OUR CONNECTION MATTERS
“Pivot: A change in strategy without a change in vision” – Eric Reis
One of the most difficult decisions heading into the summer in Connectional Ministries involved Camp Connect, our summer camping program. For nearly 70 years, summer camps for children and youth have been a ministry of the South Georgia Conference at Epworth By The Sea. That legacy was in jeopardy due to COVID-19, and no one wanted to make the final call to cancel.
Back in early March, the 2020 Leadership Team, our group of college students who serve as counselors (many former campers themselves), had been hired and head counselors chosen. As we moved further into the spring and began to see the impact and uncertainty of COVID-19 across our state, it became evident that campers could not be brought together safely – social distancing, wearing masks, and many other restrictions staff would have been required to be put in place – while also providing an amazing camp experience. In May, when a final decision had to be made, all the energy and excitement leading up to a “normal” summer of camps came to an abrupt halt. Suzanne Akins, our Camp Connect director, shared her heartfelt announcement when the decision was made to cancel camps. Yes, there were tears. (Click here for video)
You see, for many, Camp Connect is much more than simply a week at camp. Camp Connect is a culture and a strong community – one that spans more than 70 years – with a kingdom vision that is brought to life in big ways each and every summer. On the Camp Connect website there is a section titled, “What Makes Us Different.” Here is an excerpt that highlights this kingdom vision:
“The Souls: It's not about us. It's about every single camper that enters our camp for the first time, the third time, or the eighth time. Our goal is to show each camper the love of Christ. To help them know they matter to God, and to us. To create life-changing moments in the small things of everyday camp life. The life-saving grace of Jesus Christ has touched the lives of each of our staff and we want others to experience it. If campers leave on Friday knowing they were created for a purpose and are loved unconditionally, we have done our job.”
Camp Connect is a healthy culture – a thriving community – and once the call was made to cancel and the reality sank in, I witnessed the most incredible pivoting begin to happen. The first pivot happened quickly: they shifted the focus from what they COULDN’T DO to what they COULD DO. What has transpired over the past several weeks has been the most amazing creativity and continuous pivoting from Suzanne and her head counselors, Gabriela Reincheld and Wesley Hanson. They rose to the occasion!
Let me share a brief glimpse of Camp Connect 2020:
- Head Counselors reported in May and committed to make 2020 unforgettable even without campers on-site
- A fun online presence on Facebook and Instagram
- Camp Connect 2020 fundraiser selling shirts (our famous soft-tee with graphic “Camp Is Where the Heart Is” and a heart pinned at Epworth By The Sea on the state of Georgia)
- Parents choosing to donate registration fees to the camp community
- Pictures and names of campers displayed on a wall in the prayer room where they have been prayed over the past few months
- Zoom with seniors (2020 was supposed to be the first summer of our High School Bridge Camp because they were not ready to age out. The seniors had planned it all!)
- Senior Celebration Boxes: care packages mailed to seniors to let them know they are seen, loved and prayed for as they lost much of their senior year
- Field Day Fridays: four all-day camps for rising 3rd-6th graders complete with temperature checks, masks, lunches brought from home, and distancing. All four camps sold out in 24 hours. I think the staff and parents were more excited than the campers!
- Middle School Mondays: two sold-out camps for rising 7th-9th graders (same precautions taken as outlined above) with the climbing wall, zip-lining, swimming, devotions and more. Parents drove from out of town to bring their youth for the day!
All of this has taken place over the past six weeks without advanced planning; so much of it was planned in real time. There is more I could write about the culture, the community, and the ways Suzanne pours into her Leadership Team. Incredible ministry has taken place, and I have been blessed by having a front row seat. As this year’s summer camping season comes to an end, we are hopeful that we will gather in person in 2021.
Eric Reis describes pivoting as a “change in strategy without a change in vision.” This very quote continues to unfold before my eyes every day. I can’t help but reflect on our churches in South Georgia. Our clergy and laity continue to pivot again and again in response to what COVID-19 throws their way, and we are witnessing incredible creativity in strategy to reach people for Jesus.
Thank you for the many ways that you, like Camp Connect, are keeping the main thing the main thing – adapting, pivoting, and remaining Alive Together In Witness!
Allison Lindsey is the director of Connectional Ministries. She has a passion for the local church and its people. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.