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Lifelong Ocean Grove Resident Takes Helm of Camp Meeting Association

An interview with incoming Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association President Dr. Dale C. Whilden

Dr. Dale C. Whilden succeeds Scott Rasmussen (who ended his six-year term in mid-October) as president of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association. Whilden is a life-long Ocean Grove resident. He has served as an OGCMA Trustee since 1983 and has chaired both the Development and Program committees. Patch Faith & Family columnist Christine A. Scheller interviewed Whilden about his new role. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Christine A. Scheller: How did you come to be involved with the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association (OGCMA)?

Dr. Dale C. Whilden: I came to Ocean Grove when I was three days old right from the hospital. My parents had purchased a home here back in the mid-1940s. In the early 50s when I was born, we lived here year round for a number of years. Dad was principal of the school here in town, then we had to move to Toms River based on a new job he had as county superintendent of schools. We kept our little summer house here, and so for my entire life I’ve been coming to Ocean Grove every summer. Growing up through the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting programs, the childrens’ programs, the youth programs, Bible studies, beach activities, and choral and dramatic events, all those things over the years has led me to a sense of how important OGCMA has been in my life and in our family’s life as well. That history has certainly been a factor in my wanting to be involved.  

Then when I graduated from dental school and did a residency at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, I couldn’t imagine not opening my dental practice in Ocean Grove. All those years growing up, it was sort of my Shangri La. I’d go to school in Toms River and we’d be there all winter, and then come summer time, this was the place. This was the epitome of my dream escape and it’s worked out very, very well. I think it gives me a good sense of the community and the history of the community.

Is Methodist affiliation an important consideration for OGCMA in choosing a new president?

It certainly is. The camp meeting itself has had a long history with the Methodist church. It was established by Methodists. Now, as has always been the case, being a Methodist is a requirement for serving on the board as a full trustee. We’re not a uni-denominational organization, and yet that Wesleyanism is the core of our existence and it’s been important over the years.

Your deep roots in the community are one strength that you bring to the position of president. What other strengths do you have that will serve the organization well?

I’m finding that my involvement in Methodism is really a big help. Not only have I been involved over the years locally, but expanding to the state-wide and national level, even international. I had the opportunity to serve as a delegate to the general conference of the Methodist Church three different times. That’s the main policy-making body of the church. It meets quadrennially. I’ve had the opportunity of serving with the Methodist church on a number of mission trips. All those things have really been a big help in forming me to have better understanding of the position I’m in. Finally, just a love for Ocean Grove. You can’t be successful as a president if you don’t have a love for the purpose of what you’re doing and the people that you’re doing it with, and the potential that the organization has to go forward.

What are your goals for the future of OGCMA?

Definitely the primary goal is to strengthen and expand the basic purpose for which Ocean Grove was founded. The mission statement of the camp meeting is “to provide opportunities for spiritual birth, growth, and renewal through worship, education, cultural and recreational activities in a Christian seaside setting.” Ever since Elwood Stokes began this place back in 1869 with that company of 20 or so Methodists for a first prayer meeting when it was nothing but pine barrens, that’s the been the main purpose.

Another exciting goal is redevelopment of the north end project. Years ago there was a large hotel and shops. It was a destination resort area. Back, I think, in the 1960s that burned down and was demolished. Recently we’ve been working with a developer. The plan is to construct a five-story hotel there, similar to the one that was there previously, with about 80 units, plus a series of condos and single family dwellings with retail shops on the boardwalk and a bridge extending to another building on the beach with a restaurant and conference and banquet facilities. I think it would definitely enhance the ministry of the Camp Meeting Association as well as the entire community.

Is there anything on that site now?

There are about four little stores on the boardwalk that are open for three months in the summer. The rest is a vacant lot with the remnants of an old swimming pool and a storage building that the Camp Meeting had years and years ago.

What is the time frame for the project?

It might be a little premature, but we’re hoping that construction can get underway within a couple years. You can’t imagine the details in terms of getting approvals for development. This is a rare area because it’s right on the ocean, so there are many different state and local regulations that pertain to this project. Our developer, who is very persistent and very familiar with much of this, is moving this through the appropriate channels.

