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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Camp St Christopher Remarks

The mouth of the North Edisto River is bounded on the north by Seabrook Island and on the
south by Botany Bay Island, and right in the middle is Deveaux Bank. The biological diversity of
this area, with bird and turtle rookeries in summer, is absolutely enthralling. At the water’s edge
on Seabrook Island is Camp St Christopher. The facility is owned by the South Carolina Diocese
of the Episcopal Church and serves both Church and secular clients, providing housing and
dining services to visiting groups. In addition, the Camp is host to a Barrier Reef environmental
education program that reaches several thousand school children each year.

The national Sierra Club rented space at Camp St Christopher earlier this year for staff
meetings. The South Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club has also rented the facility for events
in years past. As noted above, the location is fabulous and services provided have always been
exemplary.

Recently, the relationship between the Sierra Club and Camp St Christopher came to an end, as
was reviewed in the Faith and Values and Editorial sections of the Post and Courier. The issue
arose because of positions regarding same-sex marriage. The national Episcopal Church and
the South Carolina Diocese have differences on this issue, with the Diocese (owners of Camp
St Christopher) taking the position of not recognizing same-sex marriages. The national Sierra
Club has a policy of non-discrimination towards same-sex marriage. Given these differences, the
national Sierra Club elected to inform Camp St Christopher that as long as their policy remains
in force, the Club will not make further use of the facility.

The local Sierra Club affiliate, the Robert Lunz Group (representing Berkeley, Charleston,
Colleton and Dorchester counties) was not consulted on this issue and did not have any input into
this decision to cease patronizing Camp St Christopher. The decision to take this course of action
was completely “top-down.”

The Robert Lunz Group does not have the financial resources to book Camp St Christopher,
and the South Carolina Chapter only does so rarely, so the main Sierra Club users of Camp St
Christopher were national staff members. The national Sierra Club has many constituencies, and
balancing potentially disparate needs can be complicated.

The Robert Lunz Group (we are members of the Sierra Club; some of our members are
Episcopalians; some probably identify as LGBT) gets caught in the middle and has no input in
either direction for decisions made.

The country is coming to grips with a host of environmental issues, from climate change to
fracking to maintaining air and water quality standards. Locally we face a number of issues,
including sea level rise, the possible extension of I-526, funding for the SC Conservation Bank,
nuclear waste disposal, bicycle safety, and alternate public transportation. The Lunz Group
has only volunteer staff and a limited budget. We oppose or support public policy through our
activist volunteers and general membership. The symbolic decision to withdraw our patronage
of Camp St Christopher will have little economic impact on the SC Diocese of the Episcopal
Church and spends political capital that we are short of here in South Carolina. Whether taking the stance against the Diocese has significant repercussions in membership or fundraising
remains to be seen. In the meantime, we remain committed to the Sierra Club mission: To enjoy,
explore, and protect the wild places of the Earth.

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