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Feb 13, 2015 | EDOT Staff

Awaken to Prayer in the Woods

Lay and Clergy Chaplains Layer Prayer and Restoration

The Chaplain-in-Residence Program at Camp Allen serves thousands of people who come to a conference or retreat, offering Morning and Evening Prayer in All Saints’ Chapel, as well as personal pastoral care. The program, begun in the late 1990s by Bishop Claude E. Payne, has continued to be part of the prayer life at Camp Allen. Weeklong residencies allow a clergy or a licensed lay leader to spend a week at Camp Allen in return for their ministry as the on-site chaplain. 


“While the program at first provided an opportunity for chaplains to enjoy the spiritual setting at Camp Allen and to be part of our overall hospitality ministry, it  has turned into a significantly greater experience,” said George Dehan, president of Camp Allen. Chaplains interact during the day with guests and in many cases are well known to guests who return for annual events. 


The program impacts chaplains as well as guests. The Rev. Nathan Jennings serves in early January each year. The Seminary of the Southwest professor says his days at Camp Allen take on a prayerful “rhythm.” Each day begins with personal prayer at his cabin, then Jennings conducts Morning Prayer at All Saints’ Chapel, followed by quiet writing time after breakfast. “I was surprised one morning to have a Texas forest officer at Morning Prayer,” Jennings said. “After the service, he asked about the difference between Episcopalians and other Protestants.”  Jennings said he shared a great discussion about the worship service and their prayer life. 


Several chaplains choose the week that a certain group holds its conference. Some work and pray with special needs children, some like to attend programs with older adults and others are at Camp Allen for events like the C. S. Lewis Conference. Lay chaplain Bob Hern, a member of  Trinity, Galveston, serves annually at the Joni and Friends special needs camp. “I am privileged to see God’s love shown in a myriad of ways—from the volunteers to the campers and their families—as well as from the campers to their short-term missionaries as they pray and play together at Camp Allen,” Hern said. 


Lay Chaplains Bob Hern and wife, Eileen Hall, participate in the Joni and Friends special needs camp held at Camp Allen in the summer.

“Sometimes, when there are few events scheduled at Camp Allen during my week, I officiate in an empty chapel at Morning or Evening Prayer,” said the Rev. Ted Smith, rector of St. Stephen’s, Liberty.  “Rather than being a disappointment, it becomes a special and holy time for me to recite the beautiful liturgy and pray the Daily Office, just me and God. Other times a person may approach me after the service and ask to speak with me.  What a joy it is to share hopes and hurts with a fellow sojourner, to pray with them and make a new friend.”


Chaplains may bring their families with them during their week in residence. The Rev. Daryl Hay, rector of St. Andrew’s, Bryan, has come with his family for 11 years. “Every week has been incredibly formational for all of us.  The rhythm of days shaped by Morning and Evening Prayer contributes to the experience of holy time in a holy place,” he said.


Linda Astala, a lay chaplain from Holy Comforter, Spring, said the greatest gifts to guests are “presence and prayers.”   


“I select prayers that are appropriate for the [particular] groups meeting throughout my week in residence,” Astala said. “For example, when the Region IV educators are there, I pray the prayer ‘For Schools and Colleges’ (BCP, 824).  When the Texas Parks and Wildlife rangers are with us, I pray the prayer ‘For Joy in God’s Creation’ (BCP, 814) and the prayer ‘For the Good Use of Leisure’ (BCP, 825).  When particular events are going on around us, there are always appropriate prayers in the prayer book. 


“The gift of presence, while listening unconditionally, offers a chaplain an opportunity to at least intercede privately,” Astala said. “And more often than not, as I visit with the guests throughout the week and listen to the stories of their lives, there are occasions to pray, not only for them, but with them. There have been times I’ve suspected no one has ever offered to pray with them and their comments (and sometimes tears) confirm the gift that prayer can be.  Often there are follow-up conversations and additional listening opportunities.”


Most assuredly, prayer permeates Camp Allen as it embraces and surrounds those who wander onto this holy place who, intentionally or unintentionally, want to “awaken their spirit in the piney woods.” 


If you are a clergyperson or a licensed worship leader and would like to learn more about the Chaplain-in-Residence Program at Camp Allen, contact the Rev. Lacy Largent, Camp Allen’s spiritual director at