What challenges is OGCMA facing at this point in its history?

We’ve made a lot of advancement in the last few years on the overall physical plant. We have a 6000+ seat Great Auditorium, a youth center and tabernacle, and other buildings around auditorium square, and then the beach and the boardwalk is no simple job either. The last few years, we’ve really been able to get on top of that and do a lot of repairs and renovations that have needed to be done.

Another area is we want to keep up with the current trends in technology. There are so many advancements that can be used in ministry for good, but on the other hand, we don’t want to forgo interpersonal relationships. There’s something to be said for face to face interaction. We’re working now on trying to balance moving forward technologically without sacrificing relationships and the spirit of community and fellowship that we want to have here.

In 2007, a lawsuit was filed against OGCMA by a lesbian couple after OGCMA denied them access to the boardwalk gazebo for their civil union ceremony. Are there ongoing challenges with that situation or tensions with the local gay and lesbian community?

That’s still in litigation, so I can’t say much about it, but I want to say that I have sensed a unity in the community despite specific differences over certain issues. There is a beautiful sense of unity and striving towards peace, not just because of any one issue. Like any community, there are a whole number of different things out there that can cause upset and different opinions. I think Ocean Grove begins to model a Christian community in a lot of beautiful ways.

You do a lot of other non-profit work through the New York City Rescue Mission, United Methodist Homes, and Christian Dental Missions. What motivates you?

The opportunity to be involved in [Christian Dental] missions has given me a broader perspective on how much we have here and how grateful we ought to be. Most of our trips are to remote areas in third-world countries and so we’ll see people that have never had the opportunity to get medical or dental care. The lines are formed hours before we get there and, unfortunately, in most of the villages there are still lines after it is time for us to pack up and go somewhere else the next day or the next week. It just points out the great needs in so many parts of the world. When you see needs like that it’s very motivating.

In general, I remember someone saying that the purpose of life is a life of purpose. That’s so true. As the Lord cleanses and forgives you, you can fill your life with the gifts, the experiences, and the relationships that he provides for you, and use those. We all want to make our lives count and we want to make them count in the most valuable way. Sometimes I think of it like this: patients come to me just like I came to the Lord, with decay in their teeth, with these huge cavities. We clean them out and get them excavated. If they were just to get up after I cleaned their teeth, it wouldn’t be to much benefit. They need to stay in the chair until I can fill and restore them. That’s when the teeth become able to function. I know in my life, at first I was just grateful when I realized the forgiveness and cleansing of the Lord. As I allow the Lord to fill my life, it can’t help but be manifested in serving others and in finding purpose. God creates each one of us for a purpose or purposes. As you follow that and let him fill you, that’s when you really are able to discern what those purposes are and follow through with them.

Outgoing OGCMA president Scott Rasumussen said in OGCMA’s press release that you have a “true servant’s heart.” Was service modeled for you or is it a personality trait or spiritual gift?

It’s been both. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said he saw the whole world as his parish. When you do that, you don’t have a local view. It broadens your perspective on life. When I was in dental school, we had a Bible study. It was out of the that Bible study that three or four of us began challenging each other and ended up writing to almost 100 mission agencies when we were graduating and asking for information on ways they could use dentists as short term missionaries. A number of them responded. That’s how I first became involved in going on these short term trips. That grew and more dentists wanted to get involved.

Was OGCMA surprised that Chief Administrative Officer Scott Hoffmann and his wife Nancy were lured away by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association after OGCMA hosted the this summer?

It was a surprise. In a way it’s an honor to us. We have been so blessed with their ministry over the years. If we were going to lose them to anyone, I can’t imagine a better organization to lose them to. We kind of feel like maybe the Billy Graham Association broke the eighth commandment by stealing them from us, but the fact of the matter is that they will do a great job for BGEA. I believe Scott is going to be heavily involved at The Cove retreat center in North Carolina in the development components of the program. The Lord gave us the Hoffmanns, so we feel like he has someone else out there who will continue to work through the ministry of the Camp Meeting to accomplish his purposes.

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