By Linetta Ballew
“Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.
It’s just like a magic penny, hold it tight, and you won’t have any.
Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many, they’ll roll all over the floor…”
–The Magic Penny Song
Church of the Brethren camps across the country are beloved by so many! For years, they have given away love to campers, staff, volunteers, guest rental groups, churches, and communities in so many ways. Individuals, families, small groups, and churches have shared their love for camps by helping out at workdays, volunteering with camp programs and events, and providing financial support for ongoing operations, capital campaigns, and special projects.
In these extraordinary times, camps are faced with significant challenges. Many have already lost months of rental/retreat group income which helps to off-set summer camp and other program costs. More cancellations are anticipated moving forward. Difficult decisions are being made about whether or not to proceed with summer camps as the health and safety of campers and staff/volunteers is weighed. While some have been able to apply for and receive loans or grants through government support programs, the possibility of staff reductions and salary reductions is real for many.
Despite these obstacles, camps are continuing to find ways to reach out to their campers, churches, and communities. They are creatively fulfilling their mission and goals in new ways when traditional summer camp programs need to be suspended. And they are developing innovative fundraising opportunities to continue to get the resources they need to maintain their facilities and grounds, offer alternative programs, and support staff.
While finances may be limited and giving may be challenging for many right now, as you, your family, and your congregation are able, the Outdoor Ministries Association (OMA) strongly encourages the continued and increased financial support for Church of the Brethren camps. Let’s give away some love and see how the Lord makes it grow!
— Linetta Ballew is assistant director at Brethren Woods Camp and Retreat Center in Keezletown, Va. This article was originally published in the Outdoor Ministries Association (OMA) E-News for May. Find out more about the OMA and the Church of the Brethren camps at www.brethren.org/camps .
Here are a few of the statements from Church of the Brethren camps announcing suspension of in-person summer camp programs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ballew reported to Newsline that, at this point, Camp Harmony may be the only OMA camp planning to go ahead with in-person camps for children and youth, with a modified schedule starting later in the summer.
Brethren Woods Camp and Retreat Center, Keezletown, Va.:
“On May 8, 2020, Governor Northam announced that summer camps in Virginia must remain closed when the state moves into Phase 1 of reopening and recovery. It is uncertain how long phase 1 will last or what the final regulations for summer camps will be in phase 2.
“Some guidelines for camp operations in light of COVID-19 have started to become available from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), our state and local Health Departments, and the American Camp Association. Social distancing requirements–even while playing games and in the pool, group size limits, required face masks for large portions of the day, daily temperature checks, using disposable products, not being able to do family-style meals, and many other regulations we would need to implement would require us to change significant aspects of camp’s program and culture that are essential pieces of how camp lives out our mission and meets the goals of our camp experience.
“Our responsibility for the health and safety of our campers, their families, staff, volunteers, and the wider community is first and foremost in our minds. Bringing together children and youth from various households for a week-long day or overnight experience together and then sending them home and welcoming a new group of campers, creates a situation where it would be easy for COVID-19 to be spread not only among campers and staff members, who may be relatively unaffected by the virus, but also transmitted to their families, churches, and communities which could include vulnerable populations that may suffer more severe symptoms.
“Therefore, Brethren Woods has decided to suspend our traditional summer camp programs for children and youth for the 2020 summer camp season. While this has been a difficult decision to make, it has been made with the full support of camp and district staff, the Outdoor Ministry Team and the Shenandoah District Crisis Management Team and Leadership Team who all met between May 11-14, 2020. As hard as it may be, we firmly believe that this is the right decision for the health and safety of everyone who is part of the Brethren Woods community, as well as for the future of Brethren Woods.
“This year, living out the value of Christian community that we teach so well at camp, means staying apart…. For the first time since 1960, a traditional summer camp program for children and youth will not be held at Brethren Woods. Instead, we will live into the truth of Isaiah 43:19 (NIV) which promises that God is ‘doing a new thing’ and ‘will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.’ We will be offering two completely new, alternative program options to fulfill our mission and meet camp’s goals this summer.
“The first is a Family Camp option for families who are ready to get out and are feeling comfortable heading to camp. We anticipate being able to welcome families once we move into phase 2. More information about this program will be made available over the coming weeks. Registration opens on June 1st…. We know that not everyone will be able to join us on-site at camp this summer, so we also want to provide a second alternative camp program that campers and their families can access no matter where they are. Watz’ in the Woods is a completely FREE online camp connection we’ll be offering for seven weeks in June and July! While we believe that “virtual camp” isn’t really possible–this online portal will help current, past, and future campers to stay connected–or get connected–with camp this summer.”
