Harvest Bible fires 2 workers over hazing at its youth summer camp

An earlier version was incorrect about why two workers resigned. Church officials said the two saw or had knowledge of situations that should have been reported to leaders.

Harvest Bible Chapel has fired two workers and suspended two others over hazing accusations involving campers at its Camp Harvest in Michigan.

The church announced the measures in a post on its website Wednesday. It did not name the workers.

According to the post, one of the hazings was a challenge from a student pastor - an adult - for campers to put pain-relief numbing cream on themselves. The note didn't say what body part the kids were to put the cream on but said that no one was "visibly exposed."

At the church, a "student pastor" is an adult who ministers to youths.

"Harvest Bible Chapel and Camp Harvest do not condone hazing of any kind and seek to create an environment at camp that glorifies Christ and that is safe for our guests, students and staff," the statement said.

The alleged hazings occurred July 14-24. The first week was for junior high students from all Harvest church campuses; the second was for high school students from its Elgin and Crystal Lake campuses.

The camp is in Newaygo, Michigan.

The first case was part of an unauthorized game called "Silent Football" late one night involving staff members, campers and cabin leaders. Losers are punished at the end of the game, the church said.

It described some of the punishments as "juvenile and immature" but that others "crossed the line of what is acceptable behavior from cabin leaders" and staff members because they involved embarrassment, humiliation and "gross" behavior.

It did not describe the behaviors specifically.

The second was the "Icy-Hot Challenge" involving the pain-relief cream. The church said it found no evidence of person-to-person contact, nor any moment where people exposed themselves.

The "Silent Football" incident was discovered during the second week by the camp's director and senior operations director, who also were notified by parents of campers who had been there the first week. They then discovered the "Icy-Hot Challenge."

Both cases were reported to Michigan's Licensing and Regulatory Agency, which licenses camps. It also was reported to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the church said.

The church has fired the student pastor and the camp worker who oversaw the "Silent Football" punishments. Two other camp workers were suspended over "Silent Football."

Another student pastor and a Harvest Christian Academy worker have resigned. The church says the two saw or had knowledge of situations that should have been reported to leaders. It did not say if those situations included "Silent Football" and the challenge.

The church said it is reviewing its camp and student ministry practices, including worker supervision, and will retrain its staff.

It has decided to conduct student ministry only online until it is finished with that review.

"We apologize to you, our church family, for what occurred with these hazing incidents and for breaking your trust, and we ask for your forgiveness. We ask that you pray for those involved, for our staff in taking next steps for restoration and correction, and especially for each child affected by these very unfortunate events," the church statement said.

In August 2018, Michigan authorities investigated the camp after reports one of its female adult workers had improperly touched five other workers who were 16 and 17 years old. The camp immediately fired the worker but did not file a report with the state for 10 days.

The state found the camp violated a law that required it to conduct criminal background checks on its workers, because there was no evidence of one in the worker's personnel file.

In late 2019, a Kane County judge found a pastor from Harvest guilty of disorderly conduct, regarding sexually oriented text messages he exchanged with a teenage parishioner. The two had met while traveling on a bus to Camp Harvest, where the then-student pastor was a cabin counselor.

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