On the grounds of Presbyterian Camps in
Now that place of respite and reflection is in jeopardy. The Chicago Presbytery will decide Saturday whether it will pay off its
Another offer, not on the agenda, has been made by an alliance of environmentalists and local Presbyterians who say they can raise the money to pay off the debt and save the camp in the process.
What led to the debt has become an open secret, observers say. In 2007, the Chicago Presbytery reached a confidential settlement with several men who claimed they had been sexually abused by a Presbyterian minister. Though nearly 250 Presbyterian leaders approved the payout, congregations never knew the details because the plaintiffs asked that the settlement be sealed.
Around the same time, the Presbytery took out a multimillion-dollar loan and used the campground as collateral, a decision that later took many of the roughly 33,000
To this day, the head of the local Presbytery won't say whether the sexual abuse lawsuit filed in
The secrecy, the allegations and the apparent consequences anger many longtime Presbyterians who say they no longer trust their leaders and have threatened to leave the church.
"The downside of that is it's actually a ministry to thousands of families and children that had nothing to do with the lawsuit," said Schuham, 43, a mother of two whose great-grandfather was involved with the campground nearly a century ago.
"That's the tragedy of all of this," she added. "In selling the camp, who gets hurt again? It's the children."
The church's struggles trace to 1999, when police and child welfare officials received the first allegation against
At the time, the
Three years later, four young men sued the Chicago Presbytery, saying they had been abused as children between 1990 and 1997. Abuse took place in the ministry headquarters, the ministry van, Presbyterian church headquarters and during overnight stays at the campground, according to the lawsuit.
Mason also pulled some of the students out of school to abuse them, the suit said. On multiple occasions, according to the suit, church employees caught Mason drinking alcohol with children naked but never reported their discoveries to law enforcement.
According to the suit, shortly after police launched their investigation, the Presbytery sponsored a Spring Cleaning Day at the ministry's headquarters, where Mason had lived and allegedly abused the boys. Volunteers allegedly found 20 pornographic videotapes, a television and a mattress, which, according to the lawsuit, the ministry's board ordered destroyed.
When contacted by a
"I didn't know if it was just a threat," he said in the 2002 story.
Mason died at age 46 in 2004. More allegations against him surfaced before the Presbytery settled the lawsuit in 2007.
Nearly 250 church elders, including Schuham, approved an
Unlike the Chicago Archdiocese, which has paid out more than
When the camp was put up as collateral, the Presbytery never envisioned having to sell. But then the recession hit in 2008. A feasibility study showed that a capital campaign would not raise the money needed to cover the debt.
Concerned Presbyterians organized a nonprofit called Lakeshore Christian Camping to buy the land for
To make payments, extend the loan and buy more time, the Presbytery sold its
Barker's proposals not only spell a certain end to the camp. They also angered area environmental activists who want to preserve the dune ecosystem in one of the area's last pristine protected areas. Schuham saw the opportunity for a partnership and contacted
Walker and others formed the
"It really boils down to a sure thing that carries negative consequences versus an unsure thing that in the end that would definitely be the better outcome," said Vest, associate youth pastor at
"There are a lot of deep connections to that place," he said. "The reality is that we have a massive debt that we have to pay, and this is our greatest asset. ... There's no question we have to sell. Who do we sell it to?"
Reynolds said many hours have been spent in prayer trying to discern what God wants them to do with the land.
"It is a beautiful (130) acres of God's creation on the ... shore of
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