By Chris Moon
Christian camps are gearing up for a much more active summer season this year, hoping the waning state of the COVID-19 pandemic will allow more kids to come together for summer fun.
THE ARK Christian Ministries
Bruce Cameron, executive director of THE ARK Christian Ministries in Indiana, said he saw God “do some amazing stuff last summer” when the camp was forced to operate at reduced capacity.
Campers gathered in small groups, and they spent virtually all of their time outside.
“It enhanced the creativity, and we tried to lean into that,” Cameron said.
But the camp’s reach was affected. Only 421 campers attended last summer’s camps, down from 1,100 to 1,200 in a normal year.
Numbers will be higher this year. Cameron said he’s expecting about 1,000 campers during summer 2021 at THE ARK, located near Converse, Ind., between the cities of Marion and Kokomo.
The COVID-19 pandemic remains a threat, however, and camp still will look a little different at THE ARK.
For instance, groups will be kept small, under 25 people. Larger gatherings can occur, but those 25-person groups must maintain a 6-foot distance from other groups.
Masks must be worn at certain times—like when campers get food or when they come into contact with camp staff. For instance, a camper at the climbing wall will mask up while he or she is putting on a harness with the help of a camp staff member.
Cameron said the extra precautions will help if a coronavirus infection were to pop up and force groups of campers into quarantine. One goal is to prevent staffers, who interact with multiple groups each day, from being infected.
Meanwhile, Cameron said the small-group dynamic brought on by the pandemic has actually been a good thing. The gospel is shared most effectively in smaller settings, he said.
“It’s just God bringing people together,” he said.
Financially, God also has been taking care of THE ARK. Because the camp operated at reduced capacity last year, it faced a $225,000 budget shortfall by the end of last September. But individuals and churches more than covered the shortfall.
“By the end of the year, people had given $200,000 more than in 2019,” Cameron said. “It was pretty remarkable.”
Lake Springfield Christian Assembly
In neighboring Illinois, the story is similar at Lake Springfield Christian Assembly Camp and Retreat Center. Camp Manager Kerma Yotter said church and individual financial support has remained strong despite the pandemic.
Thanks to that support, the camp has been able to do a lot of projects at its facilities during the past year, from replacing carpet and windows to painting.
“We ended the year in the black, at least,” Yotter said.
Unlike THE ARK, LSCA didn’t hold camp last year due to health restrictions related to the pandemic.
Instead, the camp offered daily videos to would-be campers encouraging them to get outside, giving them kindness challenges, and teaching wilderness skills. LSCA also sold and gave away thousands of meals from its location in Chatham, Ill., just south of Springfield.
“We just changed what we did,” Yotter said.
The first camps this year at LSCA will begin the week of June 13. Yotter said social distancing and masks still are required in many cases.
She is expecting the camp to operate at 60 to 70 percent capacity with about 600 kids attending this summer. Campers will be segregated into 30-person cohorts and must be 30 feet away from the next closest group of campers.
“We’re going to try to follow the guidelines to the best of our ability and understanding,” Yotter said. “We want to have integrity and set a good example.”
The main thing, though, is summer camp will be a reality this year, she said.
“They’re going to have a blast either way,” Yotter said. “They will encounter Jesus whether they have a mask on or not. And lives will be changed.”
Chris Moon is a pastor and writer living in Redstone, Colorado.