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By Mary Walton

As the 2012 Labor Day weekend drew to a close under cloudy skies, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association reported a somewhat gloomy financial picture at its traditional season’s end review.

Operating income of $3,164,000 fell $39,000 short of operating expenses. Contributions to the choir festival, Camp Meeting week and other special events were down by $24,500 over last year. And ticket sales to the Saturday night entertainment programs experienced an especially severe drop. They totaled 20,347, compared to 27,588 in 2011, a 26 percent decline that resulted in the lowest profit margin in eleven years.

Dr. Dale Whilden, CMA president, attributed the fall off in Saturday night attendance to competition from new entertainment outlets in the surrounding area, particularly Asbury Park. The loss of revenues when Johnny Mathis cancelled his August 11 appearance was another factor. Whilden added, “And the economy has got to be a part of this.”

On the bright side, as of Aug. 20 beach revenues had outpaced expenses $928,000 to $760,000. Beach profits, however, cannot be used to defray operating losses.

More than 100 people attended the meeting, which was held this year in the Youth Temple rather than its customary venue, the Bishop Janes Tabernacle. In another change from past years, the meeting was closed to the media.

“This meeting is targeted for supporters,” Ralph del Campo, interim chief operating officer, told this Blogfinger reporter before the meeting began. I was invited to sit in, but told not to report. He explained that people were under the false impression that the CMA was a public entity, which has not been the case since it was a municipality running Ocean Grove, a role now occupied by Neptune Township. He noted that as a religious organization the CMA is not obligated to make its sessions public. There was no explanation for why the change was suddenly enacted. In fact, Blogfinger has covered the meeting in past years. “We’re not trying to hide anything,” Whilden chimed in.

The change in policy was not announced during the meeting, and Bonnie Graham, a reporter for the Coaster, took notes throughout. Graham was unaware of the no-reporting rule until I made an issue of it during the questions and comments session that concluded the meeting. I asked that the CMA reconsider its policy in the interest of openness. Graham also objected to the rule against media reporting, and afterward said she was shocked and mystified. Trustees apparently were not aware of the decision either. “What’s that all about?” one asked me.

On another subject, Joan Caputo spoke for Ocean Grove United, a gay advocacy organization that has often been at odds with the CMA, most recently over the appearance of actor and evangelist Kirk Cameron, the author of harsh anti-gay remarks. After an OGU protest, Whilden and other CMA officials met with a group from the organization to hear their concerns. Caputo thanked them for having “in many ways opened their hearts and taken the time to meet with us, to listen and to share. Let the dialogue continue.” She made her remarks available to Blogfinger.

CMA Trustee Douglas E. Arpert responded to a questioner who asked the status of the North End development of condos, homes and a hotel. The CMA and a company called WAVE (Wesley Atlantic Village Enterprises) are co-developers. Arpert told Blogfinger they hope to conclude a redevelopment agreement with Neptune Township by the end of the year and to break ground in 2013.

After the meeting Del Campo and Whilden sat down with me to review the information that had been presented at the meeting, so that it could be included in this article.

In addition to financial news, they said that the search for a chief operating officer is nearing its conclusion. After an initial round of searching last year failed to produce a suitable candidate, the search was widened in the spring. The search committee received more than 30 resumes, and has narrowed the field to three, all men. The committee will conduct interviews in September and expects to name the new officer by year’s end.

In other statistics of interest, the most popular speakers this summer were Ravi Zakarias, who drew 2,900 Sunday morning worshippers this past Sunday, followed by Kirk Cameron, 2,300, and Tony Campolo, 2,058.

Neil Sedaka attracted the largest Saturday night crowd, 2,722, followed by Diana Krall, 2,470, and Michael W. Smith, 2,316.

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