By Sarah Vaughn
CABOT, Ark. - Church camp is usually pivotal in a student’s journey through faith. Students learn and engage more there than almost any other setting. Due to COVID-19, however, many camps have had to cancel because of strict guidelines that are difficult to follow in camp settings. This means churches are in danger of losing the impact of this strategic time in the life of their students. This situation also creates the unique opportunity to engage their students and communities without violating social distance protocols.
Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Cabot has been finding those unique ways to engage since mid-March when schools were first closed. Student pastor Mark Parsley decided to seize the extra time available for students not attending school. “[Our] framework and desires are to move the spiritual needle for students,” Parsley said. “We want to see students grow and not be idle.”
While following social distancing rules and guidelines, Parsley has held outdoor Bible studies on their church campus. It started as small groups, bi-weekly, just coming to hang out, play some Frisbee, and maybe have some ice cream. This “reconnecting” among students created the perfect setting to begin studying Scripture together. This experience proved to Parsley that ministry was not centered around the building.
“You don’t have to have a 100-acre campus like we do,” he said. “There are areas all over Arkansas to spread out and have Bible study. Go and cultivate some great moments of discipleship.”
This experience has helped Mount Carmel’s student ministry approach the summer camp cancellation with creativity rather than a sense of loss. They chose to continue the Bible study time. Parsley made sure to make these Bible studies time sensitive. He plans for 4 p.m. in the afternoon but knows that weather and availability will factor into that time possibly changing. They have built the times to be relational. For example, students come and go during the hour-long study as they please.
“You can tailor it to your context or situation,” Parsley said. “It’s not rocket science.”
Their focus this summer is to gather students together safely so they can engage with each other and continue to encourage and cultivate their faith journey. The Mount Carmel staff also plans to build upon this foundation with more intentional activities during the summer. These types of events can be adjusted as restrictions change during the summer.
For example, Parsley is developing an alternative for camp. “We’re going to try to have a day camp that’s kind of run like a D-Now,” he said. He noted that overnight stays would not be included in that plan. Parsley stressed that even though they are continuing to do ministry, they are following guidelines and protocols as strictly as possible.
“One of our goals as a church is to be a great community partner,” he said. “We don’t want to jeopardize that testimony by gathering 75 students and just saying, ‘eh, we don’t care about the rules.’”
Mount Carmel’s desire is to reach students in the community. Their creativity is fueling their efforts.