Passport has announced the cancellation of its 2020 in-person summer camp season in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Birmingham-based ministry said it will offer virtual programming instead.
The decision announced April 16 marks the first time in its 27 year history that Passport will not host physical summer camps.
That, in turn, spells financial uncertainty for the organization, which depends on camp registrations for 80 percent of its annual budget, Passport President David Burroughs said in a video message sent to participating churches.
But the health and safety of 5,000 campers and more than 60 young-adult leaders – who were to gather in June and July at 11 locations in nine states – had to take priority, Burroughs said.
“The nature of rolling surges of the virus makes it impossible for us to know where the hot spots will be in the coming months,” he said. “While much of the country may begin to reopen, it is not worth risking the lives” of participants and their families.
Anticipating questions about deposits made to Passport last fall, Burroughs said those funds have already been spent to develop 2020 programming, to recruit young adult leaders and on travel and administration related to the camps. He said he has asked Passport’s board of directors for permission to use scholarship funds to refund deposits to families in need.
In return for the deposits, Passport is planning a season of virtual summer camp programming to include daily devotions, ways to connect across youth groups, a virtual party and a variety show, Burroughs said. Churches can invite as many youth as they want and “can have one focused week of Passport or spread it over multiple weeks.”
In a news release, Colleen Burroughs, vice president of communications, said Passport wants “to offer multiple weeks of familiar and creative opportunities with which student groups can engage.”
“Feeling connected to something bigger than ourselves is especially important for students.”
Larry Hovis, executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina and a Passport board member, acknowledged the impact of losing in-person summer camps because of the fellowship and spiritual growth they provide to youth and young adult leaders. Passport, he said, has become a tradition for many families and churches who often build their summers around the camps.
“It’s a pilgrimage event that youth and young adult leaders look forward to every year,” he told Baptist News Global. “It is a summer youth experience with a strong missional component combining worship, discipleship, missions and fellowship,”
Hovis pointed out that many campers graduate to become young adult leaders in their congregations, including some who go on to pursue vocational ministry.
In comments provided by Passport, CBF Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley noted the strong link between many Fellowship leaders and their Passport experiences growing up.
“I see so many pastors, church staff ministers and lay leaders whose faith was profoundly shaped by Passport experiences,” he said.
Passport’s decision is just the latest among faith-based groups in response to the ongoing pandemic.
The Alliance of Baptists and CBF North Carolina and the Southern Baptist Convention are among those to cancel annual gatherings. The Baptist World Alliance postponed this summer’s World Congress from this summer to 2021. The event is normally held every five years.
CBF and the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America announced plans to hold their annual gatherings online.
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