing and another $75,000 in a capital campaign feasibility study.

The future of the Stony Point – a conference center just north of New York City – has been an enduring question for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in recent years, as Stony Point has not been financially self-sustaining and has required periodic infusions of cash from the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA), both for urgent deferred maintenance and to support operational costs.

This new recommendation – which the board will consider during its Sept. 26-28 meeting at Stony Point – describes a vision in which Stony Point becomes “the conference center for PMA” and a “Christian conference center designed for transformation.” Diane Moffett, executive director and president of PMA, last spring presented a vision for Stony Point becoming a mission arm of PMA, and the work since then has been to bring to life what that might look like.

Image of Stony Point Center from the round table report

The recommendation comes from the Stony Point Round Table, a staff group within PMA led by Ray Jones, director of Theology, Formation and Evangelism. Last spring, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board authorized the creation of that round table and the hiring of Run River Enterprises, a consulting firm, asking that a recommendation be brought to the board’s meeting this month.

“I am excited about what we are doing,” Jones told the board’s Coordinating Committee, which met Sept. 5 via conference call. “We’ve got a real opportunity to serve the church and the world through Stony Point Center.”

He and others discussed the idea of Stony Point serving as a laboratory or incubator for Presbyterians who want to live out the Matthew 25 vision that Moffett has announced for PMA, with its emphases on congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and ending systemic poverty.

Some components of this new vision:

  • The capital improvements would be done in phases – but would include renovating lodges; installing solar power and a commercial laundry; building a “state of the art” facility for meeting, dining and administration; and creating a “village green” with walking paths and no vehicular traffic.
  • In addition to hosting events (in which groups use the facilities and provide their own programming), Stony Point would begin to sponsor events in which its staff would develop the programming and invite people to participate — for example, on issues such as environmental or food justice. Another possibility: Stony Point might provide content that would help Presbyterians live into the Matthew 25 vision — perhaps by creating a “theologian in residence” program whose participants would produce liturgical or theological materials that Presbyterians across the church could use.
  • Stony Point would try to market itself geographically beyond the New York City metropolitan area and the Hudson River Valley — reaching into what Jones described as “untapped potential.”
  • The Community of Living Traditions, a multifaith intentional community at Stony Point, would incorporate as a nonprofit and would form an official partnership with PMA.

Within the PMA structure, Stony Point would be moved to the executive director’s office.

Pam Harris and Garrie Stevens of Run River Enterprises helped develop the recommendation for Stony Point Center’s future.

The recommendation also calls for creating a detailed, five-year financial plan. Pam Harris of Run River Enterprises told the coordinating committee that currently, Stony Point doesn’t track some of the data she considers “absolutely necessary” for missional and financial sustainability.

The round table report also attempts to include both historical and theological perspectives.

While Stony Point is not the easiest place to get to – it’s about an hour outside New York City – attending events at a conference center “can have similar dynamics to a pilgrimage, where the vulnerability of travel creates an openness to growth,” the report states.

And Jones described Stony Point as a “wholly ordinary place,” a place not of dramatic natural beauty, but where Presbyterians can be reminded that they can encounter God anywhere, saying that “in the liturgical year, we spend most of our time in ordinary time.”

The report states that Stony Point can provide a ministry of hospitality; of community; of transformation through learning; and of being “the edge of the inside,” to use Franciscan priest Richard Rohr’s words — a place “where people stand along the edge and are able to help the church ‘become its truest self.’ ”

And historically, Stony Point has served as a gathering place, the report states — originally for Native Americans, and later for ecumenical gatherings and for training mission workers.

While the round table has submitted a 75-page report (Stony Point Final Report 8-19) and an executive summary (SPC Executive Summary FINAL) outlining the vision, the board isn’t being asked to approve all the money at once, but instead to take a methodical and incremental approach, Jones said.

The round table report also attempts to include both historical and theological perspectives.

What it’s being asked to approve at the September meeting is:

  • To adopt the new vision, strategy, organizational development, site and facilities plan and business plan;
  • To realign Stony Point center within the PMA structure and begin to implement the staffing plan (with financial implications of $300,000 over three years – or $100,000 in each of the next three years);
  • To authorize a feasibility study for capital and endowment campaigns, at a cost of $75,000.

The initial funding would come from unassigned funds from recent bequests, Jones told the coordinating committee.

The board already has approved funding for some capital projects at Stony Point — up to $630,750 for “critical expenditures.”

After that, the long-range plan outlined in the new report calls for:

Phase 1 (2021-2023) – about $2.56 million in capital costs. Includes:

  • Expanding programs to more fully support PMA priorities;
  • Establishing a formal partnership with the Community of Living Traditions;
  • Designing giving initiatives for a Major Maintenance endowment;
  • Capital improvements including creating a “village green” without vehicular traffic and renovating and upgrading some existing lodges.

Phase 2 (2024-2026) – about $790,00 in capital costs. Includes:

  • Designing and implementing a fundraising strategy for Caincroft, the new “state of the art” facility for meeting, dining and administration;
  • Continuing to develop marketing initiatives;
  • Evaluating program efforts to match PMA priorities.

Phase 3 (2027-2029) – about $6.5 million in capital costs. Includes:

  • Constructing Caincroft, which would have meeting space for up to 330 people and a dining facility for 250.
  • Upgrading the Maple Lodge to include private bathrooms.

Harris said the consultants held some conversations with mid council leaders from the region who generally had positive things to say about Stony Point, but “were honest about the limitations of the facility” in its current state — including the difficulties of shared bathrooms.

The full board will have a chance to learn more about the proposal during a webinar on Sept. 13.