Photo by  (T&G Staff/STEVE LANAVA)
July 23, 2010 Reprinted from the Worcester Telegram
Feeling the Spirit


  DOUGLAS — In a wood-sided tabernacle in the middle of the forest, “Old Time Religion” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” were being played on a baby grand piano. More than 50 people sat in tiered wooden pews singing along to the familiar gospel songs, and spontaneously murmuring or nodding their heads in agreement while listening to an evangelist.
   For the past 135 years, the Douglas Camp Meeting has drawn Christians from all over to the more than 30 acres off Route 96. The camp meeting is tradition — 10 days of Bible study, prayer and preaching for Christians of all denominations. This year's camp meeting began July 16, and will continue through Sunday.
Deb Cnossen, 80, of Uxbridge has been coming to camp meetings since she was a child, when her father was camp president. She continued to return as she grew into a teenager, a wife and mother with four sons. She has watched as her son Michael Cnossen led as camp president for 14 years, and her husband, Jack Cnossen, also 80, is currently camp president. It is where, Mrs. Cnossen said, generations of people have felt the transformational healing power of Jesus.
  And on Tuesday night, it was where nearly a dozen people were compelled to leave their wooden pew, walk to the stage and kneel before a wooden cross in a powerful, emotional moment of prayer.
  Moments like that can happen on any night of the annual camp meeting to anyone attending a nightly service. “It is important to have places set aside not just for physical recreation, but for spiritual re-creation,” said the Rev. Claude Nicholas, an evangelist from Ohio. “Just as we take physical vacations, this is time for people to focus on their walk with the Lord.”
  Rev. Nicholas' message one night this week was how to live a life that matters. “What makes a Christian is not the church he goes to, or the money that he gives, but what makes us Christians is giving ourselves to the Lord,” said the Rev. Nicholas, the volume and cadence of his voice rising to punctuate his message. “It'’s not just my activity that God is all concerned about. It's my availability.”
  The first camp meeting was held in 1875, formed by George M. Morse and a group of businessmen from different Christian backgrounds. The camp meeting grounds, owned by the Douglas Camp Meeting Association, are purely for the purpose of Christian services and camp meetings, Mrs. Cnossen said.
“They were Methodists, Episcopalian, Presbyterians, Christian Reformed,” said Ms. Cnossen. “People that just loved the Lord and wanted to get the message of Christianity to the people.”
  The grounds include the wooden tabernacle — which was destroyed by fire and rebuilt; several small cabins containing only two beds and a nightstand; a girls' dormitory and two bathhouses.
  During the camp meeting, daily Bible study is held at 10 a.m. and a nightly worship service — with the guest evangelist and song-leaders — begins at 7 p.m. Those who come to the camp meeting are from the Blackstone Valley and points as far away as Quincy and Franklin. Some stay in small cabins on the property during their time at the camp meeting, others travel from home.
  Mr. Cnossen said the camp meeting is a place where all Christians — from Catholics to Baptists and from Methodist to Nazarene — should feel welcome to gather and worship based on their common Christian beliefs. “This camp has helped so many people's lives for the better,” Mrs. Cnossen said, standing outside the tabernacle as The Steve Adams Trio rehearsed inside before a recent service this past week.
For that reason, the Cnossens and a band of several other retirees found the strength to refurbish the camp meeting grounds. “An 80-year-old should not be doing what we're doing, but the Lord has given us the strength to do it,” Mrs. Cnossen said. “I'm just praying that more people will catch the vision.”
  Since last fall, the volunteers — the majority of whom range in age from 67 to 80 — repainted, repaired and raised nine of the cabins, a project which will continue until all are done. They also built a new dining hall, kitchen and conference facility with the hope that any Christian church can use the facility. Next year, there will also be an area to hold up to 10 recreational vehicles, Mr. Cnossen said. “My husband Jack and I are retired, but we want to give back. We'd love to see the young people come back, like it used to be,” Mrs. Cnossen said. “We don't know how long we've got, but we want to pass it on. So many people need this — for comfort, strength, for God.” For Loretta and Phil Butts, caretakers of the camp, the annual camp meeting is an uplifting time. “People who come here seem to light up,” Mr. Butts said.
  Elizabeth Gould Estes came to the camp meeting Tuesday night with her 91-year-old mother, Mabelle Gould, whose husband was a pastor. The two had traveled from Texas to visit relatives and returned to the camp meeting that Mrs. Gould had attended in the late 1930s.  “It is very inspirational to come here to draw closer to the Lord, and to be challenged to live closer to the Lord,” said Mrs. Gould, about what drew her back to the camp meeting grounds she attended before she married.
  Mrs. Cnossen said the camp meeting grounds have meant so much for her that she can only hope others become stewards of the land. the answer here,” said Mrs. Cnossen. “This is true happiness.”  
  • photo of story layout
  • Great photo of Debbie that ran on PAGE 1 as teaser to story
  • page 13 photo
  • Another great photo from the story