Summer spaces at Fort Caswell Baptist Assembly are too rare and precious to leave half of them unfilled during any given week, so a specially designated “music week” will no longer be held there, according to Baptist State Convention (BSC) Executive Leader for Business Services John Butler.
Butler and the Business Services Committee reported to the BSC Executive Committee June 16 that a two-year effort to fill a mid-summer music week at Caswell, the popular beachfront assembly on Oak Island, had fallen significantly short. The result is that music week will have to be at the beginning or end of the summer if it is to be held at Caswell. Those two weeks typically have a smaller registration.
“It’s not a business decision, but a ministry decision,” Butler said after the meeting.
Caswell has an effective capacity of 1,000 to 1,100, limited by seating in Hatch Auditorium, although there are sleeping quarters for closer to 1,150. Music week registration this July was 512.
“To take a prime week of summer and operate at half capacity is not good stewardship of the resource,” said Butler, who fields the calls and letters from churches “berating” the Convention for not finding a place for their youth in the summer.
With a waiting list of such churches, Butler said it is not feasible to operate a specialty camp that does not utilize more of the facility’s capacity.
Reaction from music ministers who feel devalued has been swift.
Brian Childers, minister of music at First Baptist Church, Mount Holly, wrote BSC leaders to express his dismay. “Anyone who claims it is ‘just’ about music has obviously not personally experienced the power of music week at Caswell,” he said.
“This decision speaks loudly and clearly states that those of us who give of ourselves in worship leadership in the local church are no longer vital to or valued by N.C. Baptists. This is indeed an unfortunate situation which I believe will have much deeper and far-reaching implications than simply providing an additional week for other programs during the busy summer months.”
Childers’ daughter Hannah also wrote state staff and said music week “is too good of a thing to take away and I can’t believe it has come to an end.”
Sylvia Sutter, minister of music at Rock Creek Baptist Church in Nashville, said she was just “very, very sad” for the exclusion of music week from Caswell summers.
“A music week can be held someplace else,” she said. “My sadness is it cannot be held in a place as special as Caswell and that belongs to us.”
She said music week is the only week in which children, youth, college and adults are studying, learning, playing and worshiping together.
An additional and related issue for music ministers is that no successor has been hired for worship and music ministries consultant Dan Ridley, who retired in November 2008, a delay Sutter finds “appalling,” and compounds the sense among them of being devalued.
Lynn Sasser, executive leader for congregational services, said an active search has been underway since Ridley retired. He expressed his own frustration at the length of time such searches take.
Tony Spencer, minister of music at First Baptist Church, Forest City for 28 years was more pragmatic about the venue. He said, “Caswell doesn’t own our faith, nor is it large enough to hold our faith.”
He said there are other places music week can be held because it is not the place, but the activity of music week that is important.
Spencer, a former BSC Executive Committee member, felt the call of God to music ministry in 1971 while attending Caswell and has been going to music week nearly three decades.
A big issue for all summer camps is the changing and expanding school year. The typical 10-11 weeks of summer of 15 years ago has shrunk to eight. The first and last weeks are typically smaller because of school schedules. They are not attractive for music camp because churches conduct their mission choir tours early, and college music professors who comprise much of the faculty are not available in August.
Butler said he understands the pain for musicians who love music week at Caswell, but said, they had two years to rally attendance this year, knowing its continuation hung in the balance, and registration was 512.
“They just can’t justify a middle week with the numbers,” he said. An allocation to support music week remains in the budget, but “if they must keep it in the middle of summer they’ll have to look at a different venue,” he said.
While Butler said the decision is more ministry than business related, he said keeping Caswell filled to capacity in the summer enables rates to be held low for other ministry events there throughout the year.