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Stony Point Center discerning a new vision

Ministry to shift to small retreat model

by Melody K. Smith | Presbyterian News Service

The Meditation Space is one of the most recognized sights on the Stony Point Center property. (Photo by Rich Copley)

LOUISVILLE — Due to the ongoing financial impact of COVID-19, the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) is further reducing operations at Stony Point Center (SPC), which will serve as a small retreat center moving forward. In order to reduce expenses and allow time for transition, the small-group retreat model will utilize only the Gilmor Sloane and Allison houses. The main campus will be maintained but will not house guests as the PMA begins a period of prayerful discernment on SPC’s future and explores long-term viability, both missionally and financially.

“While Stony Point is a program of and has been subsidized by the Presbyterian Mission Agency, it relies primarily on revenue from guest bookings to cover its expenses. We see no other path forward that doesn’t expose the Presbyterian Mission Agency to further significant financial cost,” said the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the PMA. “We are discerning and reimagining its future, but we are not giving up on Stony Point Center. We want to give it every opportunity to thrive.”

These changes will result in further reductions in staff at SPC, including its co-directors, Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase. For 12 years, the SPC conference and retreat center has been directed by the visionary leadership of the Ufford-Chases, who support this decision for SPC.

“This is a painful time and not a decision we wanted to make,” added Moffett. “I am ever so grateful for Rick and Kitty. They have provided the necessary leadership at Stony Point Center, taking it from a struggling facility, turning it around and giving it a missional purpose. Rick and Kitty’s tenure was more than the launching of a community around interfaith dialogue, or a focus on Earth care, or the empowering of guests to learn and act on the needs of others in our world — it was a long-term commitment to lean into the gospel whenever the need arose.”

With funding approved by the PMA Board, SPC was on the cusp of carrying out an exciting new plan for it to become the leadership development and training center for the PMA’s Matthew 25 vision. However, the inability to host guests during the pandemic interrupted that plan.

In June 2020, 40 SPC staff members were permanently laid off in response to the initial impact of COVID-19, especially in the New York area. The remaining 10 staff members, including the Ufford-Chases, will now be leaving SPC.

“As we think of all who have been impacted by the ministry of Stony Point Center, we are convinced that God has been and continues to be at work in this place,” said the Ufford-Chases. “Our task is to lay this work down with the faith that another vision will emerge at Stony Point Center.”

During the discernment period, Brian Frick, associate for Camp and Retreat Ministries, will be on site to help determine a missionally and financially sustainable model with a new vision and scope, including a scaled-back operation for groups of 20 or less using only the Gilmor Sloane and Allison houses.

“Stony Point Center staff began 2020 enthusiastic about a new direction, but the pandemic has now caused the loss of livelihood for 50 staff and their families,” said Frick. “Our prayers go out to Stony Point Center staff, whose passion and dedication to radical hospitality many of us have experienced firsthand.”

Minimal programs will be offered in the limited space that the Gilmor Sloane and Allison houses safely allow. Ministry options will be explored over the next several months and recommendations will come to the PMA Board in 2021.

The pandemic has impacted churches, organizations and people around the globe. Conference centers have been particularly hard hit as these organizations have been forced to give up on face-to-face retreats for the time being.

“I don’t want to sugarcoat what is taking place. This is a time of loss at SPC for so many people in so many ways, but we trust that God’s hand is at work. And none of us are alone in our lament,” said Rick Ufford-Chase. “Ecclesiastes (3:14-15) reminds us that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nor anything taken from it.”

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