Magazine Features

A Ministry of Presence

Majors Deborah L. and James C. Kisser hold daily Bible studies for the seniors during the weekly retreats at the Star Lake Conference Center and Lodge.

Seniors enjoy Star Lake

Ask Majors Deborah L. and James C. Kisser about their new appointments as chaplains at the Star Lake Conference Center and Lodge in Bloomingdale, N.J., and they will tell you that theirs is a “Ministry of Presence.”

“Certainly, during the summer months until early fall, ours is a ‘Ministry of Presence’ to the seniors who come to the Star Lake Conference Center (SLCC) for retreats of 5 to 8 days,” James said. “There are activities throughout each day and into the early evening, which are planned by the program staff, and we offer the uniformed presence of The Salvation Army.”

Major Deborah further explained, “We hear often from individuals about how glad they are to see officers participate  in these retreats.”

For years, many of the seniors have been coming to the Star Lake complex in the beautiful Ramapo Mountains. They take great comfort and joy in listing the various officers they have known.

“When one of the seniors asks if we know a certain officer administrator from their past, Deb tries to reach out to that officer or officer couple and relay that greeting,” James said. “Oftentimes, she is then able to return a greeting from that officer. It gives the seniors a real sense of belonging and happiness to know that they are remembered, sometimes after many years.”

The Kissers’ days are full of activities focused on the needs of the seniors.

“This year, we offer a daily, morning Bible study based on the parables of Jesus. We have the needs of the seniors in mind,” James said. “After nearly 20 years as corps officers, we’ve found that pastoring the senior population is all about engaging, enlightening, and encouraging them.

“From the first word of ‘welcome’ to the end of the morning Bible study, everything is planned to hold their attention on Jesus Christ. Keep in mind, not everyone who comes to senior retreats at the Star Lake complex is a Christian; but no one complains about the Christ–centered teaching.”

Deborah added, “Some modern analogies or illustrations, which might be great for a young adult crowd, do not always engage the seniors. When Jim starts talking about a Johnny Mercer song written in 1944, the seniors are right there with him. They even help by spontaneously singing a refrain or two of ‘You’ve Got to Accentuate the Positive!’”

After a terrific lunch with the seniors, it’s on to the daily afternoon choir practice.

“Like all the other activities prepared by the program staff, choir is optional, but we’ve had some great turnouts this year,” James said. “My wife and I are lifelong Salvation Army musicians. Choir practices are always a highlight of our day.”

Deborah said that, at the first rehearsal of every week, her husband always makes a big deal about how The Salvation Army “doesn’t have church choirs.”

“And then, once he’s got their attention, Jim always informs the group that we have Songster Brigades in the Army, and then he ‘officially’ pronounces them all as members of the SLCC Songsters,” she said. “The seniors love it!”

The SLCC Songster Brigade performs twice during the week, once at the Saturday evening talent show (during which the repertoire is usually show tunes), and again on Sunday morning. They sing three contemporary Christian classics or hymns.

“Our brigades seem to especially enjoy singing ‘Because He Lives’ by Bill and Gloria Gaither,” James said.

The Kissers are responsible for planning and implementing the Sunday morning worship services at the Conference Center. As one would expect, they draw on their years of experience as corps officers when preparing each Sunday morning service.

“We make sure the flags and pulpit are placed up on the platform, the Holiness table cloth is brought from its hanger in the storage closet, the Bibles and song books are ready, the printed order of service includes familiar hymns of the church, and if desired, the seniors can have a part in the Holiness Meeting,” James said. “Many love to take part by reading a Scripture passage, praying or even singing a solo or in a duet.”

Deborah said the Holiness Meeting is the same as other traditional meetings around the Army world.

“We try to include something for everyone. We incorporate a few of the Hallelujah Choruses, as well as familiar hymns from the Song Book of The Salvation Army,” she said. “The preachments are Bible–based, and, of course, we take up an offering, which is then given to the World Services effort.”

The Kissers also extend their ministry of presence to the Star Lake complex staff.

“We have found that, while some of the staff are teens from the neighborhood on summer employment, other staff have been working at the Star Lake complex for years and have seen many administrators come and go,” James said.

“We have been surprised to learn that some of the staff have worked at other Salvation Army camps around the Eastern Territory,” Deborah explains. “We have even found that some have their own Salvation Army officer family roots with their own memories of starting new appointments with their folks. It truly is a small Salvation Army world.”

The Kissers walk around the camp in the evenings, stopping to chat with the counselors and staff of the Greater New York Division’s youth camp across the lake.

“We don’t have any direct responsibility for anything on that side of the lake, but we enjoy getting out and talking,” Deborah said. “Jim likes to think of the Star Lake complex as our parish!”

The Kissers are wanting also to explore other possible ministry opportunities, which could be offered throughout the year at Star Lake.

“There seems to be a receptivity to the Army in the community, and I think it would be a great way to get people from the neighborhood onto the camp property to find out more about us,” James said.

A group of seniors who attended one of the retreats this past summer.

“When they see the uniform coming through the door at our local Dunkin’ Donuts shop or pizza shop or barber shop or service station, they seem to brighten right up, and are often anxious to tell us about their relationships with other officers appointed to the Star Lake complex throughout the years. It seems like a natural extension of our ministry of presence to reach out into the surrounding community.”

The Kissers, who had never lived at Star Lake before, said they were initially a bit nervous about the bear, fox, and occasional coyote sightings.

“I think we are learning to co–exist at camp with God’s creatures!” James said.

The Kissers are excited to learn where their ministry of presence will take them and how it will play out at the Star Lake complex. They said they are thankful to their former divisional leaders who saw their potential while they served as corps officers, and then entrusted them with this valuable ministry by appointing them full–time to Star Lake.

“A ‘Ministry of Presence’?” reflected the Kissers. “Well, it’s really nothing different than what Jesus did when He traveled around, met with people where they were, and ministered to the needs and desires of their hearts.”

by Robert Mitchell

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