NM Baptists, Glorieta, & Lifeway’s Shame

Holcomb Auditorium at Glorieta

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.

17 comments for “NM Baptists, Glorieta, & Lifeway’s Shame

  1. William Thornton
    July 26, 2012 at 5:39 PM

    Thanks for your opinion on this, Howell. Did the BCNM have some study document on this? Did LifeWay provide data?

    The argument that Glorieta would be profitable if LifeWay had poured the tens of millions into it is a little soft. The national conference center model is gone, I’ve seen that first hand. And if LifeWay had to choose one to keep, well…

    Anyway, I’d love to see some data. Just how unprofitable for 24 of 25 years?

    I think it a bad business decision for LW to assume open ended liability.

    Thanks again.

    • July 26, 2012 at 6:03 PM

      William,

      Unfortunately, I am not privy to the information and data that you have asked about. Our Study Committee was bound by a confidentiality agreement, which they have honored. Based upon what they have been able to publicly report to our Executive Board, I completely trust what the members of our TF did, including asking for indemnification due to potential liability arising from deferred maintenance and certain environmental issues. Let’s just say that my trust in some of our entities, based upon what is happening on the ground in NM and other western states, is less than strong. With one particular entity (which you can probably guess), I have next-to-no trust (again, not based on their policies — which I disagree with — but based upon how they have implemented said policies) in how they interact with our state.

      This was not “open-ended” request for Lifeway to assume liability as you suggest, but rather an attempt to protect the churches of the BCNM from what could have been untold financial catastrophe. I think it would be bad business for any potential buyer to not secure indemnification under these circumstances. You are right, however, about Lifeway’s bad business. It was bad business on the part of Lifeway leadership and trustees in the last 25 years to allow only one of those years to be profitable. At what point would someone have said that changes need to either be made to see if Glorieta could become profitable or, in the alternative, to sell Glorieta before it got in such as state of disrepair and neglect that it would now take $10-15 million to make it viable. If Olivet University does not ask for some type of indemnification, that would raise red flags as to not only their intentions, but also what is happening behind the scenes that we may not be aware of.

      You maybe right about the national conference center model being gone, but it is obvious that Lifeway has not invested in the upkeep and modernization of Glorieta in the same way as they have at Ridgecrest. My argument about Lifeway investing more money into Glorieta maybe soft as well. However, what is indisputable is that Lifeway has made poor choices over the last 25 years in regards to Glorieta. It is, as you describe it, the “whole, sad, Glorieta thing.” Sad indeed. Thanks again for your post on this. God bless,

      Howell

      • William Thornton
        July 27, 2012 at 4:42 AM

        Why all the confidentiality business on this? If the property has some issues, for LifeWay not to reveal them to a prospective buyer, any prospective buyer, would be unethical and probably actionable. While I suppose that LifeWay’s financial information might be considered proprietary, I don’t see why interested SBCers should be denied such.

        The BCNM person mentioned “deferred maintenance of $10 million to $20 million” a sum with such a spread as to be considered open ended.

        And, what exactly is the arrangement with privately owned structures, land leases or whatever, on the property?

        While I acknowledge that BCNM folks may be passionate, I am merely curious about this issue, but what I hate to see is everyone doing their talking behind closed doors and telling SBCers at large that all this is confidential.

        • July 27, 2012 at 10:07 AM

          William,

          I’m not sure why the confidentiality agreement, but was from Lifeway, not the BCNM. I think you are correct when you say that any interested SBCer should be able to see the financial information. I think that many public corporations have more transparency and openness than our SBC entities, including Lifeway. As to the $10-20 million in deferred maintenance, I think that the Task Force would have been able to get a more accurate handle on that number if we would have moved forward. Unfortunately, when Lifeway refused to indemnify us for potential liability, that stopped the process. I will say from what I know from public sources, there was at least one and possibly two abandoned gas stations on the property. Most likely that would mean that there were underground fuel storage tanks. With today’s strict environmental laws, this in and of itself would pose a potential problem for any future owner of Glorieta. I’m quite certain that Lifeway would have known that. Any potential buyer, including Olivet University, should ask for some type of protection or indemnification for such potentialities. If Olivet does not ask for these and they end up buying Glorieta, someone should ask the question, “Why didn’t they ask for this?” It would raise red flags. I believe that there is more to this Olivet story than is being reported. As I shared with Anonymous above, “follow the money.”

          The arrangements with the privately owned structures was another hurdle. The owners of Glorieta provide water and sewage for not just the conference center, but for all of the private residents on Glorieta property. Again, this would be an undertaking much more expensive than $1. New Mexico Baptists, as I have come to appreciate, are passionate about Glorieta because NM Baptists were the ones who bought the property and then gave it to the SBC. There maybe valid reasons for Glorieta’s non-profitablility (as you and Jeff have argued), but I do believe that Lifeway’s leadership — past and present — bears a great deal of responsibility for their poor stewarship which has caused them to squander such a precious gift. Thanks again for your interest. I’ll keep you and my other readers informed as we know more about what will happen to Glorieta. Thanks and God bless,

          Howell

  2. Jeff
    July 26, 2012 at 6:28 PM

    Why has Glorieta declined? Some reasons:

    (1) I think Glorieta was always in a bad location (despite the scenery of the mountains and sightseeing and shopping in Santa Fe). Ridgecrest is in the heart of Southern Baptist territory, while Glorieta is out beyond the western edge of traditional SBC territory. As gasoline prices have gone up, Glorieta has become too far of a drive.

