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Camps and conferences stay positive during pandemic


Social distance challenges require outside-the- box thinking to survive and thrive

December 3, 2020

Brian Frick

Like most organizations, PC(USA)- affiliated camp and retreat centers were blindsided by the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay-at-home and social distancing orders struck the very heart and infrastructure of summer camp and retreat resident ministries. But amid it all, associate for Christian Formation Brian Frick has continued to have hope.

“Camp leaders did an incredible job juggling the uncertainty during the pandemic’s early days,” said Frick. “They quickly developed plans that would ensure survival through 2020 and carry them through into what we hope is an even better 2021.”

Immediate concerns centered on establishing financial security, including but not limited to national aid from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program and small business disaster assistance loans. But camp leaders quickly turned their attention to summer resident camp and retreat programs. And that’s when some creative thinking came into play.

Most PC(USA)-affiliated camps created either an online or a “camp-in-a-box” solution. Several offered modified resident camping following local health guidelines. Retreat leaders re-evaluated their ministries to meet local, state and national safety guidelines.

The camp-in-a-box program delivers materials to campers’ homes with directions that enable them to participate in normal camp activities. It includes games, Bible studies, adventures, camp recipes and songs. Distinct from online camp, the camp-in-a-box goal is to pull campers away from screens. Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, had more than 1,300 campers sign up for its June program.

Online camp, on the other hand, helps participants stay true to the community aspect of camp by bringing campers together with counselors for campfires, crafts, and nature exploration. It does include some screen time, but Frick feels it is a fair tradeoff for the community-building aspect it provides.

“Both the online and camp-in-a-box offerings keep campers engaged in the outdoors even when they can’t be at camp,” said Frick. “This may not be a replacement for the faith community development found in person, but it ensures that our young congregations get a summer faith experience that brings them out of their regular routine.”

The Presbyterian Mission Agency’s (PMA) Office of Christian Formation partners with and supports the Presbyterian Church Camp and Conference Center Association, and thus far has engaged with the PCCCA on several key initiatives. One of them was a virtual, password-protected online camp portal that could be used alongside camp-in-a-box materials and engage young adults in leadership training. Others included respite retreats for pastors and church professionals created in partnership with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, coaching and consulting around camp finances, and hosting a weekly mutual support gathering for camp and retreat professionals. That approach provided opportunities for networking and access to information on a variety of relevant topics.

Despite the creativity and resourcefulness displayed by camp leaders and partners, Frick expects continued pressure on camp and retreat center budgets.

Nevertheless, Frick has long-term faith in the camps and conferences ministry and has seen firsthand the response from his colleagues brought about by the viral pandemic.

“If there is any ministry that can adapt and respond, it is our camp and retreat centers. We will see innovation, deeper engagement with congregations and families, and an increased focus on authentic ministry. Faith community development across the generational spectrum will be the driver of success. It sounds crazy, but out of this crisis are going to come the best days for those who weather the storm.”

If you would like to help camp and retreats during this challenging time, you can give to your local camp and retreat center by finding it at or by supporting PCCCA in supporting camp leaders by donating at

Scott O’Neill, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Presbyterian Camps and Conferences

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Mienda Uriarte, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Kris Valerius, Office of the General Assembly

Let us pray:

Dear Lord, thank you for the energy and enthusiasm of your children of faith. Lead them by your Spirit, that they will be faithful ambassadors for your grace and truth. Amen.

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