A Service of Remembrance for the Ministry of Presbyterian Camps in Saugatuck, MI

By Rev. Dr. Nancy Jo Dederer, pastor at Homewood First and Moderator of the Future Outdoor Ministry Task Force

Pres Camps Presbyterian Saugatuck cross water lake

Trail Sign:  A setting sun still whispers a promise for tomorrow. ~Jeb Dickerson

“…[I’m] thankful that I had this opportunity to say goodbye to the place and even more thankful that I don’t have to say goodbye to the people or the memories. I couldn’t help but spend the day thinking of the message of Easter. With God, death is not the end and death does not have the final word. I am still mourning this loss and I don’t think I will ever not be saddened by it, but I have to believe God will find new ways (maybe new places) to reveal God’s self to me and the rest of the world.” ~ Emily Karstens Turner (former camper and staffer)

On Saturday, April 26th, 140 people gathered for a time of remembrance at the Presbyterian Camps in Saugatuck, Michigan. Campers and staff of all ages came to walk the beach, climb the dunes, meander through the woods, share a meal, and worship at sunset overlooking Lake Michigan (see left photo). Cindi Karstens and Dottie Earle planned the event and invited me to serve as pastor to the camp on this special day.

The afternoon felt a bit like a Funeral Wake. People arrived quietly, some sad, some angry, some numb by the loss. They signed the guest book, spoke in hushed tones and walked through camp, which seemed “a shell of itself” with so many things gone or given away. I overheard one mother longingly tell her toddler, “You would have loved it here.” Conversation became energized over dinner as stories unfolded about life-changing camp experiences. The impact of Presbyterian Camps transcends the generations.

At worship everyone received a memory jar with the camp logo etched on it. Throughout the service, we gave thanks to God for the beauty of the earth, adding sand and symbols of nature to the jar. In the breaking of Communion bread, I felt the deep pain and brokenness of the congregation; and yet, I couldn’t help but proclaim Christ is risen! We are Easter People. God brings life out of death. This is our hope.

At the benediction I encouraged people to take a handful of sand and release it in the sign of the cross someplace in camp asking God’s blessing on the land and on those who come to work and live here. Our prayer is that they, too, will sense God’s presence and glory. Later, I watched as someone silently released his sand on the communion table. Beautifully moving image.

I am grateful for our presbytery’s camping ministry that has touched countless lives and so honored to have been asked to be present for this difficult and yet hope-filled day of remembrance.

In life and death we belong to God. Amen.

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