Camp Meetings: The Tradition Continues

Rasmussen released some interesting poll data on Easter. I mentioned it in my Monday post. Rasmussen’s poll says that 78% of our population “believe Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead“. Furthermore…

Eighty-five percent (85%) also think that the person known to history as Jesus Christ actually walked the earth 2,000 years ago. Six percent (6%) disagree. Eight percent (8%) aren’t sure.

Nearly as many adults (81%) believe that Jesus was the son of God who came to Earth and died for our sins. Ten percent (10%) don’t think that’s true, and nine percent (9%) are not sure.

Isn’t that surprising?

It’s contrary to what you’d believe if you listened solely to our state media organs and their atheistic supporters. Over four-fifths of our countrymen believe Jesus actually existed and was the son of God. Almost 10% aren’t sure and only 10% disbelieve.

And Obama and the dems claim we aren’t a Christian nation.

When I read this poll, it started a chain of thought and memories. During the first half of the last century and well before that, one of the primary social events was the Camp Meeting. The Digital Heritage has a definition of Camp Meetings. Their writeup is limited to the Appalachian areas and the South. In reality, Camp Meetings were held wherever there were people. Here is an excerpt from their site.

Camp meetings were rural by nature. Scheduled so as not to interfere with the farming cycle, they were usually held within an outcropping of trees near a stream or other body of fresh water. Transportation was slow and primitive, so any meeting more than a few miles from home required that attendees stay overnight. Individuals and families planned provisions for several days and “camped’ for the length of the revival. Public orators were the celebrities of the day, and attending public speaking events was a favorite form of entertainment for rural folk who normally had infrequent outside contact during their daily routines. Camp meetings were festive, on a par with the excitement generated by county fairs and political campaigns. Poverty and isolation were common in rural Appalachia, and camp meetings provided rare opportunities for folks to get away from their hard existence and visit with friends and neighbors.

Despite the social component, religious participation and renewal dominated camp meetings. Attendees were removed from their daily responsibilities so services, though informal, could be held nonstop, from sunup to sundown–and often late into the night. Frequently, pulpits were erected in several locations throughout the vast meeting sites. Speakers from various dominations provided sermon after sermon.

When I was much younger, I attended several Camp Meetings in southern Illinois with my parents and Grandmother. During the Twenties and Thirties, Dad, along with his friend, Tony Doris, traveled throughout southern Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and several other neighboring states holding Camp Meetings. Tony was the Evangelist, Dan sang and conducted the music. For a short period of time, they appeared every Saturday night on a radio program out of St. Louis.

In the early 20th Century, camp meetings were usually conducted by an evangelical team—the Evangelist, a Song and Music Leader and frequently a pianist or organist. The tents, chairs, a podium and altar were usually provided by local groups. Some of the larger evangelical teams owned tents and brought them along in case none was available locally. When tents were locally available, they were often commonly owned by local churches as were portable or folding chairs. Other furnishings may have been owned by the local city or county government, other social organizations, or, in the case of mining towns, the local union. Frequently the camp meeting occurred along with family reunions and other local social events.

The one I remember best occurred in the early 1950s. I believe it was held near Marion, Illinois. It started on a warm summer Friday night. Many families stayed throughout the meeting—pitching surplus army tents in a small tent village adjacent to the main tent. Another large tent was erected as a cafeteria-style dining area and a resting/meeting place for family members to gather. Food, water and sanitary facilities were provided by other local organizations. The West Frankfort Mine Rescue team owned portable latrines—a forerunner of our current “Johnny-on-the-Spot.”

Families contributed food and drink in some form. Mom and Grandma took a dozen fried chickens, a gallon or two of green beans and corn-on-the-cob from their garden and several gallons of sweet tea. Once, I remember Dad took a load of watermelon in the back of his pickup.

In this instance, we didn’t camp out. Marion was close enough, in the next county to the south from us, that we drove home after the evening service and drove back before the next service the following day. Dad was still well known as a song leader and would join other song leaders conducting music or singing before the preaching began.

For the most part, the meetings were non-denominational. By that, I mean, no church, no one was excluded. All denominations attended—Baptists, Methodists, Nazarenes, members from the Assemblies of God and other 2nd Day or Latter Reign groups. It wasn’t unusual to see the local Catholic Priest, Nuns or a Rabbi attending.

Services would start early on a Friday evening and continue late into the night. On Saturday, there would be another morning session after an early breakfast and continuing through mid-afternoon. The next session would begin after the evening meal and the cycle would continue through Sunday evening—ending early enough for folks to get home and prepare for work on Monday. Local miners often stayed Sunday night and went to work on Monday directly from the camp site.

No one attended services continuously. People and families would drift in and out of the main tent in a Brownian movement. Some would attend the morning session and not the afternoon. Others would attend all day and leave before the evening service. Uncounted others came to visit and talk and never entered the main tent. For many, the camp meeting was a social event instead of an evangelical event.

Camp meetings still occur today. Each summer, a local Methodist group erects a large tent next to their church building and hold services there for several weekends. But in most cases, the meetings have moved indoors. Our local church holds “conferences” several times a year. Baptist Churches and others hold “Revival Meetings.” Regardless of name, the purpose is the same. Our church is limited to a size that can be seated in our building. Other groups rent large meeting rooms and some even outdoor stadiums.

All-in-all, the camp meeting tradition still exists and they aren’t limited to one or two geographical areas. They are now world wide. Billy Graham, conducted meetings all across the globe and his son continues the meetings today.

Remember, 81% of our population still believes that Jesus was the son of God contrary to what you’ll hear from the state media, agnostics, atheists and so-called “progressives.”