Percy Crawford and Pinebrook Confernce Center

July 29, 2008

Seventy-five years ago a young man named Percy Crawford started a camp on land just east of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. In the years that followed, Pinebrook Bible Conference became one of the major stops on the Bible conference circuit in the 30s, 40s and 50s. Jack Wyrtzen preached here. Billy Graham met Cliff Barrows here. George Beverly Shea sang here. Over the years Percy Crawford built an evangelical empire that included two other camps in the area (one for boys, one for girls) plus a pioneering radio broadcast called the “Young People’s Church of the Air” and a television program plus he founded and served as president of King’s College. He published a series of widely-distributed songbooks featuring popular gospel songs and choruses. After his death in 1960 due to a heart attack at the age of 58, the various enterprises fragmented. In 1968 Pinebrook was sold to the Bible Fellowship Church, a movement that started in northeast Pennsylvania 150 years ago. Today it comprises 63 churches with 10,000 people, centered in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. 

Davis Duggins told me one interesting side note. The Bible Fellowship movement started when some upstart Mennonites got in trouble for their radical innovation of a midweek prayer meeting. That was considered a little too emotional, I suppose, so they were kicked out (or perhaps they left, I’m not sure) and started what became the Bible Fellowship movement. In the early 1900s it came under the influence of the Holiness movement but by mid-century had taken on a more Calvinistic emphasis. The denomination started in and around Allentown, Pennsylvania and still has its main strength in the Lehigh Valley. For a long time, they had a yearly “camp meeting” in Allentown. They would set up tents and spend the month of July having evangelistic services attended by hundreds of people. When Allentown needed the land to build a school, they had to close down the camp meeting. That happened about the time that Pinebrook became available so they bought it 40 years ago.

We’re at Pinebrook this week in part because I met Dan Allen, the current director, at Word of Life a few years ago. When Dan introduced me on Sunday night, he mentioned that I speak often at Word of Life, which he called their “daughter ministry.” That drew a laugh but it’s quite true that Jack Wyrtzen patterned a lot of what he did in the early years at Word of Life after what he saw at Pinebrook in the late 30s and early 40s. Plus Jack’s wife Marge was saved here and Jack surrendered to the ministry here.

Here’s one more interesting fact. Many of the buildings here are exactly as Percy Crawford built them in the 40s and 50s, giving Pinebrook a rustic, throwback feeling. That feeling grows when you realize that the seven weeks of summer camp are attended almost exclusively by people from the various Bible Fellowship churches. (Many other groups sponsor retreats here from August through June.) For instance, this is the sixth week of camp and each year the same Bible Fellowship churches come on the same week. So this week we have people from the Bible Fellowship churches in Emmaus, Hatfield, Sinking Spring, Brooklyn and Howell. In the other weeks people from other Bible Fellowship churches come to Pinebrook. That means that many people come back to Pinebrook on the same week year after year after year. 

That leads me to comment that more than any Bible conference I’ve attended, Pinebrook feels like a huge family reunion. The atmospher is informal, friendly and very relaxed. 

So we’re having a fine time here. I’m only preaching once a day, in the evening. That’s a big change and it’s a nice break plus Marlene has joined me so I’m a happy camper this week. 

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