Sex scandal could force church to sell land

February 5, 2014 (CHICAGO)

Presbyterian church leaders in Chicago won't make the decision until this weekend.

Presbyterian Camps across the lake in Saugatuck has hosted children and teenagers since 1899. But after more than a century, on Saturday Presbyterian leaders are scheduled to vote on whether to sell the land to a residential developer, shutting down the children's camp to pay for legal settlements in a sex scandal.

A conservation group is trying to derail that plan and wants to buy the property and keep it as a nature camp.

It would be history if a Grand Rapids developer buys Presbyterian Camps. Two and a half hours from Chicago, the spectacular lakefront vista has been a Christian youth camp and family spiritual retreat. In 2002, this gem of the Presbyterian church was put in jeopardy when Reverend Douglas Mason was exposed as an alleged child molester. For a decade, while director of a South Side ministry, Mason allegedly had sex with four minor boys, much of it on video. The camp is now being sold to pay off loans that settled abuse lawsuits after the Mason scandal.

"I think there's a great irony. It breaks my heart to have to say it - I don't want to see children hurt two times... I've been going to this camp since I was a little girl," said Jennifer Schuham, president, Lakeshore Camping.

Schuham is among the generations that have spent weekends, weeks and seasons there. Now she leads an organization aimed at saving the camp.

"When you see somebody who has been there since they were 6 years old, and they're still coming back in their 80s, it really speaks to the place and what it does for people," said Schuham.

An offer letter states, "stopping development of the property by anyone is our goal." Critics say the earnest money deposit of $1 million is enough to satisfy the church's sex abuse settlement.

"Something else we don't feel is right: the developers offer leaves them with a profit. The church shouldn't profit from this. The children shouldn't suffer from this," said Schuham.

Michigan land developer David Barker and his partners are offering $10 million for the wooded beachfront property, slightly more than the total that has been pledged by the newly formed non-profit conservation group. Barker was not reachable Wednesday by phone. Church leaders with the Presbytery of Chicago initially agreed to speak with ABC7 about this situation, then became unavailable and have not responded to emails concerning the accusation that the church shouldn't make a profit from this.

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