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Questions & Answers: The Centre at Naramata

This page is intended to be a resource to inform those interested in the Centre at Naramata regarding the announcement by the society to cease operations. BC Conference aims to keep this page up to date. Please send questions and requests for action to BC Conference via email or via mail (4383 Rumble St, Burnaby, BC V5J 2A2) addressed to Doug Goodwin.

This page was last updated: April 9, 2015

Q: What has happened?

A: The Centre at Naramata has ceased to operate, as announced in the notice issued January 21, 2015 by the Naramata Centre Board. No programs will be held; no groups will be able to be hosted.

As issued in this notice on April 7, the Board and CUPE, Local 608 (Narmata Centre Unit), reached a mutually acceptable resolution to the ongoing labour dispute between the Centre and the Union. This resolution brings an end to the Strike Action and resolves outstanding issues relating to the closure of the Centre at Naramata.

Q: Has the Board of the Centre at Naramata made any public statements?

A: In addition to the initial notice, the Board created an initial Q&A document and has since issued this update and published its own Questions & Answers here. Announcement about resolution with the unioin can be read here.

Q: How did it come to this?

A: This came about from the systemic challenge of the last ten years trying to make enough income to cover expenses. There is no doubt that the demise of the Centre is part of a much larger trend that has seen almost every church institution these days share this struggle to survive. Congregations, camps, schools and other ministries are all facing situations and troubles that they had not a generation ago. Recently, the United Church’s Calling Lakes Centre in Saskatchewan was closed; and Five Oaks in Ontario is hoping a redevelopment project will enable it to remain open.

While we all hope and plan as far as possible for the survival of these important ministries, we also know that not all will be able to continue. We are in a post-Christendom culture and, while it hurts to see our treasured institutions fade and sometimes fail, we all know that it is also part of our present time.

There is no suspicion of mismanagement or ulterior motives. We know that the Board and management operated faithfully, honestly and legally in the best interests of the Centre.

No one who has worked with the Centre over the years blames the unionized staff for the closure of the Centre. The troubles that faced the Centre were far deeper, more historic, and more complex than labour relationships.

Most of the Naramata Centre buildings are aging, and the costs of running a hospitable place of learning are high. In an effort to upgrade and improve its offerings, the Centre incurred significant debt which neither fundraising nor operational income was able to overcome. Even if debt could be paid off, there was no business model that seemed able to start making the Centre sustainable.

In terms of figures, there are three important numbers to help understand why the Board decided that the Centre was not financially sustainable:

  1. There was an annual operating deficit of $200,000 to $250,000; all reserve funds that kept the Centre afloat were exhausted.
  2. The Centre is in debt $2.6 million.
  3. The facilities (buildings) and infrastructure (sewer etc.) on the property need approximately $10 million over a fairly short period to bring up to an acceptable level.

Q: But what about the $500,000 that was raised to move forward? Was it not enough? Why not? Will the money be returned?

A: The wonderful success of the Crossroads fundraising campaign highlighted the great support the Centre has. Once the money was received, though, the Board had time to do a more thorough analysis of the problems faced by the Centre and possible strategies to overcome them. It decided that, despite the new funds, a sustainable plan was not forthcoming. At that point it was decided to cease operations before the new money had to be spent. Those who donated money will be contacted to see if they would like their donation returned or, instead, whether it would be left for the Naramata Centre Society’s use in the months ahead. 

Q: Are the staff out of work? How will this affect the union strike?

A: Unionized staff have been provided with notice and severance in accordance with Employment Standards requirements and the recently negotiated agreement. No unionized staff are now working at the Centre. The Board is working with remaining management staff to ensure the Centre property is safe over the next short time.

Q: Why was the Centre originally created?

A: The Centre opened in 1952 with the intention to educate lay leadership within the United Church in British Columbia and Alberta. It is managed, operated and its property held by an incorporated society, The Naramata Centre Society.

Q: When, why and how did BC Conference get involved in the Centre?

A: The Centre at Naramata was started by members of BC Conference but from the start had a life of its own. Many of the ‘owners’ served by the Centre were from BC Conference, although likely half also came from Alberta and Northwest Conference. There were many shared projects over the years and a shared vision of the work before the church.

BC Conference made a large contribution to the capital campaign that helped build the new Orchard Court buildings. In late 2013, when the bank indicated it was planning to recall its loan to the Centre, BC Conference loaned the Centre $2.6 million so it could pay off all of its indebtedness and provide enough extra money to remain open for another year. The hope was that it could inaugurate a new, sustainable business plan. 

Q: Who owns the property?

A: Unlike congregations where decisions are made by a governing board and property is held by trustees, the case for societies is usually that the property is held and managed by the governing board. This is the case at Naramata Centre. There is no separate Trustee Board. The property is held by the society and its board. If the society disbands, the property reverts to The United Church of Canada.

Q: What’s next for the Centre? Will the property be sold? What will happen to the buildings and the land?

A: No plans are yet in place for selling the property or disposing of the property. In the months ahead this will have to be determined. We will keep you in touch as decisions are made.

Q: What happens to the $2.6 million loan by BC Conference?

A: BC Conference anticipates that it will recover its loan in the future from income from the property, either through sale, lease or some other arrangement. 

Q: Where will all the groups go who use the Centre?

A: Groups presently using the Centre will have to find other places in order to fulfill their goals. 

Q: How will the work of the Centre (educating/training lay leaders) continue?

A: BC Conference is committed to the education of lay and ministry people. The Naramata Centre was a valuable and ground-breaking partner in this work for decades but we anticipate other partnerships and arrangements will be made as we move forward.

Q: Where can I ask questions and get further information?

A: We know that the questions and answers above are only a few of the ones already in your mind. We are anticipating that this webpage will be able to provide updates and information as things unfold. These are early days. Answers are few to the questions that we already know, and we know new questions will emerge almost daily. 

Please send questions and calls for action to BC Conference either by e-mail (reception@bc.united-church.ca) or by mail: c/o Doug Goodwin, 4383 Rumble Street, Burnaby, BC V5J 2A2.

Q: Where can I express myself on this topic, where decision-makers will hear me?

A: Recently, Facebook groups have been initiated by concerned owners. You may wish to join one or all of the following groups:

Please note: Although representatives of BC Conference are members of these Facebook groups, BC Conference will not respond to comments made there, due to the irregularities and inconsistencies of Facebook's algorithms and notification system. Please send all comments and calls for action to the BC Conference office via email or mail.

Q: How can I support the future of the Centre?

A: At the present time there is little that the Centre supporters can do but offer prayer for all those affected by this recent decision. And that will be important to do. As information is requested and shared, we will better understand what support is required.

Q: Can I visit the space still? Can I say goodbye to it?

A: As long as the Society owns the property, people can walk the site including visiting the beach and the labyrinth. However, the office, bookstore and all buildings, including the chapel, are closed and cannot be accessed. According to the Q&A document issued by the society, the Centre is planning a Closing Celebration for the near future. Standby for details.