By Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
“In person” is the mode for most Church of the Brethren camps this summer. Representatives of several of the camps reported on their planning for the 2021 season in a recent Zoom meeting of the Outdoor Ministries Association, chaired by Gene Hollenberg with Linetta Ballew as vice-chair.
Barry LeNoir of Camp Bethel in Virginia reported having to grapple with changing state guidelines, as did others on the call. Virginia is one of the states issuing new guidance and COVID protocols to allow overnight camps this summer in light of the availability of vaccines and lower numbers of cases and deaths from the disease.
Camp representatives talked about a variety of COVID mitigation measures that may help keep campers safe. Each camp is making its own plan. Examples of what different camps are doing based on CDC guidelines, the American Camp Association Field Guide, and varying state and local regulations: requiring staff and counselors to be vaccinated, COVID-19 screening such as quarantines or negative test results before arrival, reducing numbers of campers and staff, shortened schedules, social distancing, separating campers into small-group “bubbles,” requiring face masks, keeping cabins open to the air and ventilated, setting up dining tents, and using other means to do as much as possible outdoors.
Outdoors is better, they all agreed. Camp Pine Lake in Iowa is even asking for donations of pup tents so that campers and counselors don’t have to sleep in cabins.
Some camps, such as Camp Placid in Tennessee, already have been hosting retreat groups or longterm rentals this spring. Others, such as Shepherd’s Spring in Maryland, are offering day camps as well as overnight camps this year, in order to reach more campers. Shepherd’s Spring is planning a few weeks of day camps for inner-city children from Hagerstown, Md., in addition to several weeks of overnight camps, said Zane Garrett. This fall, he also anticipates a good turnout of school groups and retreat groups.
Camp Pine Lake is taking another tack to reassure families who have concerns about camper health and safety. Taking advantage of having a number of small cabins, children up through fifth grade will bring a parent to bunk with for a shortened camp experience, reported Barbara Wise Lewczak.
Camp Brethren Heights in Michigan is making a covenant with campers to either quarantine for two weeks or get a negative COVID-19 test before arrival. The camp is renting a large tent for outdoor dining, limiting cabin capacity to 50 percent, and keeping cabin doors and windows open. “We’re a rustic, outdoor camp,” said Randall Westfall. “Let’s be rustic outdoors!”
At Brethren Woods in Virginia, Ballew reported plans for a slightly reduced camp season, from the usual six weeks to four. The first overnight camp is scheduled to start two weeks after school is out, to allow time for children to quarantine.
Camp Blue Diamond in Pennsylvania is planning just as many camping weeks as usual, but holding fewer camps each week, said Dean and Jerri Wenger. In another protective measure, the camp installed a new hand-washing station outside the lodge. In addition to the summer camping season, and the school groups that they have already started hosting this spring, Blue Diamond will be the site for this year’s Song and Story Fest, the annual Church of the Brethren family camp co-sponsored by On Earth Peace.
In addition to looking ahead to the summer, the OMA meeting also looked back at what the pandemic has done to camps across the denomination. Surprisingly, it was not all bad news. “We survived 2020,” said LeNoir. “We kept all our staff. We begged for money. Some 60 percent of our income was from gifts.”
Camp Emmaus in Illinois also has survived financially through the generosity of donors, but is having to increase camp registration fees this year to pay for the expenses of meeting CDC and county re-opening guidelines.
Camp Alexander Mack in Indiana used the slowdown in 2020 to carry out some $800,000 worth of improvement projects including a new health center, and is planning a robust summer camping season. Although the camp’s pandemic protocols have put off some retreat groups that canceled–because they didn’t want to wear masks, for example–the camp is starting to receive reservations from school groups for this May and June.
Similarly, Camp Koinonia in Washington State used this past year to accomplish “a bunch of projects,” said Kevin Eichhorn. The projects were carried out with donations and the work of volunteers. The camp has been hosting interfaith groups as well, he reported.
At Camp Colorado, Bud Taylor reported that the pandemic has been a good opportunity “to just slow down.” He anticipates a good camping season this year. “The kids want to come. The counselors want to come.”
A continuing problem for all the camps, however? Recruiting enough counselors for this summer season.
For a listing of all the Church of the Brethren-related camps, with their websites and other contact information, go to www.brethren.org/camps/directory.
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