    (2) The weeks for adults and pastors have suffered from too much competition from all sorts of conferences that appeal to theological or methodological niches, like church growth pragmatism or Calvinism.

    (3) Many youth groups prefer a beach retreat or a mission trip over the traditional camp. College Week couldn’t compete with Passion.

    (4) The Baptist General Convention of Texas is the nearest big state convention, and its leadership has been hostile to the SBC.

    Is the poor maintenance a CAUSE or a RESULT of the decline of the Glorieta?

    • July 26, 2012 at 7:15 PM

      Jeff,

      Thanks for the interaction. Let me try to answer — from my personal perspective — each of your points in turn. At the outset, let me say that you maybe right about each one of these. Assuming for the sake of argument that you are, these four reasons would mitigate Lifeway’s poor stewardship of Glorieta, but it would not excuse it.

      1. What does it mean for Glorieta to be in a bad location? Does that mean in relation to where the majority of Southern Baptists live? If so, who could argue with that. However, Glorieta is within an easy day’s drive of a large segment of Southern Baptists in such states as NM, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, Utah, Wyoming, Kansas, and Texas (more on them in a minute) to name but a few. I thought we were supposed to be a national convention not limited solely to the south. If gasoline prices are the reason for people not wanting to drive to Glorieta, the same argument can be made about Ridgecrest. Most Southern Baptists are a day’s drive from the eastern conference center.

      2. You are right that there are more choices for pastors, ministers, and others in terms of conferences. However, people will spend money to go to conferences that are worthwhile. I can tell you that in the last five years, Lifeway has scaled back its offerings at Glorieta. If you don’t offer the conferences, why should people come? If your best lodging is similar to the worst at Ridgecrest, that’s not very appealing. Even the beautiful surroundings don’t make up for sub-standard accommodations.

      3. It maybe true that many youth groups prefer the beach, but the Centrifuge camps and our state youth evangelism conference (Lives Ablaze) continued to draw students. It’s not just about the students, but also about adults (see #2).

      4. While Glorieta may have lost some TX churches because of the hostility (it actually goes both ways), Lifeway has had over a decade (if not longer) to implement business changes that would take this into account. As I shared with William above, someone in leadership (officials or trustees) should have asked questions when 24 out of 25 of the last years Glorieta did not show a profit or at least break even. What business or corporation (which is what we keep hearing from our friends at Lifeway that they are because they take no CP funds) makes no changes after 5 years of no profits? 10 years? 14 out of 15? 20 out of 21? Trustees should be held accountable, but they will not be.

      You might be able to make a valid argument that Glorieta’s decline in the last few years was the cause of poor maintenance. However, I would submit that this would be a harder argument to make over the course of 25 years. Of course, perhaps the leaders of the SBC — post CR — really did not have much use for Glorieta. It’s obvious that the current leaders don’t have much use for it. If they did, they would not have let it get in such shape over the last 25 years. Not sure that answers your question, but I think the decline of Glorieta has as much to do the Lifeway’s leadership (past and present) than any of the four reasons that you posited. Thanks for sharing your perspective. God bless,

      Howell

  3. Anonymous
    July 26, 2012 at 8:52 PM

    I thought you should dig a little deeper and read this recent article that came out in the Tennesean and was picked up by USA Today. Here is the link…

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/story/2012-07-16/lifeway-land-deal/56256458/1

    Also, it is my understanding that Glorieta Conference Center has families who actually live on campus full time and have bought their homes but lease the land from Lifeway. All of the churches and people who own homes out at Glorieta may lose all of the equity that they have invested in their properties, depending on the decisions that will be made by Life Way. If there are environmental hazards, then those people have the right to know what is going on and if the property sells then they should be paid for the investments thay have made.

    • July 26, 2012 at 9:14 PM

      Anonymous,

      Thanks for the link. When all of this broke a week ago Monday, I was sitting in the Executive Board meeting of the BCNM. As a former attorney, I was naturally inquisitive about how all of this happened to be going public, particularly the Olivet angle. As the BCNM Glorieta Task Force was bound by a confidentiality agreement with Lifeway, it would appear that the Tennesean had information that could have only come from Olivet officials, Lifeway officials or both. This appears to have been confidential information that the BCNM Task Force was prevented from sharing. What struck me as of immediate interest was the money trail. I told folks last week that we need to follow the money. Who is Olivet? A Presbyterian school. What is their theology? What are so many Southern Baptists leaders affiliated with Olivet through the Christian Post or as advisers? Where is Olivet getting the money to buy Glorieta? Why are their financial records so inconsistent? Why would any potential buyer not ask what the BCNM did, which is for Lifeway to indemnify New Mexico Baptists for a whole host of potential problems that were the direct result of Lifewya’s poor stewardship and neglect of this property? If Olivet doesn’t require these kind of assurances, why not? The questions could go on, but you get the point. You are right about residents at Glorieta, including private homeowners and churches who have built homes and cabins on the property. That was one area of concern for the BCNM. For Lifeway to try to spin it that New Mexico Baptists turned down their “generous” offer to buy Glorieta for $1 is disingenuous at best.

