It’s almost the end of summer, and for a lot of families that means the conclusion of summer camps and activities, and the start of a brand new school year. In Virginia, the premier Lutheran summer camp to attend is Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp and Retreat Center, located in Fort Valley, Virginia, about an hour from Harrisonburg. This Friday, August 11th will mark the conclusion of the final week of camp.
For me, despite growing up Lutheran in Virginia, I never took the opportunity to attend summer camp at Caroline Furnace. Something about the great outdoors never seemed so great. But, just last week I got a chance at redemption- to spend one day visiting Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp and Retreat Center and I came away kicking myself. How had I never attended camp before now?! Just the brief time spent with counselors, campers, and the wonderful staff at Caroline Furnace made a lasting impression on me, it was an experience to take note of! So, I’m passing on exactly why I think this camp matters, and why I’ve got to go back for more than just a day.
Note 1: Disconnect to Connect
I was told before heading up to Caroline Furnace to be aware that there wasn’t much in the way of cell service there, and that is no joke. At Caroline Furnace, there are few spaces where you can find cell phone service and electronic games, computers, and iPods are not part of the daily routine at camp. The lack of electronic connections puts connections back home on the back burner and boosts budding relationships with your fellow campers and camp staff into hyper drive.
Campers bond over games, silly and serious discussions, swimming, hiking, campfires, and s’mores. During my brief visit alone, I was pulled into a lengthy discussion on superheroes, an engaging bible study, endless card games, and supervised a few friendship bracelets being made. Getting to disconnect from a screen for some kids can be a tricky change of pace, but seeing how quickly you connect with others right in front of you, really instills how valuable being present can be with the lifelong relationships you’ll form at camp.
Note 2: Customize Your Camp
So while I must admit, the great outdoors and I are still not BFFs by any means, camp at Caroline Furnace did show me one way to get better acquainted with nature: bringing your own interests into the woods. While younger campers grades 1-3 have the opportunity to experience a more traditional camp experience (complete with games, songs, swimming, campfires, and bible study), older grades 4-12 get to take on some bigger challenges!
With specialized camps like Adventure, Caving, Culinary, Horse, Performing Arts, Backpacking, Canoe, and Survivor Camps all on offer every camper is sure to find something they’ll love, and make friends while doing so.
Note 3: Camp Vocabulary
Gaga, sukkah, Pio, the Golden Broom- all the quirky vocabulary you hear from staff and campers at Caroline Furnace, and on the surface it might sound like nonsense, but the meanings will come quicker than you think. Learning the lingo here is all a part of the camp experience, and connects you to Caroline Furnace in ways you only realize when you come down from the camp ground. Talking to mom about how you made it all the way to the firewall while playing gaga might not make much sense to her, but that’s okay. It’s something you just had to be there for, and you get to bring so many of those ‘be there for it’ experiences home.
On top of new vocabulary to learn, there are songs to sing! Breaking out in the middle of the meal, campers and counselors will lead on in silly songs, and songs of prayer and thanks for the meal they were served. Your evening prayer before dinner time will never be the same at home as your camper wants to pray to the tune of The Adams Family theme song.
Note 4: Leading with Love
Being part of the summer staff at Caroline Furnace takes a lot of heart. Every counselor I met, and every member of staff I got the chance to speak with carries with them love, patience, enthusiasm, and kindness for their campers. From making s’mores to entertaining with silly skits and songs, the counselors and chaplains lead with joy every day at camp, and the campers so clearly adore it. Camp nurses and the support team also lend a hand, caring for campers and the camp with great attention and dedication. Chef Aaron, the camp’s culinary genius, is so beloved- as campers gleefully chant “Chef, chef, chef, chef!” when he makes a brief appearance during meal times.
The counselors and staff members at Caroline Furnace are so excited to see their campers learn and try new things, to ask big questions about God and life, and foster new friendships with fellow campers. Eventually, those campers become counselors or members of staff themselves- a testament to how love for Caroline Furnace runs deeps.
Note 5: Packing for Home
Since my visit fell on the concluding day of a week of camp, I got to see what the departure process is like for the camp. “I didn’t cry when I was packing up!” cheered an older girl, as she cleaned up the sukkah I sat in with her fellow campers, “I didn’t either!” called back several other girls, wearing it like a badge of honor. They didn’t want to show sadness about their leaving camp, but then again most if not all of these girls could come back for a few more years of camp as campers.
They’d packed up their bags and carried with them not just what they brought to camp, but what they had become over the course of the week. Traveling back home they’ll unpack stories on the trail, the friendships they made, the camp counselor’s silly songs she’d sing on the ukulele. The purpose of Caroline Furnace grew out of the belief that children would benefit from a week of summer camp gathered around the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the verse the campers studied this week came from Isaiah 43:2- When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. Through these new experiences shared with friends at camp, God was with them- he always will be. His presence will continue to be known as they share their experiences back home.
While I might not have had a summer camp experience growing up, I know now that Caroline Furnace is still ready waiting for me to join in the fun- maybe next year you’ll spot me up there volunteering as a member of the support team for a full week, or taking on the role of make believe camper for just one day again.
Caroline Furnace is celebrating its 60th Anniversary this year! From now until August 31st, an anonymous donor is matching donations of $60 or more made in honor of the 60th Anniversary. To find out how you can support Caroline Furnace through a donation, visit www.carolinefurnace.org/donate-now
To find out more about camps offered at Caroline Furnace, visit www.CarolineFurnace.org.
To see more of the fun that’s been going on all summer at Caroline Furnace, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Caroline.Furnace