RISING FAWN, Ga. (Dec. 20, 2018) -- It seems like a dream come true for a busy parent at Christmastime, right? Drop off your elementary-age children at a Christian camp where they’ll have the time of their lives over a 24-hour period – all while learning about the meaning of Advent.
On Dec. 15-16, the parents of 40 children lived that dream while their 3rd-to-6th graders partied through a non-stop Christmas Camp that would impress any of Santa’s elves, right down to the chocolate gravy and biscuits for breakfast.
“It’s sticky,” said Aiden, age 10, who sampled the cocoa concoction on Sunday morning at Camp Lookout. He was one of a few friends who came to Christmas Camp from Signal Crest United Methodist Church on Signal Mountain, Tennessee.
Aiden’s mother was going to pick up the Christmas tree after dropping him off at Christmas Camp on Saturday afternoon, he said. The plan was for her to wrap gifts in his absence.
In the meantime, Aiden and his friends rode the zip line, roasted marshmallows, ate s’mores, made snow globes, played reindeer games, sang carols, did a scavenger hunt, sipped hot chocolate, made new friends, slept in a cabin, laughed all night, decorated cookies, got their photos made, listened to the original Christmas story, decorated the Chrismon tree, helped create a worship service, prayed, and lit the Advent candles.
The worship and learning about Advent is a crucial part of Christmas Camp, says the leaders who scurried all weekend (yes, much like Santa’s elves) to make the adventure happen.
“It’s a great opportunity to teach kids about Advent in a simple setting,” said Don Washburn, who kept the highly organized operation humming, along with playing the guitar and scraping plates. Washburn, who has served as Camp Lookout director for the last two decades, led a Christmas staff of 20, including 15 volunteers.
Most of the counselors were former summer staff who gave up a December weekend to share their love of Christ with children.
“Christmas Camp is a great way for kids to have a taste of the ‘big camp’ that happens in the summer,” said Sophie Lowe, age 21. “They can experience being away from home for a shorter time in a cozy environment.”
Lowe is a member of St. Elmo United Methodist Church in Chattanooga and a University of Tennessee senior who is studying therapeutic recreation. She said she appreciated a conversation with the young girls in her cabin on Saturday night, after the counselors shared the Christmas story in front of the fireplace before bedtime.
“They had a lot of questions, really good questions,” Lowe said. “It was challenging, but I tried to be completely in the scripture, to answer and talk with them without putting my own thoughts into it.”
Of the 40 campers attending, about one-half had previously attended Camp Lookout. About half were first-timers, Washburn said. Lookout is one of five Holston Conference camps, most of which also offer Christmas Camp.
The cost for attending Lookout’s Christmas Camp was $72 per camper. A donor from Christ United Methodist Church offered to pay for children to attend from the after-school program at Bethlehem Center. Eight campers accepted the invitation.
Jemell Smith, age 22, served on the Lookout staff in summer 2017 and 2018. He fell in love with Camp Lookout as a kid, when First-Centenary United Methodist sponsored children to attend from the church’s Inner City Ministry.
“Without programs like Bethlehem Center and First-Centenary, kids like me would never get to experience this -- kids who might not have both parents at home, who are sometimes abused, the ones who are forgotten about,” he said.
“I connect with them, and it’s good for me to be there for them,” said Smith, who recently began a new job at a credit union. “Camp Lookout will always have a special place in my heart, and I’ll come back whenever I can to help.”
Three of the boys in his group were participants from Bethlehem Center, Smith said. They were all first-timers, “and all of them want to come back.”
Chad, age 43, is also a big fan of camp ministry after attending Lookout’s Celebration Camp for adults with developmental disabilities the past 22 years. Chad served as a volunteer helper at Christmas Camp but enjoyed the kid-friendly food and energetic activities as much as anyone.
“Being at camp is like being with Jesus,” Chad said.
Contact Annette Spence, editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more info:
Christmas Wish: Camp Wesley Woods (HCC, 12.18.18)
New camp director prepares for record-setting summer (The Call, 1.19.18)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.