By Ross Engel –
As a kid, summer family vacations almost always took us to the mountains. More often than not, we’d load up the station wagon and head for the Smoky Mountains, though there were a few summers when we made the long drive out to the Rockies. I’ve always enjoyed the thin air, hiking, and enjoying the beauty of God’s creation.
For the past six years, I’ve had the opportunity to take my confirmation-aged youth to the Appalachian Mountains for confirmation camp. Each year, we join a handful of other pastors and their youth and get to commandeer Camp Linn Haven in Newland, NC. The staff feeds us exceptionally well (biscuits and gravy and lots of bacon!) and starts our nightly campfires, but otherwise they have given us the freedom to plan our own schedule.
We plan each summer around one of the Six Chief Parts of the Catechism and do catechetical preaching and teaching. It ends up being Catechism class on steroids. The mornings begin with 8:00 a.m. Matins followed by a main teaching session and breakout lessons. The afternoons are filled with fun on the mountain. Dinner leads into Vespers or Evening Prayer, and a few hours later, after the campfire and s’mores, we pray the service of Compline together and send the kids off to bed, fed and exhausted. Perhaps it is also good to mention that, before every worship service, one of the pastors will provide private confession and absolution for those who desire it.
What amazes me each year is that the kids actually are excited to be gathered for the daily offices of the church. They chant the liturgy, sing the hymns, and by the end of the week, some of them even manage to pick up the harmonies. They devour hours of catechetical instruction, sing their way through Divine Service Setting 3 (twice!), hike miles upon miles, and endure the quirky chemistry that seems to happen when you get a group of pastors together.
The kids love it. When they are too old to be campers, many of them beg to come back as junior leaders or counsellors. Each year, without fail, we catch the kids singing the liturgy during the non-worship portions of camp (last year’s hit was Evening Prayer’s rendition of the Magnificat). Each year, I’ve overheard more than a few youth comment that they wish life could be as simple and Christ-centered at home as it is at camp.
Our young people crave to be nurtured in the faith. Having served in youth ministry in a variety of settings over the years, I have witnessed the way our young people are starving to be fed with the truth. They ache for it at home, yearn for the frank and honest conversations about the things of the faith that matter, and want answers to their many questions.
For these youth, their adult chaperones, and yes, even the pastors, the week at confirmation camp is a mountain-top experience (pun intended). It truly is an amazing opportunity to shut off technology for a week and live together and worship together and have an entire existence that has Christ and His gifts of life and salvation at the center of it all.
Is it heaven? No, it’s confirmation camp, and everyone there is still a sinner (with 75-100 pre-pubescent teens and new teenagers, what could possibly go wrong)? But with Christ and His gifts held firmly before our eyes, it most certainly is a glimpse of heaven on earth. Christ’s gifts are freely given and are joyously received by all.
When Monday morning comes, as the campers are gathered for the first 8:00 a.m. Matins of the week, they may still be rubbing sleep out of their eyes, but you can bet your bottom that I’ll be anxiously standing there, ready to belt out at the top of my lungs those joyous words of the Venite!
“O come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving, let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God. And a great King above all gods. The deep places of the earth are in His hand, the strength of the hills is His also. The sea is His, for He made it. And His hand formed the dry land. O come let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.”