Since March, Brethren Woods camp staff and Shenandoah District leadership have been closely monitoring public and verifiable information about the current health crisis and what that might mean for our summer camp season.
On May 8, 2020, Governor Northam announced that summer camps in VA must remain closed when the state moves into Phase 1 of reopening and recovery. It is uncertain how long phase 1 will last or what the final regulations for summer camps will be in phase 2.
Some guidelines for camp operations in light of COVID-19 have started to become available from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), our state and local Health Departments, and the American Camp Association. Social distancing requirements – even while playing games and in the pool, group size limits, required face masks for large portions of the day, daily temperature checks, using disposable products, not being able to do family-style meals, and many other regulations we would need to implement would require us to change significant aspects of camp’s program and culture that are essential pieces of how camp lives out our mission and meets the goals of our camp experience.
Our responsibility for the health and safety of our campers, their families, staff, volunteers, and the wider community is first and foremost in our minds. Bringing together children and youth from various households for a week-long day or overnight experience together and then sending them home and welcoming a new group of campers, creates a situation where it would be easy for COVID-19 to be spread not only among campers and staff members, who may be relatively unaffected by the virus, but also transmitted to their families, churches, and communities which could include vulnerable populations that may suffer more severe symptoms.
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While this has been a difficult decision to make, it has been made with the full support of camp and district staff, the Outdoor Ministry Team and the Shenandoah District Crisis Management Team and Leadership Team who all met between May 11-14, 2020. As hard as it may be, we firmly believe that this is the right decision for the health and safety of everyone who is part of the Brethren Woods community, as well as for the future of Brethren Woods. This year, living out the value of Christian community that we teach so well at camp, means staying apart.
We know that this decision is disappointing for campers and their families who were registered for camp. Camp staff and volunteers who had committed to serving at camp this summer are feeling this heartbreaking loss as well. We hope that by making this decision now, camp families will have time to make other plans for their children’s summers, including considering one or both of the alternative programs Brethren Woods will be offering.
Brethren Woods is committed to the modified deposit and registration payment policies we announced in March. Families of registered campers will be contacted by email or a follow-up phone call to get information about their preferences for any funds already paid for suspended 2020 summer camp programs by completing this form. In addition to receiving a full refund or crediting funds toward a future event, as you are able, we invite families to consider converting all or a portion of funds already paid into a donation to support camp’s ongoing ministry, including alternative summer programs. Brethren Woods is not immune to the negative financial impacts of this pandemic and we are facing some serious financial challenges.
For the first time since 1960, a traditional summer camp program for children and youth will not be held at Brethren Woods. Instead, we will live into the truth of Isaiah 43:19 (NIV) which promises that God is “doing a new thing” and “will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” We will be offering two completely new, alternative program options to fulfill our mission and meet camp’s goals this summer.
The first is a Family Camp option for families who are ready to get out and are feeling comfortable heading to camp. We anticipate being able to welcome families once we move into phase 2. More information about this program will be made available over the coming weeks. Registration opens on June 1st.
We know that not everyone will be able to join us on-site at camp this summer, so we also want to provide a second alternative camp program that campers and their families can access no matter where they are. Watz' in the Woods is a completely FREE online camp connection we’ll be offering for seven weeks in June and July! While we believe that “virtual camp” isn’t really possible – this online portal will help current, past, and future campers to stay connected – or get connected – with camp this summer.
We hope you’ll help us spread the word to friends and families from your church, school, or neighborhood as we welcome families at camp and reach out with God’s Good News in new ways this summer!
From the beginning of this crisis, Brethren Woods has been striving to follow Jesus’ example and choosing love and hope in the midst of fear and uncertainty. As we face these challenges, we will all need to work together to support and encourage one another as we live out the values we’ve been teaching at camp for years – Christ-centered living, love, respect, community, resiliency, strength, stewardship, determination, leadership, and grit. We need each other and camp, now more than ever.
God is faithful. Once again, in Isaiah 43:19 (NLT), God says, “For I am about to do something new! See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” Together, may we travel God’s path through this wilderness, experience rivers of love and faithfulness, and recognize and participate in the new things that spring forth.
Your Friends at Brethren Woods