On Wednesday, fellow blogger and now retired Georgia Baptist pastor William Thornton (SBC Plodder), posted an article entitled “Lifeway, Glorieta Conference Center and old fashioned money pits.” I appreciate William’s interest in the future of Glorieta. He ended his post with this request:
I’d ask any of my west-of-the-Mississippi readers what they think of the whole, sad, Glorieta thing.
Without further ado, I am pleased to help William and other Southern Baptists understand what some of us out west think about the “whole, sad, Glorieta thing.” At the outset, let me be clear. I write this post as an individual New Mexico Baptist pastor. Since being in New Mexico for the last five years, I have come to prefer calling myself a New Mexico Baptist, even more so than a Southern Baptist. The views expressed in this post are mine and mine alone. They do not represent the views of the BCNM, its Executive Board, nor its Executive Director, Dr. Joe Bunce. I have not discussed this post with any official or pastor associated with the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. I, and I alone, am fully responsible for the contents of this post. My thoughts are based upon my personal experiences, my own observations, and the public record, including what has been public within the BCNM and what has now been publicly reported in Baptist Press, the Baptist New Mexican, and other news outlets. So, here goes.
Lifeway’s leaders — past and present — should be ashamed. Ashamed of what has become of “Lifeway’s” Glorieta Conference Center, located just east of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Ashamed of how they have squandered a gift that was given to them by New Mexico Baptists over 60 years ago. Ashamed that they have been such poor stewards who have failed to invest the financial resources needed to keep Glorieta’s infrastructure in good shape, which, no doubt, has contributed to its massive unprofitability. Ashamed that they “generously” offered to sell Glorieta back to New Mexico Baptists for $1 when they knew good and well that the real cost to the churches of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico would be in the neighborhood of $10-15 million. Ashamed that they would think of selling Southern Baptists’ western conference center to a non-Southern Baptist university. (Lifeway may own Glorieta, but it was given to Southern Baptists for Southern Baptists. It was not given to a corporation n/k/a Lifeway Christian Resources.)
This “whole, sad, Glorieta thing” began in earnest last Fall when Lifeway’s Board of Trustees — who are supposed to represent Southern Baptists — decided to
liquidate sell the western conference center. To excuse their apparent lack of oversight and poor stewardship over Glorieta, Lifeway’s leaders “cited changes in church practices, rising costs and a volatile economy in noting that Glorieta had achieved financial break-even only once in the last 25 years.” (here) Really? If that is the case, then when will Ridgecrest Conference Center be on the chopping block? That’s what I thought. It won’t be because these supposed changes — at least from this pastor’s perspective — are, in the vernacular, nothing more than “just blowing smoke.” Let me explain.
When I lived back east, my family and I would attend various conferences at Ridgecrest. It was closer to both Florida and Virginia where we served prior to moving out west. However, even while at Ridgecrest, we would often dream about one day going to a conference out at Glorieta. (We never dreamed that we would one day live in New Mexico.) After moving to the Land of Enchantment five years ago, I had the chance to see that dream come true. While the reality on the ground at Glorieta was not necessarily a nightmare, it was far from ideal. You see, the best accommodations at Glorieta are comparable to some of the worst at Ridgecrest. What Glorieta describes as “deluxe” would be akin to staying in an older, out-of-the-way Motel 6 (no offense to Motel 6). It was obvious from the first time I set foot on Glorieta’s beautiful campus, located in the mountains just east of Santa Fe, that Glorieta was no Ridgecrest. Not even close.
Now I know why. Because apparently Lifeway’s leaders — both past and present — have not invested in the infrastructure at Glorieta in the same way that they have invested in the infrastructure at Ridgecrest. Because of this poor stewardship, which seems to reflect the belief that Baptists in the west are really not that important, Glorieta is in such poor shape that it would cost far more than $1 to get back to where it needs to be to be viable to operate as a conference center. Lifeway has absolutely no intention of investing in Glorieta. Nor do they want to offer basic protections to the churches of the BCNM which would protect us from Lifeway’s pathetic stewardship of this once great facility.
As the Executive Board member who made the motion this past January to authorize a Glorieta Task Force to study the future viability of Glorieta, I am particularly saddened by Lifeway’s approach to the sale of this property. Please understand that New Mexico Baptists would have done everything reasonably possible to ensure that Glorieta remained a viable and treasured resource for ALL Southern Baptists. However, when Lifeway chose not to indemnify the BCNM for liablilty and environmental issues arising from Lifeway’s apparent neglect of Glorieta over the last 25 years (which may explain their lack of profits), the BCNM had no choice but to end negotiations. Lamar Morin, the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the BCNM, issued this statement on behalf of the Task Force:
“The BCNM Glorieta Task Force believed that any prudent business plan would include an environmental study and indemnification by LifeWay for any environmental problems that might be discovered. LifeWay would also need to indemnify the BCNM for the litigation it might incur as a result of assuming ownership of the property and not because of any action taken by the BCNM. Based on its inspection of the property, the task force determined that a viable business plan needed to include deferred maintenance of $10 million to $20 million. Accordingly, the task force advised LifeWay that it could not proceed further with the acquisition unless LifeWay agreed to indemnify BCNM for any environmental liability and litigation liability. LifeWay advised BCNM that it could not indemnify BCNM as requested, and as a result the task force could not proceed any further.” (full report here and Baptist New Mexican article here)
For all the bluster from certain SBC leaders about “helping the west,” what has happened with Glorieta is but another example of the empty rhetoric that many of our entities are employing with sweet abandon. Actions do speak louder than words and, in the case of Glorieta, the actions — both recent and in the past — taken by Lifeway have been similar to those taken by another SBC entity which I will not name. If this is how those back east want to “help the west,” I sure would hate to see what they would do if they wanted to harm the west.
It is a crying shame that Lifeway has allowed Glorieta to get to this point. There are many Southern Baptists — north, south, east, and west — who have been impacted by the Lord through the ministry at Glorieta. Perhaps the Task Force’s statement spoke for many when it stated:
“The Baptist Convention of New Mexico Glorieta Task Force is keenly aware of the deep love and devotion that New Mexico Baptists and Southern Baptists around the world have for the Glorieta Conference Center. Our hearts are sympathetic to the many letters, phone calls and emails that we have received.”
Too bad the folks at Lifeway Christian Resources (formerly known as the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention) don’t seem to harbor that same kind of deep love and devotion for the Glorieta Conference Center. If they did, we wouldn’t be talking about this “whole, sad, Glorieta thing.” At least that’s what this New Mexico Baptist pastor thinks.