After a prayerful and deliberate time, recognizing the downward trend of camping and retreat usage, the Lutheran Outdoor Ministries in Ohio (LOMO) Board of Directors has come to the realization that major change is needed. After much research, discussion, and prayer, we have made the decision to enter into an agreement with The Trust for Public Land (TPL). Through this agreement TPL will develop a land conservancy at Camp Mowana. God has enriched many lives through this camp and we vision a future where this sacred space continues to be a place of renewal for many. We believe this direction will bring about a positive future for the property at Camp Mowana.
The Trust for Public Land (TPL) was formed in 1972 with a vision of America where every community can connect with nature near and far. If grant funding is secured, TPL will purchase the Camp Mowana property, they will then donate the property to a permanent suitable management and stewardship entity, typically a county park district, local government or conservation land trust. You can learn more about the Trust for Public Land at tpl.org. If everything proceeds as planned, Camp Mowana will become a land conservancy in August of 2019. Many things need to occur for this to happen in the next 16 months, including TPL being awarded the grant funding, along with securing a suitable management and stewardship entity.
Declining overall camp usage, proactive responsible financial stewardship, and much prayer has lead us to this difficult decision. The reality is LOMO has more space than is needed to serve declining demand. We live in a culture where fewer and fewer people have any interest in participating in organized religion or church camps. Only 1 out of 5 millennials have any religious affiliation. Only 10% of the population in the U.S. attends worship services on a Sunday morning. The Ohio ELCA membership has declined by over 55,000 in a recent four-year period. LOMO was formed in 1987, since then the ELCA membership in Ohio has declined by over 40%; LOMO’s camp and retreat participation is reflective of this trend. Along with these cultural trends, LOMO has aging facilities and infrastructure that demand significant financial resources to maintain.
This is not a decision that has been made lightly. Reducing the number of camps we own has been discussed and deferred for decades:
Prior to the formation of LOMO in 1987, with the merger of the ELCA, there was conversation if both Lutheran Memorial Camp (LMC) and Camp Mowana were needed because the two properties are only 38 miles apart.
From 2004-2006 LOMO experienced small operating budget deficits for three years in a row. In 2007, LOMO took major initiatives to become more financially sustainable through streamlining operations and increased investments in marketing. These changes lead to financial stability until 2015.
In 2015-2016 LOMO conducted the Faith Vision Listening Tour which consisted of 17 open forums throughout the state. The forums were a great opportunity to receive input on the future direction for LOMO in this time of great cultural change. The question was brought up several times if three physical camps are needed to carry out LOMO’s mission and if maintaining three camps is good financial stewardship.
In 2017 the LOMO Board and leadership staff spent a significant amount of time and energy analyzing our assets, challenges and opportunities. We researched potential partnerships to provide new revenue streams. We informed our donors that LOMO is in a fragile existence with financial operating deficits in 2015 and 2016. In 2017 LOMO ended the year with a balanced budget thanks to increased financial donations and a $102,000 timber harvest at Lutheran Memorial Camp. LOMO does not currently have any financial debt.
The LOMO Board is committed to making decisions which reflect our core values of faith, nature, relationships, leadership and stewardship. A land conservancy will bring forward these core values and give everyone the opportunity to visit, hike and enjoy the beautiful property at Camp Mowana. LOMO may even have the opportunity to continue offering programs there in the future. For now, we will continue to offer summer camp, retreat and environmental education programs until the property is purchased.
God has blessed many lives through the ministry at Camp Mowana. People’s lives have been changed forever through their camp experiences. Numerous life-long friendships and marriages have developed at camp. Individuals have heard God’s call to a deeper relationship with Jesus; people have responded to the call through lives of service as active members of a congregations and through ordained ministry. Formative faith memories and experiences are not diminished just because a camp closes or ownership of land changes hands. Prior to the camp becoming a land conservancy we will have an opportunity to share stories and celebrate this ministry that makes Camp Mowana such a special place.
This spring we will hold several public forums on this decision:
2:00 pm Saturday, April 28 at Lutheran Memorial Camp – everyone is invited
2:00 pm Sunday, May 6 at Camp Mowana – everyone is invited
Weekly at Camp Luther during the summer family camp weeks – for registered family campers
During workshop times in June at Northeastern and Southern Ohio Synod Assemblies – for assembly participants
After a prayerful and deliberate time, recognizing the downward trend of camping and retreat usage, we have reached a decision that brings about a positive future for the property at Camp Mowana and the future mission of LOMO. It propels and encourages us to move forward in new directions. We will be praying for wisdom as we develop plans to reach out to people in new ways to build faith-filled relationships with a passion for the outdoors in this changing culture. Thank you for your continued support as we continue bringing people together to experience Christ through our natural settings and programs.
