Delta Lake Bible Conference Center: Camp May Be Cancelled, But Hope Continues
By Pat Shea
This year, instead of the sound of laughter and bustle of campers happily running throughout Delta Lake Bible Conference Center in Rome, New York, there’s silence. Like so many other businesses throughout the country and the world, the coronavirus pandemic has severely impacted the camp and its plans for what would have been their 106th consecutive summer season. Instead of celebrating the milestone, the camp has been forced to cancel its family camp weekends, summer youth and teen camp programs and its Haven Camp program for the developmentally disabled.
“We’re the third Christian youth camp in upstate New York that I know of that has had to make this announcement this week,” stated Steve Clark, the executive director for the past seven years for the camp in a recent phone interview. “I know others are still waffling or are just praying to figure out what to do. We’ve cancelled all events through the end of July for the moment, but we really don’t anticipate holding any [camps] in August either at this point.”
With the bulk of its programs cancelled due to the pandemic, Clark is still holding on to the hope that the camp’s retreat business, which had always thrived in the summer months, could still be salvaged in part by August.
“We’ve had three of our large conference groups that would usually be here for weeks at a time in the summer, cancel. We have one [group] that's still holding on at the moment, for August, but if the current restrictions stay the way that they've been communicated to us, they will be cancelling as well,” said Clark.
One area of the camp that could be seeing some form of normal activity is from the numerous cottages that are dotted throughout the property. Some are owned by families that visit each year, but others are rented out and they vary in size and number of bedrooms.
“It’s been a bit tricky with the cottages,” explained Clark. “Right now, there’s nothing happening this summer with the exception of opening the cottages. Originally, we were told they could open July 1st, but then we had a conversation with the county. We found out the cottages didn’t fall under the July 1st restriction so they can come back [in May], but with a large amount of restrictions.”
Clark knows the hardest restriction to enforce for the cottagers, especially on the campground, will be the gathering restriction.
“That’s one of the larger issues we need to address,” he said. “The guests and cottage owners can really pretty much self-quarantine and socially distance from each other because there’s a lot of room to spread out. But we have a lot of public buildings and public areas and we just don’t have the means to really go in and clean them every day after every group uses the space.”
And should the camp be able to have a retreat in August, Clark knows again, it will be the restrictions that will concern the staff.
“We hold a lot of activities for the summer retreats outside. We’re still considering what the best policy is in terms of cleaning these public spaces even when the restrictions are lifted. There’s just a lot of moving parts we need to address before we can really open our doors.”
Losing revenue but not hope
Aside from the issue of how to clean an area as big as the campground, another consideration for Clark is the finances.
“Last year, 54% of our annual income came from June, July and August. We have a pretty big budget to operate a camp this size, but we’re doing what we can right now to cut costs and keep expenses down.”
The camp also just kicked off a big fundraising effort. Donors to Delta Lake matched donations from the public with the proceeds going to the camp. Clark was overwhelmed by the generosity of both the public and the donors.
“These people are committed to the camp, and I'll be honest, I’ve seen people step up like never before during this crisis financially to help us. So far, we’ve been able to avoid laying anyone off or furloughing anyone and we know that’s God keeping the power on. We have a camp staff member fighting a tough battle against cancer and they were able to keep their job and benefits and not have to think about being unemployed right now.
It’s amazing how people have stepped up to help, which will go a long way over the next couple months if the current situation that we're in goes on into September and October. Then it’s a completely different story financially, and we will have to evaluate everything at that point, but for now, we’re just taking it day by day. We’re trying to be faithful to Him, but it’s challenging. We can’t have anybody here and we can’t do what we’re supposed to do day in and day out.”
Although the camp has five full time staff members, its summer business was always rounded out by scores of teenagers hired on as counselors. This year will be the first year that those jobs won’t be available to local teens. “We usually would hire 60 to 70 young people to be on our staff for the summer but we won’t have the income to hire on, which will put more strain on our full time staff,” explained Clark. “We’re going to do what we’re here to do come August with the various retreat groups. We want to offer them as much [activities] as possible. We want to get back to welcoming folks here. That’s what we do,” said Clark.
