Pivot In Summer-Camp Offerings A Virtual Success

Virtual campers

Online curriculum provided ample opportunities for children, youths to connect in new format

Bridgeport Camp and Conference Center is a special place for many throughout the North Texas Conference. However, COVID-19 required us to evaluate if summer camp would be something that we would be able to offer in 2020. Once it was clear that we would not be able to provide a safe environment for our seven camps that usually serves over 1,200 campers, we immediately started planning for how we might still partner with churches to bring the love and grace of the Gospel to children and youth throughout North Texas. 

Our first step was to figure out how to get our curriculum to as many churches as possible. As churches navigate doing ministry in these times of social distancing, our thought was to get as many resources into the hands of those who might benefit from them. We created a website to be a space where churches could go to retrieve the resources that we had to offer. 

With the help of our talented curriculum team, we adapted our 2020 summer curriculum into 10 lessons that could be used in an online space. However, we did not stop there. One part of camp that our campers and volunteers alike look forward to is being in a space where they can meet new people and build relationships with folks that they might never meet otherwise. 

"Loved loved LOVED being a part of this during both Children's Camps! Both were totally AWESOME and infused with some of our Bridgeport favs! Thank you for all of your hard work and dedication to our children."

– Comment posted on Facebook

We are a connectional church, and because the connection is such a huge part of camp we decided that providing resources would not be enough. This encouraged us to seek to create an online space where those resources might be combined with the relational nature of camp that so many long for. We called this new camping experience Virtual Camp. We offered two sessions of camp for Children, Junior High and Senior High campers. 

Virtual crafts

Among the many creative parts of camp, campers were asked to draw St. Francis of Assisi and to build a church with items they have around their house. 

Over six weeks of virtual camp, we had over 200 campers join us on Zoom. Camps ran from Monday to Friday, and campers met for an hour and a half. Our time began with some large group time. Then campers were sent into breakout rooms where they were led through the curriculum by one of our volunteers. Camps also included theme days, daily and weekly challenges, separate optional game times and more. They even received a coupon for a discount on our Bridgeport summer camp T-shirt. (Yes, we still had a summer camp, buy it here)

"My junior high kiddo loved both sessions of camp. My high schoolers were only able to do one of the weeks but said the curriculum this year was spot on! (This is coming from 1 who was really upset that there was no real camp for his senior year.) Thank you, Bridgeport for being something for these kids' spiritual feedings even in these difficult times."

– Comment posted on Facebook

Each week was a blessing – not just for our campers, but also for those fortunate enough to be a part of virtual camp. We weren't sure how much of what is special about Bridgeport Summer camp would translate over to a virtual environment, but, quickly, we noticed a few trends. 

First, our directors and volunteers felt like the campers that attended were some of the best young people that our North Texas Conference churches have to offer. Their willingness to show up each day, read to engage with the curriculum and participate in discussion around some difficult topics was an amazing thing to witness. 

Second, it will be a shock to no one, but camps are made by the volunteers as much as anything else, and we were lucky to have the best volunteers. We have everything from recently graduated seniors who have been coming to camp for years, adults who have volunteered for years, to adults who had never been to Bridgeport before. In all cases, their dedication to being present and leading their campers was a large part of what made virtual camp successful. 

Finally, camp is more than just a place! And while we long to be back a Bridgeport Camp, worshiping in front of its cross, one thing virtual camp taught us was that the Holy Spirit shows up, even in virtual spaces. Virtual Camp was a spirit-filled experience that we hope to expand on in the future, even once we can meet again at our beloved Bridgeport Camp and Conference Center. 

Joseph Bradley leads Camping and Retreat Ministries programs as part of the North Texas Conference’s Center for Leadership Development.

Published: Wednesday, August 5, 2020