      I appreciate your encouragement to dig a little deeper. While I am not privy to what the Task Force knows, my experience and observations would lead me to believe there is much more than meets the eye with the sale of Glorieta to Olivet. It is interesting that Lifeway had apparently already entered into some type of temporary arrangement with Olivet to use the property before negotiations with the BCNM had been halted. I’m not sure if the Task Force was aware of this, but New Mexico Baptists were not. That is another line of questioning. I hope that Lifeway is not taking actions that could come back to bite them, but my trust level for some of our entities and their leaders is very low at this point, based upon their dealings with our state (and other states in the west). Thanks again and God bless,

      Howell

  4. Sad mom
    July 27, 2012 at 11:10 PM

    My son is attending Glorieta for the first and last time during college week this year. He is so excited to attend. Both my husband and I attended as college students 30 years ago. It’s very sad to see what is happening to the conference center. However, it seems to fit with what is happening nation wide with Baptists. We simply do not know how to treat each other and take care of what God has blessed us with. What will be our legacy? What will be there 30 years from now?

    • July 27, 2012 at 11:18 PM

      Sad Mom,

      I appreciate you taking the time to share about your son attending college week and you and your husband’s experiences 30 years ago. I think you are right about what is happening with Baptists nationwide. Instead of cooperating together on mission, we are pulling further and further apart. I truly believe that many in SBC leadership do not have the experiences that you have had (and your son is having). They do not see Glorieta as a precious gift and a valuable resource. We have become a corporate, mega-church influenced convention which has lost sight of many principles that make us who we are as Southern Baptists. If the ship does not turn soon, then I don’t think it will take 30 years for us to morph into something that most lifelong Southern Baptists would not recognize. I thank God that He has allowed me to pastor in New Mexico. I have such a love and respect for the churches of this state and what they were able to give to the SBC so many years ago in terms of Glorieta. It is sad indeed that Lifway has squandered such a place that has been an inspiration to so many generations. Thanks again for stopping by and God bless,

      Howell

  5. Bennett Willis
    August 16, 2012 at 12:21 PM
    • August 16, 2012 at 5:22 PM

      Bennett,

      Thanks for the link. I started reading the article and it looks very interesting. I may have to write a follow-up post on Glorieta as we learn more about Olivet. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

      • October 16, 2012 at 5:44 PM

        Howell,
        I read this post for the first time today from the link in your more recent post. I thought I would give you a heads up that there is a follow up article at Christianity Today that is linked at the end of the article referenced above. After reading these two articles, I find myself very puzzled as to how any of the SBC guys who have been affiliated with Olivet U or the Jang “ministries” can continue to do so. I hope and pray that the Glorieta conference center doesn’t fall into the hands of Olivet U.

  6. Baptist Guy
    July 5, 2013 at 10:34 PM

    What about all the homeowners there that have invested millions of dollars only to see Lifeway pull the rug out from under them.

  7. dustin
    December 16, 2014 at 12:59 AM

    as a child i grew up going to glorieta a few times. when i was 16 i worked at the camp for a summer in 1988. i didnt like my job there as a house cleaner person for the summer at the time but as a adult have great memories of that summer. i met a lot of people there and really enjoyed it. this makes me sick to know what this place has become. i have wanted to return if only a day to walk think and remember. walk up in the flower gardens pray and thank God for this place. a few memories to share i was in line to get a coke in the main snack area open my wallet and didnt have any money the fear ran through me a man stepped up and paid as i haven’t ever had this happen to me. a stranger or just the love of God. hum… a little food for thought as a adult i like helping people in need, that stranger planted a seed. i was cleaning in the fore-your area at the chaperal yep that was my post cleaned 18 rooms everyday all summer long. a fire broke out in the forrest behind this hotel i got two fire red things ran up put it out and was digging dirt with my hands when a lot of staff showed up with shovels and we all put this fire out. a lot of pride in the staff on campus. i was told there was a plank with my name and others there who put the fire out. a lot of great things happened at this place with me and friends. im sick over this camp being gone.

  8. suzie
    January 24, 2015 at 12:30 AM

    In 1976 I stayed at Glorieta for 1week with a group of SB from Northern Utah and Southern Idaho. The campus was beautiful they were doing some construction on the conference building but it was very well maintained. I might add they were almost at capacity. Our group stayed in a house own by a church in texas, very nice house, well managed. It saddens me to read this. I always thought I might go back some day.

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