Camp Bethel, Fincastle, Va.:
“After two months of extensive study, consultations, meetings and prayer, we, like most other camps in Virginia, have decided to suspend our current schedule of overnight camps and day camps for the 2020 summer season….
“Since March, we have navigated a flood of information, forums, local and national Zoom calls, webinars, and workshops specifically about the impact of COVID-19 on Summer Camps. We have attempted, like all camps, to discern what might or might not be possible all while deciphering the vague CDC guidelines (www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/Camps-Decision-Tree.pdf ), the new “Forward Virginia” guidelines and Phases (www.governor.virginia.gov/media/governorvirginiagov/governor-of-virginia/pdf/Virginia-Forward-Phase-One-Business-Sector-Guidelines.pdf ), and the ACA/YMCA “Field Guide for Camps on Implementation of CDC Guidance” (www.acacamps.org/resource-library/coronavirus/camp-business/camp-operations-guide-summer-2020 ).
“Even if Virginia moves quickly into Phase 3 by early July, the extraordinary new protocols, procedures, and logistics necessary to provide food services SAFELY and to operate programs SAFELY are beyond our scope and infrastructure…. The science and medicine (testing, tracing, and treatment) just hasn’t caught up enough to ensure SAFE camp experiences. Under these conditions, having camp would be irresponsible. Suspending camp is the right decision.
“We have worked in solidarity with multiple other camps in Virginia (faith-based camps and secular camps, resident camps and day camps), and with all camps in the Outdoor Ministries Association of the Church of the Brethren. As of today, 39 of 44 regional camps (Virginia and surrounding states) we follow closely have announced suspension of summer programs….
“I encourage you to read this excellent article which wisely summarizes everything we’ve read and thought: ‘Unless we can ensure that each of us is safe at camp, we all have to stay home’ (www.thesummercampsociety.com/blog/2020/5/12/unless-we-can-ensure-that-each-of-us-is-safe-at-camp-we-all-have-to-stay-home )….
“We’re planning several free creative self-guided program options for individuals and families. We will regularly update our social media and “Camp At Home” videos (www.campbethelvirginia.org/campathome.html )….
“We covet your prayers, especially for our volunteers and our summer staff who had committed so much already to serve in our ministry this summer. When this storm passes, Camp Bethel will be ready. We continue our mission to foster and build relationships with God, with each other, and with creation.”
— Barry LeNoir, director of Camp Bethel
Camp Mardela, Denton, Md.:
“The Camp Mardela board this week made a decision it hoped never to have to make. Following a recommendation from camp administrator Gieta Gresh–who has been diligently following the guidance from the state, the Centers for Disease Control, the American Camping Association, and the Church of the Brethren Outdoor Ministries Association–all summer programs at the camp this year have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While this programming is at the heart of Camp Mardela’s ministry, the health and safety of our campers and staff are always of foremost importance, and especially now. If we are going to err, we want to err on the side of caution. Additionally, the state guidelines would have placed significant limitations on the activities and structure of camp, to the point that camp would bear little resemblance to what we usually offer. Creating sacred community is a key part of camp, and we would not have been able to do that under these conditions.
“We look forward to a time when we can resume programming, and we hope that you or children and youth you know will be part of that in the future. Events in August and later remain on at this point, but that is subject to change….
“During this unexpected quiet season at the camp we will still have volunteers come individually or in small groups to work–with appropriate distancing–on projects that will enhance the camp for the future. Individuals and families who obtain prior permission from the camp administrator may also be permitted to use the hiking trails and some other features at camp….
“Please continue to be in prayer for the camp and its staff and for our larger community as we find our way through this. Even in difficult times, we remain mindful of all the ways God continues to work among us.”
Southern Ohio/Kentucky District:
“As we have known…camp changes lives. We now are experiencing how life sometimes changes camp…..
“Even though the Covid 19 virus has taken over our lives, Southern Ohio/Kentucky
District Church of the Brethren will still be having summer camp with the theme ‘This Is My Prayer.’ Our 2020 summer camp won’t be an overnight, away from home camp. Instead it will be a virtual camp using zoom meetings for the gatherings. Each age group will have a certain day and time to meet. Family camp, open to anyone, will be on Friday evenings at 7:00. We will begin the week of June 8, and continue through July 27, an eight week timeframe. Campers will need internet access with an email they can connect to camp…. The cost is only $10 per camper…. To help this experiment of virtual camping, we wll be delivering or sending all the needed materials, craft supplies, and worksheets in bags to the registered campers.
“Please help spread the word about our adventure in a new type of camping. Your encouragement will really boost the success of our summer camp. Thanks for your support and prayers as we work to change lives through camp.”