For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.— Jeremiah 29:11 (NRSV)
What a difference a year can make—especially this year, and especially for the four Eastern PA Conference’s Camp & Retreat Ministry (CRM) sites.
“Spring has sprung, and we are so excited,” writes Apryl Miller, Director of Gretna Glen Camp & Retreat Center in a recent newsletter. Despite the ongoing, debilitating pandemic, she and the other camp directors are hoping to spring forward into CRM-saving time, when their recovering sites can escape the winter of their discontent and thrive once again.
But for now, they look forward to hosting modest, mostly outdoor gatherings and retreats; more independent family getaways; and finally a cautious return to the exhilaration of summer camp.
Gretna Glen, which is also excited about its new website, is looking forward to hosting the return of its signature Gretna Gritty, May 8. Known as the “hometown hero of mudruns,” it will again offer competitive and non-competitive runs for teams and individuals, plus a children’s 1-mile Nitty Gritty fun run.
Before then, the camp will hold its annual Spring Work Day, April 17, for volunteers to come and help “spruce up” a camp that many have longed to see for over a year. And the monthly outdoor Free Youth Events will return April 18 and May 16.
The camp’s yearly Open House, offering a free day of tours and fun activities—including boating, fishing, games, crafts and more—will happen May 22. More camp tours and activity dates will occur in May and June, plus more weekend Family Getaways May 21-23 and August 6-8. The family outings were popular and beneficial to three of the camps during their 2020 low-summer.
Summer Day Camp kicks off June 14 and lasts till August 8. There are also Overnight Camps, Specialty Camps and the Camping in Leadership Program. Hiring staff, recruiting volunteers and other preparations are underway at all sites, with emphasis on safety in environmental improvements, training and protocols.
For Gretna Glen that includes new ventilation and air purification systems, a new outdoor amphitheater—thanks to a generous 2020 donation—more online notifications to improve communication and online videos to show how Gretna Glen will care for its campers.
Their fall calendar includes more Free Youth Events, a Confirmation Retreat (Oct. 8-10) and other seasonal outings.
Pocono Plateau’s Summer Camp, for children, youth and families, runs from June 27 to August 15. Because it was canceled last year due to the pandemic, regular campers who finished high school but were unable to attend their last year of summer camp can receive an exemption to experience their “Senior Year” at camp this summer. They must have attended a 2019 Pocono Plateau summer camp to be eligible.
But first the camp will host its annual Father & Son Retreat, April 23-25, and its Open House May 22 for camp tours. The Plateau also hopes to schedule more two-day Family Getaways. Last summer families safely enjoyed boating, crafts, hiking, the climbing tower, campfires, devotions, relaxation and more activities, plus dining hall meals together on their own.
The camp’s usual early fall events—cancelled in 2020—will return this fall, including the Hero Dash 5K & 15K Races (Sept. 18), the Knitting Retreat (Sept. 24-26), the Men’s Retreat (Oct. 1-3) and the Senior Adults Retreat (Oct. 5-8). But one important fall tradition that did happen during the pandemic in 2020 will also return this year: the Annual Woodcutter’s Day, Nov. 6.
Innabah is registering its usual variety of summer campers—Challenge campers, family campers and mainstream campers. And an outside group named Handi-Campers, designed for young persons with disabilities, is booked for 5½ weeks, starting just before Memorial Day weekend.
Generous donations have allowed Innabah, like the other camps, to bring reduced-hours staff back to fulltime and to hire a part-time maintenance worker. Like elsewhere, water fountains have been replaced with touchless bottle filler stations, and ventilation units and light bulbs are now more energy efficient.
At all the camps, during the sadly quiet 2020 summer, devoid of gleeful campers, the sweet sounds of site maintenance and repairs rang out, as hardworking volunteers’ did their labors of love. And of course, there were supportive donations that poured in from various directions, including the Bishop’s Appeal, a Conference Trustees gift, churches, groups and individuals—even from strangers who gave through community fundraising efforts like Giving Tuesday, Lancaster’s Extraordinary Give, and the Amazing Raise.
“We thank each and every one who contributed financially in 2020,” said Michael Hyde, Innabah’s site director. “Your support helped us weather the difficulties associated with not being able to operate anywhere close to normal due to COVID. We are humbled, grateful, and thankful for your support.”
Granted, the ongoing pandemic will force the camp to shrink its summer schedule of programs and space occupancy. “But there will still be plenty of fellowship, fun, faith, and friendship opportunities for all our campers,” Hyde assured.
Carson Simpson Farm, at two Open Houses, April 13 and May 1 (9 AM–12 PM), will likely show off its array of site improvements, including:
a newly renovated Edleman Pavilion;
- a vegetable garden to provide fresh food to its kitchen and to a local food pantry;
- a modified drinking fountain and hand-washing station; and
- updated lighting and new security cameras.
But first comes its Work Day, April 24, when volunteers can help the site get ready for summer camp. Camp registrations are at their highest since 2002, reports Jonathan Curtis, director. He credits their new website for part of that yield.
Meanwhile, strict guidelines are planned to protect campers and staff from COVID-19, including a 68% limit on camp occupancy,
Little Critters Preschool Camp, May 8, will offer 3-5 year-olds a brief glimpse of what camp is like, including a Bible story, a craft, a nature activity and a snack.
“We also anticipate having at least one PEACE overnight camp this summer, and we are excited about that,” said Curtis. “Spring church services and retreats are minimal at the moment, but we are excited to serve whomever we can.”
“I’m feeling prayerful optimism because we’re definitely in a different place,” said the Rev. Ron Schane, Pocono Plateau’s director. Indeed, he has much reason for “prayerful optimism” after recovering from emergency heart surgery in 2020 during his camp’s shut-down.
“We saw how God provided for us last year. So, with all those blessings and support from people throughout the conference and our constituents, I’m feeling good about this year. I know we won’t be quite at the level of ministry that we typically do, but any ministry is good.”