Camps are quiet but still doing creative ministry with needed support

By John W. Coleman

A poignant silence has replaced children’s gleeful laughter and other daily sounds of summer fun at the Eastern PA Conference’s four Camp & Retreat Centers. Yet, they are still helping families celebrate the season in creative ways, despite being prevented by the COVID-19 pandemic from hosting their traditional summer camps.

Gretna Glen in Lebanon has welcomed limited gatherings of individuals and families for fellowship and activities, while practicing safety protocols. Meanwhile, Carson-Simpson Farm in Hatboro, Innabah in Spring City, and Pocono Plateau in Cresco have offered creative, camp-like adventures on their social media pages. And all of the camps have been blessed by supportive donors and volunteers showing up to perform much-needed labors of love.

At Gretna Glen ‘Camp is good’


“Someone recently asked me, ‘How is Camp?’” recalled Gretna Glen’s longtime director Apryl Miller. “My automatic answer was, ‘Camp is good!’”  She admits that answer is true but doesn’t always feel that way. In March and April she and her staff had to cancel groups of guests, confirmation retreats, youth nights and children’s retreats.

In May, they canceled the camp’s Open House, Senior Adults Day, dozens of school groups, and the annual Gretna Gritty fundraiser. June followed with cancellation of Camp Can-Do for young cancer patients and the start of their 61st year of summer camp.  “Words can’t quite describe how we’ve missed our campers, volunteers and summer staff,” said Miller, echoing the sentiments of her disappointed colleagues.

But then came July and the loosening of state restrictions on gatherings and operations, as Lebanon County moved into the “green phase” of pandemic mitigation. As a “best practice” Gretna Glen chose to not offer “custodial” day and overnight programs, where the camp bears primary responsibility for campers. But the staff pivoted to offer smaller summer camp-like adventures and service opportunities to independent individuals and groups.

Be@Camp Days offers three-hour sessions where accompanied children can enjoy nature exploration, boating, swimming, fishing, hiking trails, sport games and other fun-filled activities. Attendance reached the maximum of 40 persons on several days in August. Upcoming Be@Camp Days (9 AM to 12 PM) are scheduled for August 19, 20 and 27. Pre-registration is required. Learn more.

Family Getaways have also been popular this month, providing numerous families with affordable, flexible, weekend mini-vacations (better than “stay-cations” perhaps) for rest, recreation and spiritual growth. Optional activities include archery, boating, swimming, a prayer labyrinth, worship and crafts. The camp will offer more getaways September 18-20 and October 23-25. Learn more.

Gretna Glen also welcomed volunteers, including four church youth groups in June and July to do work projects around the camp, totaling an estimated 6,768 volunteer service hours.

“Volunteer work teams, Be@Camp Activity Days and Family Getaways have given us 25 straight days of opportunities to share Gretna Glen with our community,” said Miller. “While that is not the good we are used to, I say ‘Camp is good’ because God is good. I can look back today and still mourn what we all have lost; and yet, I see the good that has come from these times….We will continue to seek opportunities to serve in safe ways.”

At Innabah camping fun goes online

Innabahis also inviting families to come enjoy getaways at its facilities, now that Chester County is in the “green” phase. They do not offer food service or use of their pool. But they do offer “family-friendly pricing…and ways to enjoy the beauty and serenity that Innabah has to offer.” Contact Sami Wagaman, Assistant Director, for information at registrar@innabah.org.

Meanwhile, Innabah has posted colorful, online camping adventures on its active Facebook  and Instagram pages. Viewers at home have enjoyed singing along to blazing campfires, plus silly songs and dances performed by staff, virtual camp tours and visual visits to the camp store, a Christmas in July Wagon Ride, and more.

Director Michael Hyde, in colorful garb, shared the 2020 summer camp theme “Only One You” in a special reading on YouTube. And the camp sold 211 specially designed summer t-shirts, doubling their goal and raising over $4,400. Indeed, all the camps are struggling to overcome the huge loss of revenue from canceled spring retreats and summer camps.

“Thank you to everyone who has chosen to help support Innabah’s ministry during these unique times,” Hyde wrote in a letter to supporters. “Please know you are having an impact on the continued operations of camp…. We continue to pray for everyone who has been affected by this pandemic.”

Innabah has also benefited from volunteer help with maintenance, including a Boy Scout troop that painted the front of the camp store and a youth group from Cedarville UMC that helped clean cabins.

Looking ahead to the fall, Hyde and his team hope to have safe one-day retreats for young Challenge Campers and overnight retreats for intergenerational campers, as well as small adult retreat groups.

