Carey’s Camp

  The last Wednesday of July is a special day for me. No, it’s not my birthday or a national holiday. It’s not the start of vacation or the end of the work week. To the population at large, I imagine it goes by without much notice. But to me, and to a lot of people in and around Sussex County, the last Wednesday in July rates as one of the most important days of the summer. It is the first day of Carey’s Camp.  

Officially started in 1888, Carey’s Camp began as “bush” or “basket meetings,” more commonly known today as church revivals, with members of the community camping out in makeshift shelters to hear a variety of different ministers preach the gospel. Today, Carey’s Camp remains as one of only two active camp revivals in the state. Attendees are likely to listen to services from the comfort of one of the 47 tents (cottages surrounding the campground) or under the tabernacle, where preachers, singers and bands perform and speak. 

There is a confectionary, where the young — and young at heart — can go for an ice cream cone after services, and a dining hall known as “The Boarding Tent,” where campers can take their meals. Josephine Dorey, who has attended Carey’s Camp for 65 years, said newcomers to Carey’s are in for a pleasant surprise when they arrive for the first time.

“You come expecting to hear good preaching and good singing, and if someone has never been, it would probably be a surprise to them to see how our services are done,” Dorey said. 

Many of my memories of camp revolve around vacation Bible school, which runs for five days, culminating with a live program on Friday evening. Throughout the week, children of all ages receive daily Bible lessons, play games, make crafts and practice singing performances and sketches to be shared with family and friends at the final show. 

“We get a lot of kids that never go to church, but they will come to Bible school,” Dorey said. Over the past several years, a lot of hard work has been put into improving the camp as well as maintaining it. While many visitors to the camp live and sleep in their tents, some bring their RVs and campers, too. Last year, Carey’s Camp allotted 10 more spaces to accommodate campers. Another addition Carey’s made in recent years is a youth tabernacle outside of the main campground. Services geared toward younger members of the congregation can now be held at the same time as
regular services.

 For me, Carey’s Camp has always been more than just another place. It’s a part of my heritage, the backdrop to some of my favorite memories. I have family at camp and friends who have become family. To me, it’s home. “Most of the people who are out here in these 47 tents have been coming for years and years and the tents have been handed down from generation to generation,” Dorey said. “Once you come out here, you have to come back. If you were out here as a small child, you’ll be back.”  It is unique, in a world bent on progress and fast-paced advances, to find a place like Carey’s Camp: No matter how many times you leave, and no matter how many ways the camp and its people grow and change, somehow it always feels the same as when you first left it.

Carey's Camp
Attendees gather in the circle to listen to an evening service.
Children perform at the vacation Bible school closing program.
Carey’s Camp is on the National Register of Historic Places.
For the twelve days of Carey's Camp, many attendees live in small cottages generally referred to as "tents."