Chapter closed on camping

Uniting Church camping sites provided plenty of fun and fellowship for children over many years.

When the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania made the difficult decision last year to sell its camping sites, it signalled the end of an era for many Uniting Church members.

For so many people, UC camping brought back a host of fond memories.

Gippsland Minister Rev Jennie Gordon can recall wonderful times spent camping during her formative years within the Church.

For Jennie, and other Uniting Church members of her generation, lifelong friendships and faith journeys were cemented while camping.

It’s why last year’s closure decision resonated so strongly with Jennie, and many of her contemporaries.

“Camping was formative in my youth, as it was for many of my generation in the Church,” Jennie says.

Last year’s closure decision came after a great deal of careful thought, says equipping Leadership for Mission Executive Officer Duncan Macleod.

“The last four years have been challenging, particularly with the impact of Covid-19 on bookings and financial sustainability,” he says.

While there had been a recovery in terms of bookings following Covid-19, Duncan says the need for significant investment in facilities had led to a review of the future of UC Camping.

“The Synod Standing Committee decided in June 2023 to divest the UC Camping business by the end of 2023, and to use sales proceeds to invest in a new vision for camping ministry,” he says.

“The five sites in question were Norval and Camp Acacia in Halls Gap, Adekate Lodge near Creswick, Grantville Lodge, and Merricks Lodge on the Mornington Peninsula.

“The Lake Tyers Camp Site, run by Gippsland Presbytery, was not part of the review.”

Duncan acknowledges the closure marks the end of a significant chapter.

He says the five sites have been sold, with many staff members taking up roles under new ownership.

“Sale proceeds are likely to be distributed in two ways: contributions to the Presbyteries that have financial stakes in UC Camping sites, and investment in an ongoing vision for camping and other temporary community opportunities in the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania,” he says.

“The Synod’s Ministry and Mission Committee has been tasked with facilitating a conversation about ways in which the Synod continues to foster and sponsor the various forms of ministry relating to temporary community, including camping, retreats, pilgrimages of various sorts, and walking on country.”

Duncan says the camping sites were an important part of Uniting Church life in regional areas.

“These camp sites have been associated with significant ministries with young people, children, and families, as well as providing connections with schools and community groups,” he said.

“The Synod is grateful for the significant leadership of UC Camping Directors Andrew McGuckian, over 19 years, and Daniel Murray, over the last five years.

“Oversight has been provided by the UC Camping Committee, initially accountable to the Synod through the Commission for Mission, and Presbytery-based camping committees.

“David Parker, Denis Hawkey and Tim Angus have faithfully chaired the UC Camping Committee, and we have been well served by managers Matt and Belinda Quick at Grantville, Matt Gee at Merricks, and Grant Keilar at Norval Lodge and Camp Acacia.

“Interest from property sales proceeds will start to be available to the Church in 2025, and eLM will continue to provide support for the revisioning and resourcing of the Uniting Church’s ongoing camping ministry.”

“Growth of faith and deep friendships happen through camping and they are life-changing and life-long,” says Rev Jennie Gordon.

Jennie Gordon says the camps’ closure deserves to be recognised as the end of a wonderful era for so many Uniting Church members.

“Growth of faith and deep friendships happen through camping and they are life-changing and life-long,” she says.

“We discover that there is more in us than we think, we find new ways of being in the world and with each other.

“I’m grateful for the campsites that have belonged to the Church and how they became familiar, recreational, restorative and safe places for us.

“I’m grateful for the people who were there alongside us, encouraging us in life and faith.”

Moyston farmer David Coad recalls wonderful hospitality offered at Norval campsite near Halls Gap during what was a difficult time for many farmers.

“Probably my most enduring memory of Norval is the utter incredulity of members of the farming community, during the millennium drought, who were offered, at no cost, the take a break camps,” he recalls.

“The offering of some respite from an extremely challenging situation allowed the families a break and the forming of friendships and support groups as part of that process.

“I suspect that the breathing space many received had a much bigger impact than just a few days away.”

Late last year in the chapel at Grantville, UC Camping Committee Chair Rev Tim Angus offered a simple prayer marking the end of UC Camping, and what it had meant in the life of the Uniting Church.

“We give you thanks for the many expressions of community life that have been lived out at campsites across the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania,” Tim said.

“(Thanks also) for those who made a commitment to the way of Christ through camping, and to the discipleship of community and justice-making and care of creation.

“We give you thanks for times of relaxation, prayer and communal life that have sustained the life of those living out their faith in their places of work, in their local neighbourhoods, and in positions of leadership in the Church and the world.

“We give you thanks for those who have managed the campsite on behalf of the Church, the staff of Uniting Camping, and those who went before them, for their hospitality, for the ways they ‘got’ the mission of the Church, for their generosity and sacrifice during the COVID years, and for the entrepreneurial skills, wise leadership and integrity of those who saw the vision for Uniting Camping and gave it direction.

“We pray that the sites might continue to be made available to those who otherwise might not have access to places of hospitality and welcome, rest and rejuvenation.”

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