Director Ayoub on board

Earlier this year the Rev. George Ayoub (left) welcomed Bishop David Bard to Wesley Woods Camp and Retreat Center for the blessing of the new dining facility.

Michigan Area United Methodist Camping hires Rev. George Ayoub as Executive Director.

KAY DEMOSS
Senior Editor-Writer, Michigan Area

Rev. George Ayoub

Following a national search, the Michigan Area United Methodist Camping Board of Directors hired the Rev. George H. Ayoub as its Executive Director. Rev. Ayoub had been serving as interim executive director since 2015.

“George was selected based on the leadership and experience he’s shown, and the board expects him to continue leading the organization for the betterment of all the camps and the ministry,” said newly elected Board President Joel Wortley.

In addition to Wortley, the board elected its new executive leadership: the Rev. Paula Timm, vice president; Michele Hills, secretary; and Bill Polzin, treasurer.

Rev. Ayoub is an ordained elder in the West Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church having served as an elder for 34 years. Prior to his current post, he served as a pastor in Philadelphia, the Director of Camping Ministries for the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church, Executive Director of Camping Ministries for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) in Michigan and Chaplain for Masonic Pathways Senior Living Services in Alma, Michigan.

MIConnect contacted Ayoub for his perspective at this time of transition. After two years of an interim position, he looks back and faces forward.

Asked about major accomplishments during the last two years of Michigan Area Camping, Ayoub said, “The biggest task I had to do was help move from a church-oriented organization to a new corporate body.” This change presented some challenges. “We had to learn the difference between functioning as a church committee and acting as a corporate board with full fiduciary responsibilities. That involves not only financial responsibilities but programmatic and spiritual responsibilities for the mission,” he added.

The past 24 months have seen the establishment of a new office for camping ministries, hiring new staff for three camps, employing a new business administrator and marketing consultant. Deeds were transferred, new bank affiliations were entered into, new processes for payroll, insurance and more were set up. “All of that,” George said, “while keeping the camps running at their usual level of excellence.”

Early in his time as Interim Director, Ayoub visited all nine camp sites, evaluating the needs of each and discerning possible improvements. With his leadership, the Board completed a “Changing Lives Campaign” and finished fund-raising for and building of a new dining facility at Wesley Woods.

Program assessment continues during the mid-summer 2017. Also, George is working toward making some new disciples. Ayoub is reaching out to other not-for-profits, like the VFW home for children, “in order to help children attend camp who may lack financial means to participate.” Speaking on behalf of Michigan Area United Methodist Camping, he is grateful for the donation of scholarship funds that enable such outreach.

There are challenges to be faced by the Board and its new Executive Director. “I have had to deal with the stress that comes when people have to grasp the idea of change,” Ayoub noted. “We have exciting, vital ministries, but we must help people get over their fear of change.”

Staffing has been an area of operation that has required a different approach. “In order to keep ministry going,” George explained, “the Board had to reduce some of the financial overhead of permanent staff.” Those camps with year-round programming—Lake Huron, Wesley Woods, and Judson Collins—continue with directors serving full-time. Other sites, open seasonally, are now managed by hosts or with oversight by neighboring Camp Directors. 

While there are challenges, there are also dreams. George looks forward to a greater connection between United Methodist camps and local churches. “We want to be in ministry with congregations, whether that’s sending people of all ages to camp, hosting church activities and meetings, or welcoming family camp outs.” George would also like to see conference agencies and groups return to Michigan’s camps for their meetings and retreats.

“If United Methodists in Michigan love our camps, they need to seriously consider using them,” George noted. “Our mission and their mission are the same … make disciples for Jesus Christ. Let’s be in mission together.”

Michigan Area United Methodist Camping is the largest UM camping system in the United States. “We are the only one with nine camps,” George reported, “and we are proud of that.” However, while the average occupancy of the country’s United Methodist camps is 52%, occupancy of Michigan’s camp is 22%. “Five years from now,” George stated, “I would like to see our camps being used at 50% occupancy.”

In order to move in that direction, Ayoub seeks partnership with United Methodist pastors across the state. “We have exciting things to do,” George said with enthusiasm, “and pastors can help us do them by giving me an opportunity to share with their people.” He is now scheduling church visits for fall, winter, and spring. Those wishing to hear the good news of camping ministries can make arrangements with Administrative Assistant/Registrar Pamela Stewart at 616-459-4503 or pstewart@wmcumc.org.

“My long-term goal,” George concluded, “is to make it possible for Michigan’s camps, campgrounds, and retreat centers to be special places where we can help make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Camp changes lives.”

Michigan Area United Methodist Camping is a nonprofit organization that owns and manages nine properties. It was created in 2015 by the action of the West Michigan and Detroit Conferences of the United Methodist Church to combine their outdoor and retreat ministries in one state-wide entity.

Board Chair Joel Wortley said, in affirming Ayoub’s hiring: “Everyone involved comes at this task with a love of camping, these properties and the mission of connecting with God in these beautiful, natural spaces. Fortunately, we also have a great staff on the ‘front lines’ who love what they do and want our campers and visitors to have amazing, life-changing experiences at camp.”

To learn more about the sites and the programs offered through the ministry, please visit www.umcamping.org. Also, click here for more news from the Michigan Area United Methodist Camping Board of Directors.

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