Summer Camps seek to find their way through pandemic
Camps find creative ways to do camp
Just as faiths vary in their perspectives about opening their buildings for worship, so do camps of the faith communities.
The camps are making decisions about opening based on their facilities and the feasibility of keeping spaces sanitized so campers are physically distanced and safe.
Some camps are closing. Some camps are offering alternative programs for families, individuals and congregations because they have spaces that allow people to be separated. Some camps are opening but expect fewer campers. Some camps were still deciding by press time.
The Fig Tree contacted the area camps and includes stories of those who responded to share their discernment process and plans.
N-Sid-Sen Camp and Retreat Center for the Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ (UCC) lost its spring guest groups, allowing it to do a more thorough spring cleaning than usual.
Mark Boyd, managing director, said N-Sid-Sen offered its space, as did its sister UCC camp, Pilgrim Firs in Kitsap County, to be a site for isolation and quarantine for first responders, but N-Sid-Sen's location on the east shore of Lake Coeur d'Alene did not lend to that.
So conference and camp leaders developed an alternative, "Families at Camp." While it will not replace the usual summer income, it will be "a ministry to give people an opportunity to come to camp in a different way," Mark said. "We hope some will donate beyond the cost of coming for several days."
Because summer camps were suspended and the space is available, families who are isolating together may come Thursdays to Mondays. They may stay in one of four lodge-type spaces with a kitchen, or one of four cabins so they can stay to themselves. There is space for 24 people total.
"We don't know when we will open again for group rentals or what will be possible in summer of 2021," he said. "We know that churches are looking at different ways to do ministry now. Can we sing at camp fires or play community games? Will we need to limit numbers in cabins? Will we be able to load campers into a bus to go up the river for a float trip?"
There are many questions about camp traditions, activities, housing and meals.
"In the future, we will likely have a nurse on staff and have a medical check required for campers before coming," he said of some suggestions being explored. "We need to look at how to do camps carefully and safely."
Mark is grateful to have so many creative people thinking through ideas.
This summer, volunteer camp directors are also thinking how to connect with campers.
"We won't be doing virtual camp, because we believe outdoor ministries needs to be out-of-doors and people have already been online more than normal," he said. "Ideas are being developed.
"We have to change. Change is hard, but this has come so rapidly," he said. "It's an opportunity to look at why we do what we do and whether what we do achieves what we want."
Conference Minister Mike Denton has been challenging leaders and committees saying, "We do this so that…" and urges leaders to think about the ultimate goals and ways to tweak what they do to achieve them.
"We have seen incredible things happening around the conference, generating positive energy to look at a different future," Mark said.
"Who would have thought of Families at Camp?" he mused. "Families who have been isolating together will come Thursday to Monday. They will be able to swim, hike, canoe, have campfires, dive into scripture and challenge themselves."
The camps started with pastors' families coming May 8 and 15.
Andy CastroLang, pastor at Westminster Congregational UCC, and her husband Jim, pastor at First Congregational in Colville, were looking for a chance to get away after Easter and learned about the Families at Camp, so they included their son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren who were isolating with them.
"Going to camp was the perfect get away. We could walk all over, throw rocks in the lake, swing, canoe, go inside warm, dry cabins when it rained," she said. "Mark provided the gear ahead of time so we didn't contaminate anything."
Mark said each family is assigned a canoe, paddles and life jackets.
A family came each of the last two weeks of May, and three the first week of June. More are booked.
There are also RV hookups for self-contained RVs.
"We are following recommendations from Idaho and Washington, the American Camping Association and the Center for Disease Control, opting for the most stringent to ensure safety," he said.
Year-round staff is at camp until July 14. Two volunteers will come for the summer to clean between families. There will be limited contact between staff and families.
On Mondays when families leave, they will open the windows and doors. The space sits open until Tuesday afternoon, when staff will begin intensive cleaning, wipe all surfaces, wash linens and quilts all day Wednesday and Thursday morning.
Guests will bring their own food and take leftovers home.
With spring and fall cancellations, along with no summer camps, it will be a tough year financially, but the Pacific Northwest Conference received a Paycheck Protection Program loan/grant and plans a fundraising campaign.
Staff are also exploring offering spaces in the fall for individual retreats to bring income.
Micah 6:8, "What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?" has been a theme for the Pacific Northwest UCC churches.
Those words were in Mark's mind thinking of summer programs.
"Doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly led us to suspend 2020 summer programs we could not provide safely," said Mark, "but meant we did not close the camp."
"Camp in 2020 will still change lives," he said. "We will encourage people always to take the camper they are at camp into the bigger world that needs the justice, kindness and humility they experience at camp," Mark said.
For information, call (209) 689-3489 or visit www.n-sid-sen.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, June, 2020