One more George Bass story

When I was on the Mountain T.O.P. board of directors, they used to have a program in the youth ministry called “roundtables.” On Wednesday night of a Youth Summer Missions event, a board member would come into camp, eat dinner with the campers, hand out a few awards for churches and adult leaders for attendance landmarks, and then have an after-dinner meeting with the adults who’d brought their youth to camp.

Ideally, this meeting was a chance for the adults to give feedback and suggestions, and for the board member to share information about Mountain T.O.P.’s college and adult ministries, which were not as well known as YSM, and about any fundraising campaigns we had underway. The board member would also be welcome to stick around for sharing and worship, after the roundtable, and I always did.

I loved doing roundtables. Since I’d been introduced to Mountain T.O.P. through its adult ministry, the roundtables were my only direct exposure to YSM, and they gave me a chance to see the ministry’s biggest and best-known program first-hand. It was also fun to hand out the awards to churches and adults.

What was not fun was when the roundtable turned into a gripe session, as happened every now and then.

Today, Mountain T.O.P. holds all of its camp events at the ministry’s two owned and operated camps — Cumberland Pines and Baker Mountain. But when I was on the board, the ministry rented a variety of camp facilities across the Cumberland Plateau. Some camps would be rented for nearly the whole summer, while others would be rented for only a week or two. The use of rental camps meant we weren’t always in control of the surroundings. One such facility was Camp Woodlee, a 4H camp near McMinnville. One year, after a particularly rough winter, the camp was in very poor shape, and while Mountain T.O.P. tried to fix some of the problems before camp week there was only so much that could be done in the short time we had access to the camp. The camp staff (college-age employees working for the summer) had already been getting complaints about the facility.

I was scheduled to do the roundtable at Woodlee that first week of the summer. I got a call that morning from the Mountain T.O.P. office bringing me up to speed on the situation. Normally, board members did roundtables on their own, but in this case, the plan was that George would meet me at camp right after dinner. He, as executive director, would open the roundtable by spending five minutes acknowledging and apologizing for the facility problems before the adults even had a chance to bring them up, then he would slip out and I would conduct the rest of the roundtable by myself, as normal.

It didn’t quite work out that way. George’s acknowledgement of the problems was not sufficient to placate these adults; it only seemed to make them angrier. They spent the next hour and a half (twice the scheduled time for the roundtable) reading the two of us the Riot Act about everything that was wrong with the facility.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget that evening.

I’m sometimes wistful that Mountain T.O.P. is no longer involved in some of the counties it used to serve through those rental camps. But a combination of facility issues and rising rental costs led the ministry to decide that it would only use its own camps. That’s worked out well. The one time that First UMC sent a group to Mountain T.O.P., they were sent to Camp Glancy, which was another of our rougher rental camps, and while they had a great experience that year I think they also felt that the facilities weren’t worth the camper fee. Today, Mountain T.O.P. can ensure that all campers have appropriate facilities, and there have been a lot of upgrades and improvements made to Cumberland Pines over the past decade.