Mt. Wesley re-imagined as ‘Light on the Hill’

The campground at Mount Wesley has been renamed "Light on the Hill @ Mount Wesley" with the aim of providing community and nonprofit services from some of its facilities, in addition to continuing adult and teen spiritual retreats and conferences.

Beth Palmer, outreach coordinator at First United Methodist Church and the former Mount Wesley Methodist Encampment, is working to acquaint the community with the new aims and uses of the former youth encampment.

Palmer said more than a year ago, the Methodist administration at the Rio Texas Conference offices in San Antonio contacted Rev. David Payne, senior pastor at Kerrville FUMC, about possibilities for changes in use of the property.

The Rio Texas Conference of the UMC owns the property.

“We’ve been meeting and praying a lot about this ever since,” Palmer said. “The question from the conference was, how to continue to operate the facility to be a spiritual retreat center, but also function as a hub of hope for the community?”

Palmer said the consensus from the bishop and district superintendent on down was, it’s not economically prudent to continue to use it only as a camp/retreat center. They wanted to be able to reach out to the community.

“We are still hosting ‘Walks to Emmaus;’ and we’re still hosting spiritual retreats for pastors and other adults Thursday evenings through Sunday afternoons,” Palmer said. “We’re looking at what can happen there Sunday evenings through Thursday mornings. We’re still exploring what that will look like in the future.”

They have renamed the facility “Light on the Hill @ Mount Wesley.”

Recent changes

Palmer said in recent months and weeks, they’ve made some physical improvements to the grounds and facilities. And some community services have been moved from other offices elsewhere, including FUMC, to quarters on the campgrounds.

Under the church’s partnership with Methodist Healthcare Ministries, Wesley Nurse Teresa Standage, R.N., has moved her office to the camp’s former dining hall.

“She’s tasked with serving the uninsured and underinsured,” Palmer said.

Palmer said they’ve also started a renewed interagency group, and about 65 representatives from around the county are learning what each of the other groups or organizations does, so they can work together effectively when someone needs a “hand up.”

Palmer said this group compiled an interagency directory for its representatives to use as a reference.

Some former campers’ cabins on the grounds are reserved for lodging for UMC conference meetings, but others are available to community resources as offices.

“That’s been a good thing,” Palmer said. “The first one was Kerr-Konnect; and the second was Families & Literacy. As we’re fixing the buildings, if we’re not using the space, we can consider alternative uses.”

The old dining hall is redesigned as the “outreach center,” the new home for the FUMC’s Mustard Seed food program.

That same building’s former kitchen area has been changed to the “Treasure Chest” clothing and household goods “store” for those who need help. The former kitchen space now houses clothing racks; linens, blankets and some dishes on shelves; and counter space for warming the hot meals for clients (made in the new kitchen).

Operations Manager Tina Box, now working in the camp office, said someone donated a new washing machine and clothes dryer. With the water and electrical connections in the former dishwashing area, they will be able to offer laundry facilities to those who are in need of that.

Palmer said with the growth of programs at FUMC, the Mustard Seed Program had outgrown its closet, and she had been pushed out of her office in the youth ministry area. She now has a larger one in the outreach center, while working parts of each day at FUMC, too.

The former “lounge” for youth campers in the same dining hall building is now a community center with room for exercise and parenting classes, computers used by Families & Literacy clients; and discussions with Mustard Seed clients as needed.

The attached patio has refurbished picnic tables. The Worship Center and rock Chapel have been cleaned and repainted.

The chapel can be rented for weddings, too. It will hold up to 50 guests, but it still is not air-conditioned.

As they go forward, they are offering a monthly community worship service in the Worship Center. The next one is March 24 at 7 p.m.

They’ve posted a banner with the new name at the entrance at 610 Methodist Encampment Rd.; and Palmer said they’ve applied for 501(c)3 status under “Light on the Hill @ Mount Wesley,” to keep the heritage dating from the 1920s and add more.

For more information, call Palmer at 459-5847 (cell) or email her at; or Stand-age at; or Box at 895-5700 weekday afternoons.

Necessity for changes

Time and stricter watchfulness over adult camp supervisors/counselors have affected Mount Wesley’s operation over the years. Palmer and Box said church youth camps in the old tradition haven’t happened there for at least six years.

Palmer said the ratios of adult supervisors to child campers changed; and rules are different even between children ages 11 years or younger, and teens ages 12-17.

More adults are needed per number of smaller children, including in sleeping quarters; and cabins were not built to house those numbers.

“Vulnerable adults, persons over age 18 with physical, mental and/or developmental disabilities” are an additional category.

The mandatory “safe gatherings” rules from the church conference list a “Rule of Three,” saying the presence of two unrelated adult leaders are required at all ministry events involving “participants.” It says to follow that rule, and to have a minimum of one adult leader for every eight participants. There also are rules for “sleeping distance.”

Teens fall under a different adult-to-camper ratio; and Palmer plans to host a teen camp there in the future.

Some physical facilities don’t meet the supervisors-to-youth ratios or space in cabins; and some interior roads/walkways aren’t paved, to meet ADA standards.

Box said the grounds still include a low-ropes course, labyrinth, swimming pool, and a few ADA-accessible cabins.

They used the grounds for a community “Harvest Fest” last fall and plan to repeat that; and plan to offer an indoor Easter Sunrise Service on April 21, 2019. They are planning summer 2019 events including use of the pool.

Box said the goal is to pave more roads and parking lots for handicapped access. She said many of the trees need assessment and care now. Landscaping around the chapel was cleared, revealing stained glass windows formerly covered by bushes.


A framed newspaper clipping from the San Antonio Express-News in Box’s office dated July 11, 1926 offers this history on the camp’s founding.

The acreage was offered by the City of Kerrville through the Chamber of Commerce about 1923 as “a gift outright to the Methodist Church of 200 acres of land two miles west of the city.”

The benefactors were named as “the Porter Farm, 180 acres” and “the Jim and Alice Starkey Farm, about 20 acres.” The site was described as stretching from the Guadalupe River, inland more than 1 mile, rising 300 feet above the river.

This gift of property was “conservatively valued at about $100,000” (in 1926 money). When it began operation by 1926, the facilities included stone buildings for the cafeteria and a dormitory; the auditorium; a wooden clubhouse; 22 furnished, screened cottages; and two “tourist courts.”

Electricity was supplied by the city; and there was a water well and 27,000-gallon cistern at the top of the hill, a septic system for wastewater, and graded roads.

Facilities also included a number of private cottages, many built by preachers of the time. And the newspaper writer noted enthusiastically the possible water sports at the river and the abundant bird and other wildlife, including the phrase “where the Methodist Kerrville Assembly combines religious instruction with recreation.”

Into the early 1960s, with an improved road to Junction near the river, the entrance for youth arriving for camp session was still an arched rock and wrought-iron gate on that road and a lane uphill across undeveloped land to the camp buildings on the hill.

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