Journey to the Mountaintop:A Farewell to DuBose Conference Center

This past Spring, I found myself, power drill in hand, gazing down a long hallway of DuBose Conference Center lined with generations of Camp Gailor-Maxon photographs. My task was to free each set of photos from their handmade frames so that they could be scanned and archived for generations to come. Each small room off of this hallway had a designation: The first contained items to be returned to each of the three dioceses in Tennessee, the second contained artifacts and articles to be safely archived by the University of the South, and the third was stacked with prayer books, Bibles, and plaques that would be given to those attending the service scheduled for the end of the month to officially deconsecrate and close the conference center as the final act of preparation for its sale to new owners.

I was a latecomer to DuBose, being invited by a friend to attend a high school youth retreat called Wintermission, later renamed Winterfest, in the winter of my sophomore year. To this day I have trouble finding the words to explain it, but it was during that retreat that my faith first became my own and not just that of my parents. Fast forward to the following summer when I attended Camp Gailor-Maxon for the first time, having lost the very friend who had introduced me to this place in a tragic car wreck. I was angry at God and angry at the world, but again on the sacred grounds of this conference center, God found a way to open my heart to his presence and his peace.

As I dismantled each of the frames and gazed at the faces of countless campers, I found myself wondering about each of their stories. The photos moved from black and white to color, and I started recognizing some of the smiles gazing back at me. I saw my favorite priest as a young counselor, far before any of us knew him as “Reverend,” and started counting others I knew had entered ordained ministry. I counted up to seven, but I know there were more whose faces I did not know. I found elementary campers who are now serving on vestries across Tennessee, middle school campers who went on to serve on the board of St. Columba Camp & Conference Center, and at least a dozen high school campers who later became youth ministers across the state and the country. I saw the faces of General Convention deputies, Sunday school teachers, and founders of nonprofit organizations, all as young campers.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that some tears accompanied my journey through the decades of DuBose that day. The passage of scripture that became my saving grace is from the Gospel of Matthew:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Years of deferred maintenance had taken its toll on DuBose. Leaky roofs and mildew were her moths and rust. There were attempts to sustain this beloved conference center, but the historic buildings needed far more investment than any diocesan budget could provide, and it became apparent that we had to let them go, a decision that no one took lightly.

But it was never about the buildings, was it?

These particular buildings allowed a space for me and many others to be drawn into deeper relationship with God, and for that I will be forever grateful. That gratitude will be the driving force as I double down on my support of St. Columba and other conference centers that continue to defy the odds and find creative ways to thrive in their ministries of hospitality and sanctuary.

No, it never will be about the buildings or grounds themselves, no matter how beautiful they are or how many memories they contain. But it most certainly will be about our commitment as people of faith to create and nurture sacred places that raise up the next generation of leaders committed to building God’s kingdom together, and I look forward to seeing how the Diocese of West Tennessee allocates our portion of the funds from the sale of DuBose to carry on her important ministry.

As I stacked the photos neatly in the second room, I thought about the countless groups and people touched by DuBose, not only these campers, but Episcopal Laymen, Province IV Christian Educators, Quilters, Happeners, Vestries, and that really nice group from the Baha’i faith that I met one winter, because we all came to the mountain in search of time away, time together, time with God.

I loaded the portrait of Bishop Barth in the backseat of our truck, bound for his next home in the Barth House, along with about a dozen needlepointed kneelers bearing names of churches throughout West Tennessee. They will be our reminders of this great place.

As I closed the big red doors of Claiborne Hall, I heard the comforting words of Maya Angelou, from her poem “When Great Trees Fall”:

And when great souls die,

after a period peace blooms,

slowly and always

irregularly. Spaces fill

with a kind of

soothing electric vibration.

Our senses, restored, never

to be the same, whisper to us.

They existed. They existed.

We can be. Be and be

better. For they existed.

A Statement from the DuBose Conference Center Board Regarding the Sale of the Property (December 2023)

The DuBose Board has been in the process of winding down the DuBose Conference Center business for the better part of two years. We were recently able to close on the property, with the sale being finalized with a Nashville-based developer. While the Board cannot speak directly to their plans with the property, we took great care to make sure that we were selling DuBose to someone who would be a good steward of the property and would take the appropriate measures to preserve the historic buildings we all know and love.


The Venerable Hester Mathes, Archdeacon of the Diocese of West Tennessee, is Priest-in-Charge of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church (Memphis) and Chaplain to the Memphis campus of St. George’s Independent School. 

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