CSBC Executive Board recommends selling Jenness Park Christian Camp

By Terry Barone on May 14, 2020

FRESNO—With mounting deficits and no revenue from a 2020 camping season, California Southern Baptist Convention Executive Board voted to permanently shutter and sell Jenness Park Christian Camp.

The action, approved during the regularly scheduled May 14 meeting held virtually, calls for Jenness Park to be closed immediately and permanently shut down by June 30. The recommendation also gives CSBC corporate officers authorization to “take necessary actions” to sell the camp and its assets.

An amendment to the recommendation gives SBC churches/entities through June 30, 2020 priority in purchasing the camp.

Jenness Park is a 160-acre camp owned by CSBC in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Sonora. The camp has been part of the California Southern Baptist family since 1953.

Find answers to frequently asked questions about CSBC's decision to close and sell Jenness Park.

EB chairman talks about Jenness Park

Victor Chayasirisobhon, chairman of the CSBC Executive Board and pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Anaheim, told CSBC News, the “decision to close JP is a very, very unfortunate situation. Every effort was made to help the camp survive. With everything going on, including the global pandemic, this was a sad and difficult decision.”

He added Jenness Park has played “a valuable part of CSBC ministry for many years and those blessed by JP’s ministry will continue to live out its legacy.”

He noted the Bible records that life is “filled with seasons. Unfortunately, it is my belief that JP’s season has come to an end. However, it leaves a rich heritage that will benefit the Kingdom for decades to come.”

CSBC certainly “appreciates the Jenness Park staff and leaders like Barry Lloyd, camp director. They are brothers and sisters in Christ which makes this decision more difficult because it is personal.”

Marc Tempesta, CSBC chief financial officer, told Board members the Jenness Park staff would be offered employment through June 30.

Reasons for the closure

Chayasirisobhon introduced the recommendation and gave the basic premise for the closure. Bill Agee, CSBC executive director, said the decision to close and sell Jenness Park “was not easy, nor was it impulsive.” He noted a lot of history and emotion regarding JP, but the reality is that the camp is “financially unsustainable.” With the limited funds available for CSBC ministries “we have exhausted every avenue we know to keep the camp afloat.”

Agee said that in the last seven years, Jenness Park recorded deficit spending of about $2 million is “almost $24,000 monthly.” That was during times when the camp was “fully operational.” Since mid-March, the camp has hosted no camps and the deficit is averaging $70,000 monthly. Tempesta said that amount or more is likely to be the monthly deficit with no camps producing revenue.

Agee said the losses in the past were covered by CSBC reserves. “CSBC now has no reserve funds to cover the losses. With no revenue stream, Jenness Park is faced with insurmountable losses.”

Chayasirisobhon explained there has been a “concerted effort” to balance the budgets of both CSBC and Jenness Park since Bill Agee, CSBC executive director was elected in May 2017.

Agee noted CSBC has made significant strides to “live within its means” by trimming more than $1 million from annual operating expenses.

He added that Jenness Park was on a plan to balance its budget and become a self-sustaining CSBC entity by the beginning of 2021, but COVID-19 hit and derailed the plan.

In the first two months of 2020, financial losses were minimal and it appeared the camp had a chance to achieve its goal. Agee said CSBC and camp leaders were “excited by the progress.” With the coronavirus pandemic and Californians ordered to shelter in place camps were canceled causing significant financial losses of $64,646 in March and $73,733 in April.

LifeWay Christian Resources on May 14 announced cancellation of all CentriKid and Centrifuge camps for summer 2020. Also, it is questionable when larger gatherings will be allowed by state regulators. These two factors dictate a lost summer camping season which is the largest income stream for Jenness Park.

To exacerbate the issue, Jenness Park also has a loan totaling $1.4 million. Costs for the loan (interest only at this time) are included in the deficit figures listed.

Find answers to frequently asked questions about CSBC's decision to close and sell Jenness Park.

