Remembering & Celebrating Presbyterian Camps

In December 2012, the Presbytery Assembly (elected representatives from the churches in the Presbytery of Chicago) approved a sale of the Presbyterian Camps in Saugatuck, MI for $10 million, an amount sufficient to meet the Presbytery’s debt. It is anticipated that the closing will occur by December, 2013.

by Carol Allen, Joellen Hosler, Ann Ohlrogge Johnson, and Vicki Reynolds

Photo © Cushman and Wakefield

Photo © Cushman and Wakefield

This summer camping season was a particularly busy one with many people wanting to visit the camp “one last time.” To celebrate the ministry of Presbyterian Camps and to express sorrow for its loss, a Remembrance and Celebration Task Force was appointed.

Members of the task force listened to the needs of camp staff and planned opportunities for group worship, as well as meetings for campers to share information and personal responses to the closing of the camp. The task force was composed of two pastoral counselors and a spiritual director, working together with camp directorial staff, Brad Fries, Vicki Reynolds, and Shelley Donaldson, as well as Executive Presbyter Bob Reynolds.

Campers brought many questions and a variety of deep feelings to camp. A fact sheet regarding the sale and closing of the camp was made available so that everyone would have the same information (available online at

Photo credit: Brad Fries

Photo credit: Brad Fries

At each of the Family Camp and Church Retreat sessions, an opportunity was provided for campers to learn and discuss those facts and to voice their questions, concerns, memories, and feelings. Another purpose served by these meetings was to take the burden of answering questions off the shoulders of seasonal camp staff, particularly counselors.

Rev. Ann Ohlrogge Johnson of the Task Force provided the structure for the meetings, which were held early in each camping week and were limited to an hour. Each meeting began with a review of the facts and an opportunity for campers to ask questions and to share information with one another. The second part of the meeting was an opportunity to share feelings without fear of judgment. Most of the sessions were led by Brad Fries, Acting Camp Director, and Vicki Reynolds, Assistant Camp Director. In addition, Rev. Ann Ohlrogge Johnson and Rev. Bob Reynolds each led two of the sessions.

There were anywhere from five to forty-five people in attendance at these gatherings. Some of the groups had as many as four generations in attendance and one guest has been enjoying the camp since the 1930’s. Some came from great distances and represented a variety of faith traditions, from the Peniel Jewish campers to a Unitarian group of abiding campers.

Photo © Cushman and Wakefield

Photo © Cushman and Wakefield

The range of emotions was vast, from anger to sadness and grief to compassion and concern. Some people were angry that the camps had not been saved. People were sad and cried at the thought of not being able to visit the camp again.

Others were concerned about the staff and thanked them for their dedication over the years. Some groups used the time as one of healing and talked about their many memories over the years and how the camp has changed and evolved. The meetings all ended with a litany of thanksgiving and prayers for those present at camp – campers and staff – and all voices joined in prayer.

Staff and counselors were also seeking a meaningful word from God this final season. They requested three special communion worship services, where they could reflect and connect their camp context to scripture.

Rev. Joellen Hosler of the Task Force, who designed these worship services for staff said, “It felt humbling and very good to me to participate in this way and maybe help a little in their growth as they facilitated so much at such a profoundly important time for all who came.”

The staff looked forward to these monthly communion services as a respite from their exhaustive, non-stop schedules, and the opportunity to express their own feelings of anger, loss and sadness regarding the closing of the camp – many of them had attended camp since they were small children. Vicki Reynolds said, “I felt a sense of bonding of the staff through these worship services. It was important and healing for the staff to be able to share the Lord’s Supper with each other.”

Each week the staff shared a worship service which they planned themselves. Each evening, scripture guided their debrief of the day’s experience, designed by task force member Rev. Carol Allen:

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (I Corinthians 3:16) and “I have called you by name. You are mine… You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.” (Isaiah 43:1, 4)

The debrief reflections included:

  • Where I saw God today…
  • Where I saw love in action today…
  • Where I offered comfort and where I needed comfort…

The camp was celebrated by hundreds at the Presbytery Assembly meetings in June and September, marking the opening and closing of the camp season. Litanies were incorporated into the meetings, in order to give thanks and to ask for God’s guidance and grace. You can read the September litany.

About the Authors:

  • Rev. Carol Allen, HR, is currently in private practice as a spiritual director.
  • Rev. Joellen Hosler is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor at Samaritan Counseling Center and an ordained Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
  • Rev. Ann Ohlrogge Johnson, LCPC, LMFT serves as a pastoral psychotherapist at the Samaritan Counseling Center, and is a Clergy Associate at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Evanston.
  • Vicki Reynolds is Assistant Camp Director of the Presbyterian Camps in Saugatuck, MI.

carol allen-croppedJoellen-croppedAOJ-croppedvicki reynolds-cropped

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