The Greenhills Centre is a retreat, accommodation, conference, worship and recreation facility specialising in group retreats, workshops and conferencing for schools, church and community groups to provide opportunities and facilities for meditation, worship, and personal development that reflect and celebrate God’s gifts to us.
Barry Howe, Board Chairperson of the Greenhills Centre, Cotter Road ACT, invites us to reflect on the ministry of camping.
Members of The Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) have been involved in ministry through “campsites” long before the union of Presbyterians, Methodists and Congregationalists in 1977. Our own Greenhills Centre was established in 1965 through the Presbyterian Fellowship of Australia (PFA) association of founder Max Hill, as were many of over twenty Uniting Church venues throughout Australia.
As we head towards the 50th Anniversary of Greenhills Centre, on 28th March 2015, it is a good time to reflect on the Christian ministry that so many UCA outdoor venues provide.
Greenhills provides a Christian environment both for groups involved in Christian camping activities and for a wide variety of other groups who enjoy the facilities and service that Greenhills has to offer.
Christian camping ministry (as it is known) is recognised worldwide as one of the most powerful and effective ways of people – especially teenagers and young adults – experiencing a safe Christian environment and temporary community in which to explore and extend their faith through learning, sharing and experiencing God’s wonders and love. Indeed, the recent analysis of 2011 National Church Life Survey (NCLS) showed “Church Camp” as the fifth most important activity in Christians coming to faith – behind Church, Religious education, Youth Group and Sunday School, but ahead of evangelistic event, school Christian group and four other activities. In 15 to 29 year olds it was the third most significant influence. For 1 in 10 of all people surveyed, Church Camps were the most significant activity in coming to faith.
The NCLS further reveals that those who have attended church camps have double the weekly church attendance, double participation in daily devotions and triple recognition of “importance of God in life” and more participation in leadership involvement than those who have not experienced a church camp.
In recent decades only a small proportion of Uniting Church members have been exposed to the opportunities of regular church camps while a great many other churches, schools, community and special interest groups make up the vast majority of guests at UCA venues throughout Australia. And the Uniting Church is the largest provider of such facilities.
The recently formed Uniting Outdoors & Venues Network of CEOs from around Australia has produced the following table of facilities and use of its twenty venues. (Gerringong NSW has not yet been included.)
The 20 venues hosted some 120 000 guests last year for 230 000 bed-nights plus many more day conferences, meetings workshops and celebrations. This comprises about a quarter of all accommodation provided by the 235 venues listed with Christian Venues Association in Australia. So the exposure of Uniting Church ministry to large numbers of people, especially school groups, is immense.
UCA venues include Alexandra Headland in Queensland, Uniting Venues’ Naamaroo, Elanora and North Parramatta plus Wesley Vision Valley in Sydney, Nunyara and Victor Harbour in Adelaide, Halls Gap and 7 other sites in Victoria and Tasmania while Greenhills is the only ACT location.
As a members of Christian Venues Association in Australia – and the worldwide Christian Camping International – the Uniting Church venues contribute “… to advance the Christian religion by the encouragement and enabling of members engaged in Christian ministry through Christian camping and hospitality.”
At Greenhills, we carry out Christian ministry through the provision of accommodation, facilities, service and activities to all our client groups and guests. Groups generally provide their own programs and leaders; whether religious or secular. The setting is overtly Christian and proudly UCA with logos and signage throughout the buildings, a chapel and outdoor cross, reception and Resources Room well provided with biblical references and materials. Copies of The Aussie Bible, Perspective, Eternity and other publications are readily available for distribution.
Greenhills’ continuing relationship with a number of Christian groups has extended over decades. These include Walk to Emmaus, Kairos Outdoors, Youth for Christ, Fellowship of Christian University Students, Scripture Union and in the past decade Crusaders for Christ, Uniting Care Kippax, Fusion City Church, Lakeside Bible Church, Capital Edge Church and Hope Church, Chevalier College, Canberra Girls Grammar, Radford, St Clare’s, Marist, and St Francis Xavier colleges.
The Strategic Plan 2013 includes the target that “Over the next three years we will endeavour to extend the ministry of Greenhills through our hospitality, service and witness to clients and guests with enhanced facilities, careful stewardship of the local environment, and partnering with clients and local community.”
This has led to recognising and formalising a “Partnering in Ministry” program that identifies selected groups and organisations that stay with us and carry out a Christian ministry that Greenhills will share more fully by the provision of extra assistance, activities and possible financial support.
Barry Howe, Board Chairperson
23rd September 2014