by Kevin Cartee
One big breath.
Every Camp Director knows it’s coming. Works for it. Waits for it. Longs to breathe that one breath that comes at the end of the summer camp season.
It’s breathed deeply as the last campfire song of the season fades, and summer staff packs up to return to college. It’s a deep breath of joy at the end of another amazing season of summer camp.
It’s a prayer of thanksgiving to God for a season of memories punctuated by the glowing embers that yielded gourmet s’mores, Dutch-oven treats, deep conversation, and heartfelt prayers. It’s a memorial for the hours of swimming, hiking, canoeing, and camp activities. It’s for teaching new skills and for resilience transferring into life experiences, for life-long relationships formed in intentional Christian community – marked by the pattern of living and worshiping together.
It’s that one deep camp director breath that begins by inhaling the goodness of summer’s end and continues by exhaling the intensity of two months focused on faith formation, propelling campers into the next ten months supported by their faith communities.
It’s that one breath that encourages, inspires, focuses, challenges, and initiates the cycle again — planning and working toward the next camping season, with opening day just ten months away.
Last August, we took that one big breath at Camp Fellowship, inhaling the goodness of one season and exhaling to begin again. Camper and parent feedback were considered. New programs were planned to strengthen each aspect of camp. All was set for a banner 2020 camp season!
Then it happened. Confronted with the realities of a deadly virus making its way around the world, we were filled with concern for the health and safety of our community, staff, guests, and campers. This concern was compounded by worry over the financial losses to be sustained with the cancellation of spring programs.
Then came the realization that felt like wind taken from our sails – water poured on a campfire – or marshmallows and graham crackers with no chocolate — a scary moment when we realized that all of the plans made since last season could be in jeopardy. Summer 2020 might leave us gasping for air instead of breathing that one big breath!
In this moment when we most need a breath, God reminds us we are not alone and gives us perspective, courage, and a sustaining breath from the Holy Spirit. God calls us to re-imagine summer 2020.
First, God gives us perspective – in the form of a Ugandan children’s choir in need of emergency shelter. Originally scheduled to spend two nights with us, God brought this choir to town when they most needed a safe place to stay. We have provided them food and lodging for almost three months now. In them, we have witnessed strong faith in the face of adversity and have been blessed by their songs and by their smiles. Derailed summer plans and pandemic stress could not be our only focus. Instead, we were to focus on God’s goodness, grace, mercy, and care.
Second, there is amazing support. We are blessed with amazing staff and strong Board leadership. We have deep support from our presbyteries and churches. We have amazing colleagues around North America. In these relationships, we find courage to make difficult decisions, including suspending residential camps and re-imagining our summer programming.
Finally, God’s Spirit fills us with breath as we explore new ways of connecting with families. The Spirit sustains us with energy, creativity, imagination, and wisdom for re-imagining how we can best engage in the vital role camp plays in connecting with camper families and congregations for sustained faith-formation experiences.
So, what does Summer 2020 Re-Imagined look like?
Camp-In-A-Box will be delivered to each family this summer! We hope to offer this free of charge, with generous support from churches and individuals. This box builds upon the Inside Out curriculum (published by Chalice Press in partnership several denominations) and includes five packets with Bible studies, crafts (and supplies), games, and resources that the family can use over the summer to experience camp together. We will also make supplemental digital resource content available with the support of six young adult summer staff who will support Camp-In-A-Box while living together in intentional Christian community.
As conditions improve, we will welcome families or other small groups for mini-retreats or day experiences to further enrich the summer.
Like many other camps, we are thankful to have the opportunity to share the good news of Christ at a time when campers, families, and the WORLD need it the most – even if our model has to be temporarily re-imagined! As summer 2020 unfolds, we will take that deep breath again, looking forward to all that Summer 2021 will bring, including new lessons learned, relationships forged, and faith-transforming experiences shaped in God’s loving Spirit. For information on camps offering Camp-in-a-Box program, check out these sites.
Do you know of a camp or conference center that needs to be added to this list? Email us at [email protected].