Intentional focus positions camp for future success
May 13, 2021
The Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” avant-garde film wasn’t well-received back in 1967. But its iconic status and concept proved stunningly successful in the middle of a pandemic.
In the hope of providing a small slice of camp life for registered summer campers who couldn’t attend because of the pandemic, Virginia-based Camp Hanover staffers loaded up their own “magical” camp van with yard signs, T-shirts and a songbook to embark on their own tour. They surprised unsuspecting parents and children at home with a socially distant visit and regaled them with camp songs at their front door. The tour was just a small part of the camp’s Isaiah 40 project, an initiative that allowed camp leaders and a small set of staffers to provide outreach ministry during a pandemic.
“We identified a bunch of campers who had registered for summer camp, and midway through the summer loaded up our van with yard signs and shirts and hit the road,” said Harry Zweckbronner, associate director of programs at Camp Hanover. “We didn’t tell them we were coming so we surprised them at home. We knocked on the door, sang some camp songs and left a yard sign that said, ‘Camp Hanover loves you.’”
Camp Hanover, located about 30 miles northeast of Richmond, Virginia, likes to call itself “a place apart.” A summer camp and retreat center with Presbyterian roots, it’s focused on lifting up Christian community and hospitality and providing campers and participants an opportunity to practice faith through mission service and outreach. And like most, if not all, Christian summer camps, the COVID-19 pandemic turned its ministry and model upside down last spring.
“When the decision to suspend traditional summer camping program was made, we started looking for ways to continue to do ministry and have an impact on people’s lives. The Isaiah 40 project was result of that,” said Doug Walters, executive director at Camp Hanover.
“Camp Hanover is not just a ministry to school-age kids, it’s a home; it’s a faith point for the young adults who serve as counselors, lifeguards, and activity leaders — and they were also going to be missing out on the camp experience. (We wanted) to form an intentional community where young adults could come, live together in Christ and community, serve, grow in their faith and do some spiritual discernment.”
The Isaiah 40 project team consisted of eight young adults invited to live at Camp Hanover during the summer.
Part of their mission included doing service projects to fix up and freshen areas of the camp that would typically be neglected during a busy summer.
The team also put together and ran a virtual vesper service that was put out on social media every Sunday evening.
“One of the things I love about this ministry and this place is the amazing young adults that serve here each summer,” said Zweckbronner. “We knew we had a great resource in them.”
Additional outreach initiatives included Zoom reunions, where previous-year campers, some as recent as last year but others going as far back as the 1970s and ’80s, got together virtually in the evenings. “Hanover at Home” groups were twice- weekly Zoom meetings that featured participants segmented into similar age groups and led by counselors. These meetings served as “check-ins” that were ongoing throughout the summer and sometimes featured creative themes like show-an-tell and Pictionary contests. The team even held virtual campfires where participants were encouraged to light a fire, a candle or whatever they could while the group sang camp songs in their virtual space.
“This experience reaffirmed for me that camp matters,” said Zweckbronner. “Even though people couldn’t come here, camp is more than the ‘place.’ It’s the way we care for each other, living in community, taking care of one another. The reactions we had on the Magical Mystery Tour, and parents told us how much their kids looked forward to Hanover at Home. It reaffirmed for me that camp community matters. We’re not meant to be isolated; we’re meant to live in community and care for each other.”
Scott O’Neill, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Thursday, May 13, 2021, the Ascension of the Lord (Year B)
Today’s Focus: Camp Hanover
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray:
Lord God, help us to discern your guidance for all that we think, say and do, and strengthen us to walk in the paths that you have set before us. Amen.