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Historic Wesleyan Bible Camp in danger of closing

WEST CHAZY Since the turn of the last century, the Wesleyan Bible Camp has been a fixture in West Chazy. However, mounting finances and decreasing revenue have put the camp in danger of closing permanently. The camp, which was first established in its current location in 1901, consists of 145 private cottage sites, three dormitories, a tabernacle, dining hall, 16-room motel, maintenance directors residence, and 24 campsites spread over nearly 35 acres off West Church Street. According to Camp Director Keith Warner, the camp was closed by a voting action of the Eastern New York\New England District Conference, consisting of ministers and laypeople from throughout the district, in June 2007. The camp was closed due to financial reasons, said Mr. Warner, who explained aging infrastructure and expensive mandates from the state Department of Health had made the camp too expensive for the district to maintain. Income from giving was not increasing, he added. Currently, the camp is closed, with its eventual disposition up in the air. The district gave notice to cottage owners their leases would expire in May 2008, by which time the cottages would have to either be removed or become the property of the West Chazy Wesleyan Church. Mr. Warner assumes the camp will eventually be sold. In response, a group of cottage owners formed the not-for-profit West Chazy Holiness Camp Meeting Association to explore the possibility of either leasing back the camp or purchasing it outright. Our goal is to continue to have holiness camp meetings, said association organizer Dale Robar. Maybe we can assist the district by taking on some of the debt. An early organizing meeting was attended by nearly 75 percent of the estimated 110 cottage owners. Im very encouraged, reflected Mr. Robar. Even though we werent planning on taking donations, we raised nearly $10,000 in the first 10 minutes of the first meeting. At this point, negotiations between the district and the association are ongoing. The districts current proposal offers to lease the camp to the association for one year, presumably so both parties can assess how the arrangement is working before committing to anything longer term. A meeting will be held at the West Chazy Wesleyan Church this Saturday, Jan. 12, at 10 a.m. to discuss the proposal. According to A History of the Town of Chazy, by Nell Jane Barnett Sullivan and David Kendall Martin, the camp grew out of the mid-19th century Wesleyan Methodist tradition of camp meetings. The meetings, which were held during the summers, were an opportunity for far-flung family and neighbors of a like mind to gather for worship and renew friendships. As a result the camp meetings were usually a time for merrymaking as well as for religious services, it is stated in the book. Indeed, both cottage owners and camp meeting attendees seem to have a special reverence for the site. Many of the cabins were built by the original owners and have been passed down through the generations. Since 1937, the camp has also been a haven for youth groups from throughout North America during its annual youth camp. According to some estimates, the population of West Chazy would swell by nearly 500 as Wesleyans from throughout the region gathered during these summer sessions. One young blogger wrote, So many of the noteworthy moments of my life happened on that campground. [It] has been a safe place of growth and maturation for so many people. Whatever happens to camp itself, those grounds have left a legacy of love and discipleship. Mr. Robar, however, remains hopeful we will still have camp meeting. Its in the Lords hands and the peoples hands, he added. The people will have to follow through with the money.

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