GNW Camping & Retreat Ministries cancel summer programming due to COVID-19

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In an effort to “Do No Harm” in the midst of a pandemic, Camping and Retreat Ministries across the Greater Northwest Area have made the difficult decision to close their camp sites to any programmed camping for the summer.

There were several factors that went into making this decision and Camp and Retreat Directors sought input from a variety of sources, including the guidance of Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky and the Greater Northwest Area’s “Reimagining Life Together” document.

“Reading all of these signs, we have come to the conclusion that the journey forward is going to require a bit of a detour,” said Rev. Todd Bartlett, director of Camp and Retreat Ministries in the Oregon-Idaho Conference. “In cooperation with each of the site directors, I have made the decision to cancel all our programs at each of our sites through the end of August.”

“With all the factors, known and still unknown about COVID-19, we know that we must first and foremost do no harm. We no longer feel confident we can ensure this will be the case for our summer campers and guests,” said Alan Rogstad, director of Camping and Retreat Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference. “This has of course been a very difficult decision. We feel a great sense of loss. However, we feel it is necessary for the health and safety of all who come through the gates of our camps.”

This has meant some of the summer staff in both the Oregon-Idaho Conference and the Pacific Northwest Conference will not be working. And it will also mean a significant loss in revenue for the year as well.

In the Alaska Conference, where businesses are re-opening at a much faster rate due to a smaller number of known COVID-19 cases, an abundance of caution is still being followed by their two camps.

At Eagle River Camp outside of Juneau, they will remain closed for the summer and will focus on some improvement projects around the site: creating a new program office and storage building and expanding the playing field with some new safety features.

“We’re treating this as a time to focus on some projects (big and small) around the camp, so we can be back better than ever next year,” said Jake Carpenter, a member of the Eagle River UM Camp program committee.

Birchwood Camp in the Alaska Conference remains closed at least through the end of June.

Closures in the Oregon-Idaho Conference mean that Latgawa, Sawtooth and Wallowa Lake camps will not be operating this year. Suttle Lake is awaiting word from area school districts on whether their site will be used this fall for outdoor school events. Camp Magruder is providing a food ministry for members of their community and The Alton L. Collins Retreat Center is currently operating as an isolation shelter in partnership with Clackamas County through July 5, Bartlett reports.

Rogstad said Indianola, Lazy F, Ocean Park, and Twinlow Camps in the PNW will all be closed for the summer camping season.

“As we navigate through this time, please know that we are actively looking at alternative ways to bring the joy and message of camp to as many as possible this summer,” Rogstad said. “While it cannot replace the experience of being at camp, we are working to provide on-line resources such as virtual campfires, crafts, games, and other resources to help re-create the camp experience at home.”

Both Bartlett and Rogstad said their decisions were reached after consultation with organizations such as The United Methodist Camp and Retreat Ministries Association, American Camp Association, state and local health agencies and the governing boards for each conferences’ camping and retreat ministries.

“Through all of this I know that the uncharted road ahead is filled with adventure,” Bartlett said. “This adventure will ask of us to be at our best in creating ways of living out our mission that provides experiences of community, creation, and the Spirit.”

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