The demand for summer programming for children and youth is high, especially the kinds of opportunities offered at United Methodist camps – outdoors, active, led by trained leaders who prioritize safety and Christian community. Families who have been cooped up at home with virtual school are eager for children to play and socialize with others in wholesome, fresh-air environments, taking a well-earned break from technology screens.
“Time exploring faith and independence is what our youth are longing for," said Jessica Gamaché, Director of the United Methodist Camp & Retreat Ministries (UMCRM) Association. "Our camps are ready once again to provide safe spaces where that can happen.”
Churches that have struggled to provide engaging, age-appropriate Christian education for children, youth, and young adults during this difficult year are relieved to know that camps will be doing what they do best, helping those young people encounter God’s good news in experiential, fun ways. Children and camp staff who were devastated to miss their “best week(s) ever” last summer are excited to return to the beautiful forests and shores of their camp to reconnect with friends, with nature, and with the best of summer camp traditions. The isolation, stress, and grief of the pandemic have taken a toll on young people’s mental health, for which camp will be a welcome balm. Active days in fresh air and sunshine in the company of other children and near-peer counselor role models can help to provide a social, emotional, and spiritual reset, getting them in touch with connection, peace, joy, and a sense of normalcy that has been largely absent over the past year.
Of the nearly 170 United Methodist camps in the U.S., 90% were unable to operate in summer 2020, leading to staff furloughs and massive financial hardships. The few camp ministries that were able to offer programming last season provided insights into health protocols and best practices that will inform operations for all camps opening this year.
A study by the American Camp Association (ACA) provides strong data showing that camps can provide COVID-safe environments through layered mitigation strategies, including small group cohorting, masking and distancing where appropriate, cleaning protocols, and more. Camps have been gearing up all year, reviewing guidance from the CDC and ACA, purchasing supplies, and training staff to meet the increased demands of a safe reopening. Many have found it a challenge to hire staff for the summer and are still seeking qualified applicants for seasonal and short-term paid and volunteer positions. Readers who are interested in applying to work at a United Methodist camp or referring a potential staffer should contact their local camp directly.
The United Methodist Camp & Retreat Ministries (UMCRM) Association encourages churches and communities to pray for your camps now and throughout the summer. Consider providing extra financial and volunteer support as camps seek to surmount every hurdle to make meaningful, wholesome experiences for children, youth, and families in a year when we all need them more than ever. The partnerships among our Association, local health authorities, Annual Conferences, and others affirm the importance and interconnectedness of camping ministries and communities at large. Camps can’t wait to welcome you back to United Methodism’s sacred grounds.
Jen Burch is Association Administrator for United Methodist Camp and Retreat Ministries. This article was originally published at UMCRM.camp.