SCBC official details costs to operate, maintain White Oak Conference Center

The South Carolina Baptist Convention Executive Board, meeting April 25-26 in Columbia, directed its Properties Committee to work with SCBC executive director-treasurer Gary Hollingsworth to pursue finding buyers for the White Oak Conference Center near Winnsboro.

At the heart of the consideration:

  • White Oak requires an average of $616,000 in Cooperative Program funding to meet its budget at a time when annual Cooperative Program giving from churches is in decline.
  • South Carolina Baptist events and activities, including the student camp SummerSalt and use by convention staff and by churches, provide only 27 percent of the conference center’s annual income. Only 10 percent (or 210) of the convention’s churches use the conference center for local church purposes.
  • The convention contributed an additional $247,000 from its fund balance to support maintenance issues in 2015 and is facing $4 million in infrastructure needs, including a $2 million wastewater treatment plant.

Board chairman Duane Greene, who previously served as the board’s Properties Committee chairman, also said the conference center charges back to the convention user fees of about $600,000 per year beyond the Cooperative Program and fund balance contributions. Non-Baptist organizations such as schools, other faith organizations, and government agencies provide 47 percent of White Oak’s budget (about $1.163 million).

Greene said, in terms of users, SummerSalt camp represents the largest convention use of White Oak. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston is the largest non-Baptist user of White Oak.

“There is a disconnect [with] the housing at White Oak,” Greene said. “A conference center needs to have class-A housing, and White Oak’s housing is an outdated structure, resembling a cheaper hotel. Rooms have bunk beds, because it is set up as a camp for SummerSalt. If you have a married couples retreat or a senior adult retreat, those users are looking at rooms with bunk beds.

“Is White Oak a camp or a conference center? If we improve the housing to make it a conference center, then we take away from SummerSalt capacity, and that affects revenue. So, to be a conference center, we will have to build another class-A hotel.

“Does White Oak help us fulfill the Great Commission? Yes, but it is very expensive and very underutilized. So, we have to go out and find other non-Baptist sources of income, and is that our mission? Is White Oak the most strategic and efficient use of our efforts? No. We cannot as a good steward go backwards; SummerSalt can move to another venue, perhaps [to] our universities.”

Other possible solutions suggested by Greene and from the floor included: doing nothing, “spinning off” White Oak as a separate 501(c) non-profit for the purpose of pursuing grants to replace Cooperative Program funding, completing infrastructure needs and building a new housing unit for non-student conferences with a goal of White Oak becoming self-sustaining, maintaining the facility until it sells, closing the facility except for summer months when used by SummerSalt, or closing White Oak completely until it is sold.

Greene said arrangements could be made with a future owner to continue providing utilities service to nearby Camp La Vida, owned and operated by the South Carolina Woman’s Missionary Union. Also, new owners could be asked to allow SummerSalt’s use of White Oak each summer until the popular six-week summer camp can find a new home.

“We need to provide great transparency on all of this to our churches,” Greene said. “We need stories in The Baptist Courier and on the convention website. We need to provide information sessions so that the 200 churches using White Oak will understand what we are doing and why. I will also speak to it at the annual meeting this year in Columbia.”

Executive director-treasurer Gary Hollingsworth praised the board for its work. “It may very well be that the most significant word of witness that we might have to a lost and dying world is how we conduct our business and how we spend our money,” he said.

“Sometimes, it’s not what we do but how we do it. These are issues that can be so divisive, but the way we are doing our work makes me even more grateful to be a South Carolina Baptist. Whatever our decisions, we want them to be the greatest opportunity to reduce a lost population and give the greatest glory to God.”

In other news, the board:

HEARD a report from Randy Creamer, director of Disaster Relief & Men’s Ministries Office, who praised South Carolina Baptists for serving in the initial response and in RebuildSC efforts following the 1,000-year flooding of October 2015. (Please see separate story at this link: SC Baptist DR Provides Board Report and Praises Volunteers and Those Out of State.)

HEARD from board chairman Greene the appointment of a study committee that will look at the Executive Board organization following transfer of many Administrative and Planning & Ministries committees responsibilities to the executive director-treasurer. These responsibilities were shifted at the December 2015 board meeting when the board adopted its new governance. Serving with Greene on the study committee will be Rocky Purvis, Robert Chapman, Teresa Garrick, Katie Whitaker, Sam Davis, Keith Shorter, Will Browning and John Goudelock.

HEARD from Greene, responding to recent inquiries at annual meetings, requesting that Hollingsworth study what other conventions are doing and models might be used to decentralize the convention from the SCBC building to “cars and laptops,” looking strategically at possible solutions without compromising the convention’s service to churches. Hollingsworth was asked to report back at the board’s fall meeting in October.

HEARD from the Planning & Ministries Committee about plans to establish ministry objectives with the convention’s institutional partners; study patterns of relationship between state conventions and state WMU organizations and the relationship between state mission offerings and the Cooperative Program; and study the need for the convention’s Office of Public Policy.

HEARD from the Scholarships Committee that 241 scholarships were awarded for the college year ending this spring, including $116,700 for students in colleges and universities, and $59,500 for students attending seminary.

HEARD from the Properties Committee about the purchase of a new tractor and replacement golf cart at Camp McCall; parking lot improvements, new copiers and improvements to the Executive Board room at the convention building; and replacing flooring at the Baptist Collegiate Ministry facility at the University of South Carolina. All expenses will be paid out of the convention’s fund balance.

HEARD from the Budget, Finance & Audit Committee that convention auditor, CapinCrouse LLP, returned unmodified — or good — audits for Connie Maxwell Children’s Home, The Baptist Courier, North Greenville University, and South Carolina Baptist Ministries for the Aging. In addition, the state convention’s audit was returned unmodified without qualification, meaning the convention is in very good health and there are no indications for concern.

HEARD that while Cooperative Program giving is currently 4.4 percent below budget, it is an improvement over the same period in 2015 when CP giving was 7.9 percent below budget, or $250,000 less than 2016.

HEARD from convention president Tom Tucker that the 2016 annual meeting will include testimonies from those in local churches regarding revitalization, missions, church planting, evangelism and discipleship. South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson will join Mark Hendrick, director of the convention’s Office of Public Policy, as speakers on Wednesday morning.

— Scott Vaughan is interim communications manager for the South Carolina Baptist Convention.