As the summer months approach, Clark and staff members are trying to come up with creative ways to stay connected to the campers and their families, even if camp isn’t in session.
“We're doing everything we can through technology to offer options and stay in front of people. If this happened 30 years ago, I don't know what we would do. There’s only so many phone calls you can make on a regular basis to try and connect with people,” stated Clark.
One of the ways the camp is trying to stay connected to campers is an option called a “camp crate.” The crate is sent from the camp and has a list of activities for both parents and kids.
“We wanted to have something to offer the kids so they could stay connected with us,” explained Clark. “Yes, we are using technology and we are still able to minister to people and proclaim the gospel, but it’s a real challenge for campgrounds, especially Christian campgrounds, to try and have the same type of ministry in an environment like this. Churches are having some of the same challenges, but it does differ. You go to camp to get away, but you can’t really offer the option of getting away online. There’s just no way to do it and believe me, we’re trying everything we can. It’s a test of our faith, but we’re confident that we’re going to come out of it and be in a position to welcome back campers at some point,” said Clark.
The camp staff is communicating to campers and their families mostly through Facebook with posting also on Twitter and Instagram. There is hope that at some point technology will be used to host “cabin discussion groups” during the summer but Clark admits to do so will take talking to other camps to find out the best technology to use.
“Our church is using Zoom for some things but I know the school is going through Google, so we are just going to have to spend some time online and find out what can work best for group chats,” stated Clark. “We're just going try to figure out what's the best way to do some get-togethers online. We also signed up with a group called RightNow Media which is a great Christian resource. What it comes down to is just talking to other camps to find out what they’re doing too. We’re all in the same boat, so we’re all trying to work together to see what are the best ways that we can continue to serve guests without having them come to the campus.”
Letters of love
One of the most difficult tasks Clark and his staff have had to encounter is cancelling the Haven camp experience that caters to the developmentally disabled.
“Our Haven camp program has campers with special needs and many are in the high risk category so we really are doing a lot of praying and a lot of talking to people who are helping us make the right decisions,” explained Clark.
“The reality is that many of our [Haven] campers have health concerns and even though we are trying to be good about social distancing, we don’t want to put them at risk. To make that call…well, we all just felt the just the heartbreak of having to tell them that they can't come to camp. It’s something that they really look forward to all year. To help remind them that we’re thinking of them, we came up with a little campaign to write letters to them, just letting them know that God loves them and we care about them and we are looking forward to seeing them at camp at some point in the future.”
Clark has collected approximately 130 letters which will be mailed out to Haven campers. He is calling them letters of peace and hope.
If trying to give the camp experience to students who can’t come to the camp hasn’t been hard enough, trying to provide a retreat experience to adults who come to the camp has been beyond frustrating beyond belief for Clark and his staff.
“One of the biggest things that we have to figure out how to do as a Christian camp is how do we stay relevant if they can't be here?” said Clark. “One of the highlights of a conference or retreat is that you're getting away from your normal day-to-day and having that full retreat experience. We can send videos and emails and all that kind of stuff to help, but we can't provide that true retreat environment of getting away that they experience when they’re here. That’s a real challenge for sure.”
Praying for the future
As Clark and his staff work hard to connect to campers, there is still the slightest hope that August retreats can still be booked.
“I think hoping the retreats can continue in August is what we're praying for at this point, but again a lot of that will simply come down to what are the gathering restrictions and what are the other restrictions that are in place come August,” explained Clark. “If [the state] can free up that restriction and there are groups that want to come, we’re going to prayerfully consider them on a case-by-case basis as to whether or not we can manage it.”
Until then, the staff at Delta Lake are trying to use the time to do repairs and improvements.
“I think we're doing everything we can right now to keep facilities in the grounds in good working order,” said Clark. “We’re making improvements wherever we can. There were a number of projects that people had contributed the funds for and we are working hard to finish those projects. We want everything to be in place so when we are allowed to welcome guest back. We want to be ready.”
For more information about Delta Lake Bible Conference Center visit at www.deltalake.org or call at 315-336-7210.