Church summer camps and in-person internship programs are making a comeback in 2021 with an array of new procedures designed to minimize exposure to COVID-19.
But getting there after a year of virtual or no-go gatherings has posed challenges for organizers who have spent the past few months trying to gauge interest in their programs.
“The suspense here was whether the churches were going to call and if the students were going to show up,” said Devita Parnell, who manages the Student.Church internship program at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
“The other suspenseful room was wondering if the students were ready for in person and were they ready and comfortable enough to pick up and relocate somewhere this summer, ”said Parnell, also director of the Baptist Youth Ecosystem Program at CBF.
Likewise, it was not until the end of March that PASSPORT found out who, and roughly how many, churches were planning to send young people to its camps in June and July, said David Burroughs, Camp Founder and President. ecumenical summer based in Birmingham, Alabama. ministry.
“Until then, all of our numbers were theoretical. So when the churches started to say, ‘OK, we’re coming,’ it was a huge relief, ”he said.
It’s a shared experience through a growing number of programs for youth and young adults, bolstered by falling rates of COVID-19 infection, increasing vaccination rates, and new CDC protocols for in-person youth and community activities. young adults.
“Science shows that camps that have implemented strict and layered mitigation strategies – including masking, grouping, physical distancing, cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities, hand washing proper respiratory etiquette – were able to function safely in person, ”said Tom Rosenberg, president and CEO of the American Camp Association.
“Science shows that camps that implemented strict and layered mitigation strategies… were able to operate safely in person. “
A recent study of the organization reported that 30 of the 90,000 young people who attended face-to-face summer camps in 2020 had confirmed cases of COVID-19, an achievement he attributes to security measures employed by organizers, he said. -he declares. “When camps follow the rigorous science-based approach outlined in the Field Guide for Camps on Implementing CDC Guidelines, camps can operate safely and successfully. “
Lifeway Christian Resources has announced that it is preparing for the 2021 summer camp season with expanded health and safety measures for its various child and youth programs.
“Last year, Lifeway offered digital worship experiences after canceling all camps due to the pandemic,” Lifeway said. “This summer, Lifeway plans to get back to normal as they welcome more than 92,000 registered camp participants at 78 sites across the United States.”
Participants and staff will be expected to wear masks and maintain a social distance, and a small group approach will be used during meals and all other gatherings.
“A spirit of unity and a willingness to ensure the health and safety of our brothers and sisters in Christ is what will enable us to achieve our common goal of seeing a successful summer camp happen,” said Ben. Trueblood, Director of Lifeway Students. . “The reality is that the camp will look different, but we want it to be as normal a camp experience as possible. The things that are most basic for camping will always be there.
The same concern led PASSPORT to take a similar approach at its North Carolina and South Carolina camps this summer, Burroughs said.
The organization will divide the campers into cohorts of 50 to 75 members who will spend the entire week together. Small groups will stay in the same dorms and have dinner, play, worship, and attend group Bible studies.
“The idea is to minimize the number of children who can be exposed to each other,” he said.
The ministry is also following the CDC’s suggestion organize outdoor activities as much as possible. “Thus, all of our parties, worship services and other activities will be held outdoors. The small group Bible studies will likely take place indoors, ”Burroughs said.
And unvaccinated campers will need to take a negative COVID-19 test one to three days before arrival.
Despite the protocols, however, many congregations that typically send children to PASSPORT camps have missed the opportunity to do so this year, meaning that approximately 2,300 campers are expected as registration continues. “A bunch of our churches said they just weren’t ready and would be back next year,” Burroughs said.
But the organization is grateful to all the participants because the alternative was worrying for the viability of PASSPORT. “I think we would have found a way to survive if the face-to-face camps hadn’t taken place this year. But the question would have been: “What is our goal?” If we can’t camp why are we here? “
Church and ministry internship programs for college-aged adults are overcoming many of the same challenges presented by the pandemic, Parnell said.
Currently, 19 churches have committed to welcoming students through Student.Church, and 17 are still looking for candidates. “We hope that 38 to 40 students will be placed in 35 churches. “
These figures are roughly the same as in 2020, when the program was virtual, and still far from the 50 students placed in 2019, she added.
Student.Go, which places interns in ministries managed by CBF field staff, will remain fully virtual this year as their functions can be properly performed remotely, Parnell said. “These are project-based positions, like doing social media for Touch Miami with Love or having someone create programs for after-school programs.”
Even two of the congregations involved in Student.Church remain entirely virtual with their internships, while the others are either in-person or hybrid, Parnell said.
Getting through and beyond COVID-19, she said, takes hard work and faith. “I felt this whole program is an exercise in trusting God, and I pray that students come out of this pandemic and want to have those experiences. “
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