Sincerely, In Christ
LOMO Board Members
The decision to enter into a land conservancy agreement FAQ’s
Who legally can make decisions regarding land?
From LOMO’s constitution: All outdoor ministry decisions regarding acquisition or disposition of land shall require a two-thirds vote of the LOMO Board in consultation with the office of the Bishop in each of the three (Ohio ELCA) synods. The LOMO Board members voted unanimously to enter into a land conservancy agreement with the Trust for Public Land. Bishop Suzanne Darcy-Dillahunt, Bishop Abraham Allende and Bishop Daniel Beaudoin have all been consulted.
What led you to the decision to reduce owning three camps to two?
The reality of LOMO having more space than is needed to serve current demand because of cultural changes and declining/aging ELCA membership. As well as the financial challenges of maintaining three camps with aging facilities and infrastructures. The ELCA predecessor church bodies peaked in membership in the late 1950s/early 1960s; Camp Luther, Camp Mowana and Lutheran Memorial Camp all opened in the 1940s. Lutheran camp participation peaked in the 1960s to 1970s. There is clarity that we do not need to own three camps to carry out our mission. We need to be nimble to meet the needs and opportunities of a changing culture.
How did you come to the decision to have a land conservancy at Camp Mowana instead of Camp Luther or Lutheran Memorial Camp (LMC)?
Camp Luther continues to maintain a well-attended family camp ministry with low overhead because it is not operated year-round. The decline in participation has been at Camp Mowana and LMC in summer youth camp, retreat usage and environmental education. There is increasing competition for the time of youth during the summer. We live in a society with parents who are less trusting to send their children away to overnight camps. LMC and Mowana are only 38 miles apart, leading to costly duplications.
Reasons to keep Lutheran Memorial Camp include that it is near the geographical center of the state. It is close to Columbus, which is sprawling out towards LMC providing opportunities to serve a larger population near the camp both on site and through outreach. LMC is close to a sizable pool of year-round employees; it has 420 acres; the terrain is suitable for accessibility for people with physical disabilities; its utilities include municipal water and sewer; and if LOMO is going to maintain two camps it is best these two camps are as far apart as possible and located in two different ELCA synods. Reasons originally considered to do a land conservancy at LMC were that the land is worth more because of its size and proximity to Columbus.
Reasons considered to keep Camp Mowana included that it has multiple large group meeting spaces/lodges including the Fleming Falls Retreat Center, also the land has beautiful features including Fleming Falls. In the end, we decided to pursue a land conservancy at Camp Mowana because the location of LMC will better position LOMO to carry out its mission. The challenges identified of operating Camp Mowana included it is financially the most expensive camp to operate; it has accumulated over $800,000 in operating deficits; we have only been able to balance the budget there twice in 20 years; there are well water issues with rust problems that continually cause infrastructure problems; and Mansfield is in economic and population decline.
The Fleming Falls Retreat Center is only 15 years old, doesn’t that financially bring in a lot of guests and money? The Fleming Falls Retreat Center (FFRC) is occupied with retreaters almost every Friday night of the year. The issue is that it is empty most other nights of the week. Most groups only come for one night. In 2017, there were 49 paying groups that stayed 65 nights. Unfortunately, that left 300 nights without any paying guests. While FFRC is a wonderful setting for a retreat, it is not close to a metropolitan center to attract mid-week usage.
If the ELCA is in membership decline, why doesn’t LOMO market to non-ELCA groups?
LOMO does market to non-ELCA groups; in fact, 50% of camp participants are not members of ELCA congregations.
Can we use GoFundMe or a similar crowd fundraising effort for LOMO to continue to own Camp Mowana?
If we were to raise a very large one-time sum of money to deal with infrastructure issues, there will still not be a significant usage pattern increase that demands the need for three camps.
What will you do with the grant money from the Trust for Public Land?
All money will be reinvested in the mission and ministry of Lutheran Outdoor Ministries in Ohio.
Will there be an opportunity to celebrate the ministry of Camp Mowana?
Yes, we will definitely provide an opportunity to gather, share memories, worship God and celebrate Camp Mowana’s rich history. The date of this celebration will be announced after we know more details. We also will put a plan in place to memorialize and honor Camp Mowana’s rich history.
What is the future of Lutheran Outdoor Ministries in Ohio?
We firmly believe God will continue to work through outdoor ministries to bring people together to experience Christ through our natural settings and programs. We are in a discernment process to reimagine outdoor ministries in ways that are relevant to the 21st century and to reach out to new and diverse audiences. We trust that God is bringing about shoots of new life and growth.