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Presbytery of Chicago to sell Michigan camp to developer of multimillion-dollar homes

Updated: March 10, 2014 6:54AM



A popular church-owned campsite will be sold, reportedly to pay off debt from the settlement of a sex-abuse lawsuit.

The Presbytery of Chicago voted Saturday to sell the Saugatuck, Mich., property for $10 million to a developer who plans to build multimillion-dollar homes on part of the site.

“Everybody in the meeting felt remorse about selling the camp and especially those who voted against it,” said the Rev. Robert Reynolds, executive presbyter of the Presbytery. “However, this vote allows the Presbytery to take responsibility, both moral and legal, for paying its debt.”

The proposal had upset environmentalists and camp supporters. Opponents offered a counterproposal they said would have preserved the 130-acre dunes property and its more than 100-year-old campsite.

“This was our last really good shot, and we didn’t win,” said Jeff Schroeder, ruling elder at Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church in Oak Park.

“The Presbytery of Chicago has chosen development over conservation, money over children and, instead of building up community, they have torn it apart,” the Lakeshore Camping group, set up to try to save the camp, said in response to Saturday’s vote.

The sale will be finalized Feb. 14, according to Reynolds. He said nearly 154 church leaders voted to sell the property, and 89 voted against doing so.

The Presbytery represents about 100 churches in the Chicago area. It needed to sell the property to pay a $7.4 million debt, Reynolds has said. He has declined to comment on whether the debt was tied to a settlement from a sexual abuse lawsuit filed in 2002 that accused a Presbyterian minister, Douglas Mason, of sexually abusing boys at a Ukrainian Village youth ministry for at least nine years during the 1990s.

According to The Layman, an online publication of a Presbyterian advocacy group, the Presbytery took out an $11 million loan after settling the sex-abuse claims.

Those trying to save the campsite had offered alternatives, but Reynolds said the Presbytery recommended approving David Barker’s proposal because the Michigan developer has the finances to close the deal, so the church can pay off its debt by Feb. 28.

Reynolds said the Presbytery will try to open a camping ministry in the Chicago area.

Contributing: Francine Knowles

Email: bschlikerman@suntimes.com

Twitter: @schlikerman



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