Wednesday, July 15, 2009
WHAT'S A CAMP MEETING?
This week, I’ve been preaching at the Salem Camp Meeting near Covington, Georgia. It is the oldest continually running Camp Meeting in America. It started in 1828 and it has been meeting every summer since then. In fact, this week is the 181st meeting. I’m honored to be the keynote speaker each day at this refreshing experience.
So, back to the question--What's A Camp Meeting? Camp Meetings are a rich part of our southern spiritual heritage. They were both a catalyst and a result of the Second Great Awakening that swept through our young nation in the beginning of the 19th Century. As settlers moved westward and southward from the original 13 colonies, most of the families lived on farms that were isolated from their neighbors. The demands of these pioneer farms required that family members work hard to survive. Many of them lived without the benefit of having a local church, but they were committed Christians. Camp Meetings sprung up as an answer to the spiritual need of these brave pioneers. After the crops were “laid by” in the summer before the time of harvest, families would pack up their wagons and gather together to have a week or two of spiritual refreshing. Hundreds of people would gather and camp out in tents for the duration. There would be plenty of food, fellowship, and activities, but the main focus was on the preaching and music.
Today, at Salem Camp Meeting, they carry on the tradition. Hundreds of people and dozens of families gather at this location year after year for a combination of a family reunion and a revival. The families occupy “tents” which are actually rustic cabins that surround the several-acre property. Some of them were the original hand-hewn cabins built in the 19th century, but most of them have been upgraded to include air conditioning these days. Twenty to fifty extended family members may occupy one tent! When the families aren’t worshipping or eating, they are simply sitting out on the porches in rocking chairs visiting and resting. Remember those days? It’s a stark contrast to the mad rush of the modern world that is spinning just a few hundred yards from the camp property.
Many of these families have been attending Salem Camp Meeting for generations. They come back each summer because their grandparents came, their parents came, and they came every year as kids, and now they bring their children. There is a wonderful combination of sweet, elderly saints, young adults, and plenty of children singing and laughing as they ride their bikes around the open-air tabernacle. It’s almost like going back in time – a better time when family and faith were the two things that mattered the most.
In addition to the families who are staying in the tents, many residents from the area attend the services each day at 11am and 8pm. Choirs from many local churches come and provide special music, too.
The outdoor tabernacle was built in 1828. I’m amazed as I look at the huge hand-hewn timbers that support the massive roof. They were smart engineers back then without the benefit of computers or even blueprints. The only new addition is a shingle roof on the exterior which replaced the “brush arbor” from the earliest years. This tabernacle has stood through storms and heat for 181 years. The tabernacle’s roof begins about seven feet above the ground then soars to about sixty feet – and the principle of heated air rising actually draws a nice breeze into the outdoor pavilion. The air rises up through the exposed interior roof and escapes through an ingenious vent at the peak of the ceiling. I’ve been preaching at 11am and 8pm and I haven’t sweated any more than I do in the Worship Center at Green Acres. Amazing!
The dirt floor is covered with a thick layer of sawdust (wood chips) which also seems to keep the area cool as well. The old wooden benches have had cushions added, but it’s easy to imagine people sitting there in the same spots worshipping and hearing God’s Word 181 years ago!
I’ve been eating every day in the dining hall and the food is pure southern cuisine. They serve fried chicken every meal except breakfast! And there is plenty of fresh vegetables and cornbread, too. I’m becoming a “big preacher” just from being here a few days! I never thought I would tire of fried chicken, but I’m getting close! I feel like the Baptist preacher who was served fried chicken every meal for a week, and he really didn’t like chicken. He arrived at the ninth house in a row serving fried chicken and was asked to pray the blessing. He said:
“Lord, I’ve had it hot, I’ve had it cold;
I’ve had it young, and I’ve had it old;
I’ve had it tender, and I’ve had it tough;
But, thank you, Lord, I’VE HAD ENOUGH!”
In the 19th century, pioneers would pack a year’s worth of worship in just a few days of preaching and singing. God did a mighty work through these Camp Meetings. And I have sensed His presence in a mighty way this week at the Salem Camp Meeting.
Maybe what America needs for the next Great Awakening is a few more camp meetings! I wonder where we would be if we took a lesson from generations past.
If you want more information about the Salem Camp click here
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