Board discussion

Brent Ives, a member of Southwinds Church in Tracy, gave an emotional plea to discover if closing and selling the camp was truly the only option. He asked if “every angle” had been explored because this is the “nuclear option.”

“I just want to know that you have thought this through. This is a forever decision. I believe the camp is part of the mission of this organization. I believe the camp has led more people to Christ than most of our churches. That’s worth saving.

“I know it’s been tough,” he said, “but we serve a great God and this is a place where I believe leadership steps up and says we have to try something. I don’t think we’ve done everything yet.”

Agee said, “I believe we have. Last year the bell rang 300 times. We spent more money for those 300 decisions than we did serving churches who recorded more than 12,000 baptisms.”

Jim Ryan, pastor of Heart of the Canyon Church in Santa Clarita, agreed with Agee saying “we (CSBC) are about churches and we need to get on with the four priorities” – evangelism and missions, church planting, church revitalization and small church ministries – “that Dr. Agee has set before us. This has become an albatross that may hinder us from doing ministry effectively.”

Matt Lawson, pastor of Story City Church in Burbank, said he is a fan of camping since he was saved at Ridgecrest Conference Center and speaks there and at other camps every summer.

However, he noted, “CSBC is not in the camping business. LifeWay is and they sold Glorieta Conference Center a few years ago for $1” and two weeks ago announced they are selling Ridgecrest because it is “not viable. The reality across the country is that things are changing. It appears camping has never been viable here and I don’t believe there is another option.”

Agee said he appreciated the discussion and added, “We’ve talked about this issue since I became executive director. The Finance Committee (of the Board) has visited this issue several times. We have thought about every option. My job as executive director is work to help our churches minister effectively” so we can reach the 35 million in California who don’t know Christ.

After the recommendation was amended to give Southern Baptist churches/entities priority through June 30, the 26 members present voted 25 to 1 to proceed with liquidating the property.

Say thanks to Jenness Park

Jenness Park has been a place of fond memories and life change for California Southern Baptists throughout the years. Many have met Jesus in the time they spent at camp and heard the whole crowd cheer as they rang the bell signifying someone has given their life to Christ. Since 2000, more than 8,000 have made the decision to follow Jesus.

Without a doubt, Jenness Park has been a special place in the heart of California Southern Baptists. As a way to honor the many people and ministries that have served at Jenness Park, we would like to invite California Southern Baptists to post a picture and a quick story on social media using #thankyoujennesspark.

Other Board business

The Board approved two churches for membership and affiliation. They are Graceland Bible Church in Oakland and La Iglesia de Greenleaf in Whittier.

The Board also considered and approved a CSBC Constitutional amendment to delete the “Denominational Paper” the California Southern Baptist from the guiding document since the paper has ceased publication as of April 2020.

Two Executive Board Bylaws amendments were approved. One would allow the Board to hold virtual meetings as long as Board members were notified according to the bylaws. The Board was able to meet virtually in May because of an executive order issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom in March allowing virtual sessions for meetings already scheduled through June 30.

The other bylaw change would amend duties of the Communications Committee by deleting the reference to the California Southern Baptist which is no longer published.

The Board also ratified actions of CSBC staff in applying and accepting a CARES Paycheck Protection Program loan totaling $809,567.

The loan is 100 percent forgivable provided at least 75 percent is spent on payroll and related expenses. Up to 25 percent can be used for other eligible operating expenses such as rent, mortgage, interest payments and utilities. Costs related to those expenses outlined can be used for the eight-week period after the loan is made. Employee and compensation levels must be maintained.

Tempesta said the CARES provision is allowing CSBC to offer continued employment to Jenness Park staff through June 30 which otherwise might not have been available.

He noted loan proceeds are being held in an alternate account and used to reimburse CSBC’s general account as eligible expenditures are made, providing for an easier accounting of funds and leaves any unused principal intact in case of repayment.

The next meeting of the Board is scheduled Sept. 10-11 in Fresno.

Find answers to frequently asked questions about CSBC's decision to close and sell Jenness Park.

This Convention serves our culturally diverse congregations as we fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.