Every summer for generations, church camps have been part of an ongoing Texas tradition. In summer and fall, women’s groups from hundreds of churches here also will hold retreats at area camps, as well as a smaller number of men’s fellowships.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control offered some 4,000 words of guidance for such activities in May of this year. We’ll try to summarize its suggestions as well as report what a number of the most popular camps have in place to protect campers.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ve already seen several reports on the numerous COVID-19 infections that League City’s Clear Creek Community Church congregants discovered after attending an undisclosed camp outside the county recently.

Our Faith reached out to eight of the most commonly chosen camps and retreat destinations for their comments or their published pandemic protocols.

We’ll begin with some good news from Kim Brown, director of the Christian Renewal Center in Dickinson, our only local retreat offering.

“To date we have had 73 different retreats since May 30, 2020, and zero COVID issues,” she said. “We are one of the few retreat centers to open and run retreats continuously with no issues. At the end of May, we shifted our policies to meet the needs of our churches.”

Brown credits this success with the center’s pandemic policies. These, as with all the camps here, can be found on their websites with a quick search.

John Davidhizar, Sr. is the executive director of Forest Glen Camps in Huntsville. He told Our Faith parents and adult attendees need to check out camps in advance to make sure they are licensed by the state and following the guidelines mandated by the Texas Department of Health.

“If your child is attending camp as an individual registrant, the camp should already have informed parents concerning the protocols and safety measures,” he said. “A summer camp experience is an enriching experience and benefits the child in many ways. There is very little risk of COVID being passed among individuals when established guidelines are being followed.”

Lisa Olson, executive director of Carolina Creek Camps, also in Huntsville, said they had served about 4,000 campers in their programs. They had identified seven known cases of COVID-19 at the camp but no known cases involving community spread.

“While we can’t offer your child zero exposure, we believe we can limit their risk to your child’s small, cabin group,” Olson said. “Apart from this, we provide aggressive cleaning and sanitizing of commonly touched surfaces, diligent hand hygiene, ventilation and the management of capacity and more. Does this make it an acceptable risk? We think so.”

Olson said she felt children would be better prepared for returning to in-person schooling based on their experiences at camp.

“We can help kids know how to be safe when they return to school this fall,” she added.

But camp staffs can do only so much. Administrators at several camps mentioned that once on site, group leaders from each church often are autonomous and may depart from camp guidelines. That implies that it is essential to consider the youth and lay leaders from your church. Can you rely on them to follow the safety protocols even if they are inconvenient?

“But parents should inquire of their group leaders what protocols will be followed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the group because outbreaks do occur when safety protocols are not followed,” Davidhizar said.

We’ll give Olson the last word this week.

“Kids need camp this summer more than ever,” she said. “Raising kids to be resilient, courageous, kind, bold, compassionate and responsible is tough, even in the best of times. Camp has always been about getting close to a small group of friends, experiencing adventures outdoors, talking about the deeper things in life: making memories and going home changed.”

Focus: Galveston’s Seaside Church is turning 25 and has sent Faith Focus this open invitation to pass on to you.

After the 10 a.m. services on July 25, there will be brisket, special guests and a quarter-century of memories at 5435 Jamaica Beach in Galveston.

“We have invited back staff members from the past as well as folks who have moved away,” said the Rev. Kelley Vaughan, Seaside’s pastor. “We will meet outside under our large building.”

For more details, text 409-771-0924 or email pastor@seasidefamily.org.

Next week in Our Faith: A new minister ascends the pulpit at a 37th Street church on the island.

Rick Cousins can be reached at rick.cousins@galvnews.com.

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