Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts under fire over funds for Diocesan Camp

As the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts prepares to close on the sale of the Bement Camp and Conference Center near Worcester this week, a group of camp alumni has called on the state attorney general to investigate the handling of funds held in trust by the diocese.

In a statement Tuesday, the diocese said it was both “surprised and disappointed” by the development and said the funds entrusted in its care have been handled properly.

“All diocesan funds, including those to support the Bement Camp and Conference Center, are invested, managed and expended in compliance with the directions of the donor, if any, church canons and applicable Mass. and federal laws,” Steven Abdow, administration and finance officer, wrote to the [Daily Hampshire] Gazette on behalf of the diocese.

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14 comments on “Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts under fire over funds for Diocesan Camp

  1. Hakkatan says:

    I was on the Diocesan Council of WMass until 2006 or so, and while the Council did not decide to close Camp Bement during my term, the handwriting was on the wall. Some $3 million would have been required to bring the camp up to code and another $2 or 3 million to make it attractive as a camp for youth and a conference center for adults.

    When Bp Scruton came to office in 1997, the financial records of the diocese were sloppy and, while no one had any evil intent, the financial conditions were perilous. He got things sorted out and the diocese has operated with clarity and excellent records in the years since then. Some of the Bement alumni sought to raise money to restore the camp, but there were too few of them to do so. I can understand why they are upset, but I would be utterly astonished if any misfeasance, let alone malfeasance, were discovered. The diocese may, like ECUSA as a whole, be theologically bankrupt or headed that way, but financially its house is in order.

  2. Undergroundpewster says:

    The specific issue is where did money donated to the camp after its closure go, and the Dio is not answering.

    A good question is raised by the reporter:

    [blockquote]”The proceeds from rental or sale of the property will be returned to the Bement Fund,” diocese officials wrote. “As a result, increased earnings would be available to support diocesan activities that build on the legacy of Camp Bement in ways that extend the Christian Formation ministry to current and future generations.”

    [b]On the up-and-up?[/b][/blockquote]

    If Christian Formation ministry to current and future generations sticks to the apostolic tradition, yes. If the money is spent on teaching the “new thang,” then no.

  3. Marie Blocher says:

    The funds donated after the camp closed marked specifically for youth to attend camp were probably used to send youth to another camp. Other donations made after the camp closed were probably used for maintenance. Some costs do go on even if it was not being used.

    As for those with wills naming the camp as beneficiary, they can either change their wills, or let the Probate Court decide what to do with the bequest. I have to say that if one cares enough to leave money to a charity, one should keep current on the affairs of the charity to know whether it is still functioning a the manner one wishes to support. Charities do sometime change their goals, for example The March of Dimes, and sometimes they discontinue
    operating at all. One can’t expect the charity to notify everyone who MIGHT be intending to donate to it in the future.
    That said, I recognize the Climo brothers have an emotional investment in the camp. But if they were not able to raise the funds to keep it open, they need to let it go.
    I enjoyed Camp Bement when I lived in the Diocese, in the eighties. It was a great place. But the operative word is “was”. From what I gathered in the articles I read about it’s intended closing, much maintenance was needed, and improvement to bring it up to code, neither of which the Diocese could afford or justify.

  4. Cennydd13 says:

    Another “Camp Wapiti” scandal? Could be!

  5. Hakkatan says:

    Cynnydd, there are absolutely no parallels to Camp Wapiti. Bement operated from the 50’s to 2003. Many kids and teens became Christians through the camp – and I mean real conversions. The camp had the support of the entire diocese and was not the pipe dream of a self-centered, egotistical bishop. I suppose things could be a bit murky as to where recent contributions have gone, but it was operated decently and in order for decades. For some twenty years (mid-80’s to 2003 or so), the director (who died of a brain tumor, unfortunately), the camp was a lively, creative place that upheld creedal Christianity.

  6. Ian Montgomery says:

    So sad for Bement to end this way. I served there off and on from 1973-80. I met my wife there. Most of the leaders of the diocese were trained there. I was back in Springfield 2 years ago and had a wonderful reunion with many alums while visiting the cathedral in Springfield. It was a fabulous resource.

  7. Statmann says:

    There is much sad news in TEC, but none is sadder for me tthan to read that another camp ffur youth is closing. I, too, mer my wife at a summer church youth camp. For me, the week at church camp was the happiest of the year. I realize that Money is becoming an inreasing problem for TEC, but I think it is really the vanishing youth in TEC. Just one stat hihlight this facr: for 2002 through 2009, the Dio of W. Mass. lost a staggering 55.3 percent of its Infant Baptisms. In 2009 there 51 Infant baptisms for all 48 of its parishes. That is just about ONE for each parish. I suspect that the 2010 datum will show further decline. Putting Money aside, why have a youth camp if you have no youths? Kyrie eleison. Statmann

  8. Statmann says:

    Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea magna culpa. When I went to my reference cards, I took out West Missouri instead of W. Mass. My poor old (81 years) eyes are sure failing. The 2002 through 2009 stats for W. Mass. are a decline in Plate & Pledge (adjusted for inflation) of 12.5 percent and a decline in Infant Baptisms of 23.1 percent. These data provide a more balanced picture of decling Money and Youth. Statmann

  9. AnglicanFirst says:

    If I were to write a book and title it “The Incredibly Shrinking Episcopal Church,” this would be an anecdotal part of that book.

  10. Hakkatan says:

    And those baptisms do not necessarily mean anything hopeful. The new priest at the parish I served (he is part-time; I was the last full-time there) baptized five or six babies in 2011. Of those, one family sometimes attends. Baptisms do not mean a new generation being raised in the faith.

    One of the reasons for Bement’s demise was the Diocese of Mass building a new camp and conference center in southern New Hampshire. All the NH kids who had been coming to Bement moved to the new camp – and Bement lost 25-35% of its campers all at once.

  11. Ian Montgomery says:

    #10 When I served in W. Mass in the mid 70’s there was a second camp owned by Christ Church Fitchburg that was situated in New Hampshire. In those years we had enough kids to fill both camps. Sadly I think that the focus has neither been towards the youth nor with a robust Apostolic Gospel message.

  12. Hakkatan says:

    I had forgotten about that camp. It has also fallen into disuse. Christ Church, Fitchburg, is more conservative than most of the congregations in WMass, but it too is slipping away into theological fogginess now.

  13. Ian Montgomery says:

    I preached there in August and their priest is a great man – God willing he will blow away the fog. They are very supportive of our mission work in Peru.

  14. Hakkatan says:

    I’m glad; it was in limbo when I left ECUSA, and there was a “progressive” coterie who had been raising some flack.

    At any rate – two effective camp ministries have departed. Some of it is simply the way the culture is headed – all camps (except the “essential skills” or sports camps) have been struggling. But if you take Christ out of a church camp, what have you got that the Scouts don’t have – and have better?