Beach missions won’t be at the beach in many places this summer

Summer beach missions have been a familiar feature of caravan and camping holidays across the country for decades. This summer, some missions that have been going strong for 60 years or more  won’t be congregating for the first time.

Scripture Union in New South Wales, which organises some of the country’s largest and most numerous beach missions along the east coast has told its teams that they won’t be travelling to their usual caravan and camping grounds this season. New South Wales would usually have 40 teams and 1800 volunteers spread out along the coast. Things will be different this summer.

“We’re telling people that beach mission is not cancelled. We’re just having to take a more creative approach to mission.” – Nathan Milham, NSW beach mission coordinator

“It was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve made to make,” NSW beach mission coordinator Nathan Milham told Eternity.

“Beach mission is such an important way of connecting with people and telling them about Jesus. Not being able to do that in the usual way is heartbreaking. But we believe it’s an important decision to make early and decisively so we can help our teams plan well in new ways.

“We’re telling people that beach mission is not cancelled. We’re just having to take a more creative approach to mission. We’re finding other ways to stay connected with the communities we’d usually serve,” said Milham.

The SUFM Gerroa main tent in 2019/20.

Bec Hitchcock is one of the directors of the Gerroa beach mission, on the NSW south coast. She told Eternity that while the team is disappointed not to travel to Gerroa this summer, they are grateful to have an early decision that allows them to plan for different mission opportunities.

The Gerroa beach mission team are preparing activity packs for the kids they’d usually see in the caravan parks, working with the park administration to get the packs into welcome materials for campers.

“We still wanted to keep some sort of connection with the people we see every year,” she said.

The team is also planning more local outreach events, splitting up into smaller groups and inviting friends and family to informal get-togethers that will provide opportunities to talk about Jesus.

“I’m hopeful that we have teams that can think in really agile ways to plan new ministry approaches. How can we share God’s good news in this context, with these restrictions?” — Justin Simpson

“It was important to us as a team to encourage each other to continue to ‘do mission’ over summer and tell people about Jesus. If we can’t do that in Gerroa this year, we can still do it in our local areas,” says Bec.

In Victoria, where residents are still under heavy COVID-19 restrictions, beach missions plans are tentative, with many changes expected. Victoria’s coastline would usually welcome 35 teams and over 900 volunteers to their caravan and camping grounds in the summer holidays.

“It’s unlikely that we’ll run our normal programs,” said SU VIC CEO Justin Simpson. “We’re looking at running smaller teams in some locations, with some teams running activities from their home locations or in metropolitan areas rather than travelling to regional areas that may not want travellers from the city just yet.”

Simpson told Eternity that prayer was needed to cultivate a “missional imagination” this summer. “I’m hopeful that we have teams that can think in really agile ways to plan new ministry approaches. How can we share God’s good news in this context, with these restrictions?”

“Some of our missions are looking at postponing until Easter, when we’re hoping restrictions will have eased further. Wherever we are, we’re working hard to keep our communities safe and working within government and local area guidelines.”

In South Australia, beach missions are still forging ahead “as best as we can figure out”, says state director Chris Battistuzzi. Five missions will run in the state in January. The mission on Kangaroo Island was cancelled in January 2020 on account of the horrific bushfires that consumed half of the island. Organisers there have decided to create an Easter beach mission on the island instead of the traditional January time frame, to avoid what is expected to be continued fire hazards in summer from now on.

“We’re rearranging activities and working around those restrictions so we can continue.” – Chris Battistuzzi, SA beach mission director

“There are obviously challenges under the COVID-19 restrictions which we’re looking closely at, including things like food service. But we’re rearranging activities and working around those restrictions so we can continue. Our volunteers are still keen. They are passionate about this work. So we’re working with them to keep everyone safe.”

In Queensland and Western Australia, beach missions are set to continue under the “new normal” of COVID-19 safety restrictions. Two large beach mission teams are preparing in Queensland, while 9 teams will be operating in WA along the coast.

“All our volunteers have put so much effort into making these events happen safely this summer. We’re so thankful for them. It would be easy to say no because it’s just too difficult this season. It’s costing more time and effort, for sure. But they’re still turning up. They’re really pouring their hearts into serving these communities,” said Camps specialist Jane Huggins from SU QLD.

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