“CLOSED TO ALL GUESTS” read the sign at the entrance to St. Christopher Camp and Conference Center. It first appeared on March 20th in response to mandated closures to “flatten the curve.” While it disappeared almost two months later when reopenings began throughout the state and Seabrook Island lifted its ban on hosting guests, it may soon return and remain indefinitely.
Following the closure in March, St. Christopher reopened May 15th to welcome individuals on personal retreats. Outside of a smattering of individuals and small family groups that continue to come for personal retreats, St. Christopher only hosted two significant guest groups in the conference center from May through July, with one of those being our own July 4th Weekend Retreat. The summer camp ministry salvaged three scheduled Outdoor Adventure Camp sessions and created four weeks of Day Camp from early June to mid-July. While they met with great success in impacting children’s lives for Jesus, their financial impact only helped to slow the bleed from returning fees already paid for the canceled summer camp ministry.
Under normal operations, St. Christopher maintains a full staff of around 55 employees. Additionally, this number is supplemented by seasonal staff of 14 Naturalists that serve in the Barrier Island Environmental Education ministry, and 36 Summer Camp Staff who serve during Summer Camp. The present staffing has been reduced to only 20, with eight among them only part time. Many positions have been eliminated. Long time staff that served faithfully and loyally for many years have been let go. Some continuing staff have lost benefits while picking up additional responsibilities, and others face the challenge of reduced hours based solely on needs determined by our guest count.
The Barrier Island Environmental Education program is primarily dependent upon school groups from public schools. With many county school districts throughout the state banning overnight field trips throughout the coming academic year, the request and need for this program is almost completely eliminated. With minimal guest groups expected from now through the end of the year, and with the projections for the Barrier Island ministry so severely constrained through May 2021, it is looking increasingly unlikely that St. Christopher can generate sufficient revenue to maintain operations.
When I began an appeal in early April as the signs of cancellations and reduced revenue were readily apparent, St. Christopher received a quick response of financial support from so many who love this hallowed place. That support continues to be received, and at this writing it has reached over $130,000. Each of the gifts that have collectively contributed to that total value has been a blessing and an affirmation of the value of all that is St. Christopher. Each has been a glimpse of hope and encouragement of what is possible to sustain this ministry through the generosity of others. Each has been an endorsement of the value attributed to those whom God has called to share in His ministry of stewarding these sacred grounds.
While I continue to hold on to hope, I also realize that “you can’t get blood from a turnip” and our coffers have long since run dry. To simply remain open through the end of the year, and to do that with a very limited staff, St. Christopher remains in need of over $500,000. We are already operating with a deficit, and it will only grow with each passing day without new bookings, increased charitable giving, and creative fundraising. Efforts to address these possibilities continue, and hopefully, they will be sufficient to the need. You can help by coming for a personal retreat, booking a group gathering, and making us part of your charitable giving.
The “CLOSED TO ALL GUESTS” sign is already prepared should it need to be returned to our entrance. I hope and pray that it isn’t. Your help in every way possible is so appreciated and needed now.
Lord have mercy!
By The Rev. Robert S. Lawrence, Executive Director, St. Christopher Camp & Conference Center