Pocono Plateau makes ‘virtual ministry connections’

This summer at Pocono Plateau has been “all about providing virtual ministry connections with our summer campers,” said the Rev. Ron Schane, director. That has included live and recorded video presentations on the camp’s Facebook page, from singing and storytelling, to games and dramatized Bible stories. 

The camp actively marks the days of the week on Facebook. “Maintenance Mondays” highlights the work volunteers are doing to improve the facilities and care for the property, including roof repairs, painting and electrical work, lawn care, replacing sewer lines and trail maintenance. “Wayback Whens-days” revisits the camp’s history while counting down to its celebration of 75 years in 2021. (And yes, they have already published a 2021 Camp Schedule.) “Fun Fact Fridays” shares “kernels of knowledge about various aspects of camp.”

Pocono Plateau will join the other camps in offering two-night family getaways, while employing safety protocols. Sponsored activities include boating, canoeing, hiking, scaling the climbing tower and enjoying fellowship around the campfire. And the camp has its own fundraisers, including a limited edition Summer 2020 T-shirt still available for $30-plus, but going fast.

Meanwhile, the camp will replace its annual 5K- and 15K-race fundraisers this year with a Treasure Hunt on Saturday, September 19, 9 AM to 4 PM. The usual runners and walkers will instead leisurely hike the many scenic trails in search of hidden treasures, all while social distancing. A “virtual option” is included for those who want to “hunt” from home. Find out more

The camp has had to postpone its annual fall Knitting, Senior Adult and Men’s retreats in the interest of public safety. But each of these popular retreats are expected to return in 2021.

“Pocono Plateau holds a special place in my heart,” said the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm, Director of Connectional Ministries, who spent special times there as a youth. She has visited and produced brief video-interviews with camp directors at all four sites in her first two months on the job.

Check out her video interview with Schane (right) in her latest installment of CMGN (Connectional Ministries Good News) on Facebook. And view all of her CMGN video interviews on the conference’s Facebook page.

Carson Simpson serves families online, onsite, offsite


Carson Simpson Farm Christian Center, like the other camps, also provides videos of “parent friendly” children’s activities online—usually starring new site director Jonathan Curtis and his own family. Their wacky games, appearing on both Facebook and Instagram, require only ordinary household items: cotton balls, balloons, plastic cups, water, cookies, scissors, etc.

Meanwhile, the camp also has much-needed fundraisers to lessen the hardship of its summer camp revenue loss. It is selling t-shirts for $20 and, by popular demand, its famous Cheesy-Mac dish, only $8 for a frozen, three-person serving. September 7 is the deadline for orders, and both items can be picked up on Monday, September 21. Learn more and place orders before it’s too late.

But Carson Simpson is also open for limited activities onsite. Its lush grounds and convenient pavilion are available to neighboring churches of various denominations for worship and other activities. Lehman Memorial UMC in Hatboro held its outdoor Vacation Bible School there. The invitation to churches may be extended through November.

“I’m hustling to be enterprising and helpful wherever we can,” said Curtis, who is exploring how the camp can benefit area schools, churches and other neighbors.

All four camps are key distribution sites for the 50-gallon barrels of free hand sanitizer and personal protective masks that the Eastern PA Conference’s Disaster Response Ministry has acquired and made available to churches (right). Churches that have reopened or plan to reopen for worship and ministries have been arriving to pick up the needed supplies.

But Curtis has also hit the road in his truck to deliver masks to a few grateful recipients. One of those recipients is Curtis’s former employer, Lakeside Educational Network, a nonprofit organization that provides both therapeutic education to at-risk children and trauma-informed therapeutic training for educators and professionals who serve at-risk children.

Carson Simpson’s Director Jonathan Curtis (left) delivers masks to Lakeside’s CEO Gerry Vasser

Lakeside has four schools in our area, but it was ready to provide distance-learning resources for children at home as soon as the pandemic forced the closing of schools. Now, thanks to Curtis’ help, it can also provide free, reusable protective masks to its students, many of whom live in low-income communities.

Future outlook is uncertain

Despite the pandemic, the conference’s four camps and their directors—even with the lamentable, forced reduction of their staffs—have all endeavored to keep serving families, churches and communities online, onsite and even offsite. They are remembering old ways and dreaming of new ways to promote learning and laughter, fellowship and fun, Christian education and creative entertainment.

However, the future outlook for these dedicated camp directors is uncertain because the outlook for the pandemic and our region’s economic recovery is uncertain. Nonetheless, they are looking forward hopefully, prayerfully toward a brighter future, while relying on crucial, ongoing support from donors, churches and the conference.