Social distancing is not what humans were made for. In fact, we were made for just the opposite. We need face-to-face contact and human touch. Newborn babies come pre-programmed to track and respond to faces. We need to be held and be near one another for our emotional and physical health. We were created for one another.
There have been so many troubling signs in recent years that humans have become more isolated from one another and that this has contributed to a rise in depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges. In-person interaction is often replaced by virtual connection. Technology allows people to connect virtually across time and space, but this is only a poor substitute for the need to be together.
Through these years of technological innovation and virtual connection, the camp community has been a voice crying out in the wilderness, calling people young and old to unplug from their devices, step into the natural world, and find time for person-to-person encounter. In these encounters with one another and the beauty of creation, we encounter the Holy. Camp is a place of healing for many. Camp is a place that teaches essential social skills. Camp is a place of spiritual renewal and faith formation. We accomplish these things by unplugging from our home environments and joining together in community. In person. Incarnate.
What is camp’s role in this time of global pandemic, when we are not allowed to do what we do best?
Camps across the country are facing the real possibility of cancelling the historical core of their programming: summer camp. Many are still holding out hope. Some have already cancelled and laid off staff. All are prayerfully searching for answers and direction.
The reality is that we need camp. Our society, our families, and our faith communities depend on the unique contributions that camp provides. Camps need to find creative ways to respond now, in the midst of the crisis. I am inspired by what camps across the country are doing to let their constituents know that they are still there for them. There are spontaneous silly camp songs available for children and families. There are virtual campfires and virtual camp tours. There are even perpetually creative summer staff members performing skits together via online platforms. Keep being creative and providing camp resources for people who need a little levity, a little relational connection, and a spiritual mooring.
But there is something even more important that camps must consider. Camps need to ensure that their resources are available in the post-Covid-19 world.
We are going to emerge from this crisis, and the world may look different. People may have different ways of interacting with one another. Social cues may change. People may become even more heavily reliant on virtual communication than in the pre-Covid-19 world. In short, the unique resources that camps offer will be even more desperately needed, and camps need to be ready to respond.
This means that camps must survive.
Right now, we are being asked to do something that is foreign and almost unthinkable. It is imperative that we comply with physical distancing guidelines. The health of our constituents and communities depends on this. For most of us, this means that there will be no summer camp in 2020. Look at the data. Look at the infection curves. Listen to the concerns of parents and health officials. Face reality and develop contingency plans right now because we cannot afford to lose our camps.
Having a year without summer camp will be a huge cost to society. Key experiences will not take place at crucial life stages for millions of summer campers. But humanity will get through this, and camps will be more important than ever on the other side.
Camps need to serve their people now. Be there for them. Make them smile. Help connect them. But do not put them and your community at risk. Do not put your camp at risk. We need your expertise in forming in-person community and your voice calling from the wilderness when it is safe to come away again.