For the first time in over 60 years, we did not have overnight Summer Camp at Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp & Retreat Center. However, outdoor ministry is so much more than Summer Camp! When we first announced the changes to Summer 2020, one of our Virginia Synod pastors stated, “We have your back.” Indeed, now is the time. In a “normal” year, donations are only 25% of our annual revenue, but this year we will rely on donations as 75% of revenue.
As we adapt to the new challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to find hope in our 2020 theme verse, Psalm 100:5, which says, “Good indeed is the Lord, whose steadfast love endures forever. God’s faithfulness continues for all generations.” Our faith and hope was expressed in several ways this summer:
We committed to hiring our full summer staff and many congregations agreed to provide salary sponsorship. This allowed us to focus on our mission and be prepared for a number of alternatives. Our Board of Directors and year-round staff include a number of former camp counselors and counselor parents, making us well aware of the value of the leadership and faith development that occurs while a young adult serves on our summer staff. This summer included faith formation, anti-racism training, child behavior, safety and first aid, team-building, program development, and more.
Throughout the busy summer, our counselors and summer program directors led an online Camp at Home, an online version of our Leaders in Training (LIT!) program, on-site Family Retreats, and property improvement projects.
In total, we had six wonderful weeks of Camp at Home. 125 campers signed up, including 26 Confirmation campers. Families were able to participate in their own Family Camp at Home on Wednesday evenings. Camp at Home was a mix of small group “cabin time” via Zoom, at-home activities, and fun videos made by our staff. Videos can be found on our YouTube channel, and include camp songs, devotions from camp chaplains, themes such as ‘Sustainability Superhero’ and ‘Critter Patrol’, cooking and crafting tutorials, funny counselor shenanigans, and more. Our counselors had a great time, too, and loved that, “Camp at Home made it possible to share in the same love and joy with kids that we get to experience every summer, just through the technology of Zoom.”
We focused on the next generation of young leaders by moving our LIT program online for this summer. Six older teens applied and were accepted into the program. Via Zoom, this group worked with our program directors, were mentored by our counselors, assisted with Camp at Home, and led Bible studies and virtual activities for one another. Longtime camper Ethan Covington said, “I’ve been looking forward to being a counselor since I was very young and I was excited to begin that journey this summer as an LIT. I was worried it would be canceled and I’m so glad they found creative ways instead to train us as leaders. My faith grew as I learned more about how to carry the Word out in my life as a child of God. It meant a lot to me that I still got the chance to form a community with these people, even if that was online instead of in person.”
We are also hosting Family Retreats each weekend, at the Farmhouse, Cabin Village, and Sukkah Village. So far, more than 20 families have spent time together at camp during the pandemic. Shortly after one of the retreats, a parent told us, “We didn’t realize how badly we needed to spend time at Caroline Furnace together as a family until after we got back home. We had such a great time at camp!” Family Retreats will continue through mid-September with our year-round staff. We prepare and deliver meals to each group, lead outdoor worship, and schedule socially-distanced activities such as swimming, canoeing, and archery for each family.
When our summer staff weren’t busy with Camp at Home and Family Retreats, they worked hard on property improvements. Work crews helped with Moyer Lodge renovations, trail work, deep cleaning, landscaping, completing the Prayer Path by the Sine/Funk cemetery, and more.
Combined, these actions and moments created another unforgettable summer of outdoor ministry at Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp & Retreat Center. As beautifully stated by our summer staff in their Unity Covenant, “We are joining a camp family that goes back generations. We recognize the importance and impact of Caroline Furnace’s mission on the generations that have come through this place. We realize this mission holds even more importance and weight in our current environment. “
Although we were unable to open for traditional Summer Camp this year, we continue to prepare for WHEN we are able to resume Summer Camp in Fort Valley once again. Our hope rests in the goodness of our God and the power of the overnight Summer Camp experience. We are grateful for your continued support of your outdoor ministry and look forward to sharing this experience with you again soon!
Support may be sent to Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp & Retreat Center at 2239 Camp Roosevelt Road, Fort Valley, VA 22652, or follow the link to the website to donate online at www.carolinefurnace.org