Bunkbeds. Hugs. A game of tag. Worship. A large group of middle schoolers having tons of fun. Normally these words conjure up warm thoughts, joy and fond memories. In a year of a pandemic, these words bring high anxiety, worries and concerns. As our annual camp planning and the summer progressed, our team slowly came to terms with the fact that Holy Cross’s Camp Next Gen 2020 could not happen in its usual way. For the past five years we have held our camp at a campground in the Upstate, but as the coronavirus cases continued to increase, we could not, in good faith, go away on a sleepover camp.
Coronavirus has made all of us in ministry have to rethink what we do and how we do it. It has forced us to be creative and to let go of control, routine, and maybe even our ideas of how ministry is best accomplished. Once we got over our initial disappointment and grief, our camp leadership team, which consists of our youth pastors, a worship leader, and two of our priests, put our heads together and came up with Camp Next Gen Hometown.
We created COVID-19 policies and protocols that practically changed everything we did at camp. Instead of a sleep-away camp that would usually run from a Sunday to a Friday, we did a day camp that ran from a Monday to a Thursday for only five hours each day. We took temperatures upon arrival, required everyone to wear masks, and used hand sanitizer frequently. All of our activities and games had to be tweaked in order to keep as much physical distance as possible. We still had a time of worship and teaching inside, but we spaced all the chairs six feet apart and put up plexiglass shields between the worship leaders and the campers. There were so many logistical issues we had to work through, but in the end, all of the work, challenges, and creativity paid off. We were able to offer a camp that we believed was as safe as possible at a lower cost than our usual rate which we hoped would bless families in a time of economic stress.
On the week of July 27, we welcomed 40 very excited middle schoolers to camp at our Sullivan’s Island campus. As we talked with parents in the car line for drop off, a clear theme emerged: the parents were so grateful to have a camp for their kids that wasn’t cancelled. It had been a summer of disappointments, and here was a glimpse of joy and a sense of normalcy that the kids (and the parents!) had been craving. Yes, some kids were still grieving because they could not have the full camp experience, but there was so much grace and gratitude as well.
Camp Next Gen Hometown was a hit! We had color wars, played messy games, had fun at the beach, made new relationships and built on existing ones, memorized scripture, ate delicious food, and most importantly, heard the gospel. Our amazing leaders presented the gospel each day by focusing on creation, fall, redemption and restoration. We also shared the gospel every day in what we call ‘circle drawings.’ By the end of the week, most of the students could explain the gospel by drawing stick figures in circles and two of them even shared the gospel on stage in front of everyone. To summarize our week: seeds were planted, existing faith was encouraged, and hearts were turned to the Lord. I call that a successful camp!
When I look back on 2020 and all the suffering that occurred this year, I hope I will always remember Camp Next Gen Hometown and how the Lord was at work. Praise be to our God who redeems the broken, who restores joy in those who mourn, who is faithful to his people and to his promises, whose gospel is still transforming lives, who loves us with an everlasting love and who is so much bigger than a pandemic! May we all be encouraged to trust Him. Even in the most uncertain of times, God is still working.
By Melissa Bennett, Associate Youth Pastor, The Church of the Holy Cross, Sullivan’s Island and Daniel Island