Camp Meeting Time
Summer time in the South, and Sandy Point, is and was, Camp Meeting Time.
There was a time when “church” played a major role in the lives of the people in the South and, I suppose, the country. Much of the social activity of family life was centered in the goings on at the church, as it was often referred to.
We will be at the church Sunday. In the old days, Church could be an all day affair. Some churches met once a month on the First, Second, Third, or Fourth Sunday. If there happened to be five Sundays in the month, well, you caught a break and did not have to show up. The most dedicated Church People would go to another church on the fifth Sunday. Homecoming Sunday was once a year with Dinner on the Grounds to get a chance to meet old friends and family that had moved away from the area or to another church.
Families and individuals were often referred to as Church People as a way of defining them as people who professed being a Christian of some variety as opposed to people, individuals, or communities that had become Lost and had no religious expression in their lives. Some people might be called Church People but not necessarily referred to as Christians as a way of putting them down if the speaker felt the people were professors of faith and not real practitioners of it.
Bible School was also a time tested way of creating an outreach in the community to bring the kids in and to try to get them feeling a connection to the church. Bring them up in The Way, so to speak. A week of fun, games, food and God, Children’s songs and Scripture mixed with all sorts of creative diversions from the world’s allure.
Throw in a revival meeting week, Easter Sunrise Service, the annual Christmas program complete with wise men and a Baby Jesus, some weddings and some funerals, and you could start filling up a calendar.
As transportation became easier, roads got paved, and people started working forty hour weeks instead of dawn to dark on the farm, more time was freed up for church and so not only did churches meet on Sunday morning, they started meeting on Sunday night: every Sunday morning and every Sunday night. It seemed modern people needed more church than the old people who could get it one or two Sundays a month.
As time went on, the distractions and evil in the world required even more energy and renewal of The Faith and so Wednesday Prayer Meetings were added. So it was Wednesday night, Sunday Morning and Sunday Night at The Church.
Then it was the Sunday School, the Ladies Auxiliary, The Men’s Prayer Breakfast, a softball team in the Church League. And, don’t forget, choir practice.
Of course, Church and church activities are still important to many people and families today but school activities, little league, basketball, football, soccer, dance, vacations, beach homes, TV, video games, and other events and actions take away some, if not all, of the time and interest of families in the Church.
Churches have family life centers to compete with all those activities and try to keep the youth and the old people interested in Church using those attractions. Some churches have resorted to teleconferencing and streaming videos to compete. It has proven to be a tough challenge in a day and time when you are called upon to accept any lifestyle and behavior except Christianity. That has become totally unacceptable to many. God only lacks one letter being a four letter word.
Many of the old crowd would feel ill at ease today in many of the churches, especially some of the mega churches where the preacher is all smiles and tells everybody that they are God’s children and that He loves them. It is all positive reinforcement and validation and no one ever feels bad for having come that way. And the preacher is having a very positive experience living in the ten million dollar house and flying around in G5 airplanes.
Not so in the old days! There was hell fire and brimstone coming from the pulpit. Sweat would break out on the brow and there was squirming in the pews and people with the sudden urge to go to the rest room or somewhere, anywhere, away from the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Preachers like Harry Denman who preached at camp meetings in July and revival meetings October.
By contrast to the mega preachers of today, Denman was once preaching a revival meeting and a wealthy business man in the congregation observed that Denman had worn the same suit every night so as a gesture of generosity the businessman bought Denman a new suit and presented it to him at the last evenings’ dinner gathering. The altars had been filled with repentant sinners every night, he deserved a new suit, at the very least.
“Thank you for your great preaching, Brother Denman. I wanted you to have a new suit to show my appreciation,” he said to Denman.
Denman thanked the man and the man walked away knowing he had done a good deed.
Denman walked over to the church’s pastor and handed him the new suit in the box: “Please give this suit to someone who might need it,” he said. “I have a suit. No man needs more than one good suit.” A well known preacher in Atlanta said his old jet is worn out and he needs $45 million to replace it. Harry would not have liked that.
Many preachers at the local level, to keep from offending their flock, would leave the heavy spiritual pounding and cleansing messages to the annual camp meeting preachers. Preachers that rode into town in their old Buicks and Fords and stayed in someone’s house or the Camp Ground’s little motel like room on the grounds themselves for ten days. Holiness preachers like Dr. John Church who was my Dad’s favorite.
They would come for ten days to places like Indian Springs, Taylor County or The Southeastern Holiness Campground on Sandy Point Road. There on Sandy Point on the same grounds with the Fellowship Evangelical Church, there is the campground. My grandfather and grandmother lie in the first row of graves beside the building and he was there when the first concrete blocks were laid. One of the buildings that came from Cochran Field‘s old Army Air Corp facility had his name on it for many years. Others with the names of Roquemore, Chapman, Hamlin, Tidwell, Jones, Gordon, and many others put their sweat and blood in that church and the Campground and my Grandfather is there everyday overseeing it from his place on the hill.
Just down the road at the Dixon Church, started in 1830, my other Grandfather and Grandmother keep watch.
My grandparents and many others set aside the dates and got up a carload to go to Taylor County, at Butler, Georgia. They would go and take their funeral home fans and sit in the heat and, sing camp meetin’ songs, hear real preaching and altar calls would be made and men, women and children would make their way to the altar, tears streaming down their faces, to give their lives to Christ. Then it would be on to Indian Springs in Flovilla, Ga. A place where people had year round cabins and smelled the Sulphur water and waded in the creek on the rocks.
The Southeastern Camp would see kids staying in the dormitories and preaching morning, afternoon and evening. Bugs swarming around the lights, fans flapping and sweat flowing. Souls saved. Some would say they could feel God’s presence.
They are still there. Voices crying in the wilderness and having to shout and sing louder and louder to be heard over the detractors and the video games. Competing with air conditioned mega churches and the feel-gooders. Holding on to values that have been discarded and trampled on by many of the very people who have benefited the most from them.
Where are Charles Wesley, Harry Denman, John R Church and all the others today? We need voices of healing, righteousness, and right, don’t we? People who see God as a healer and not a cause of problems.
One can only hope some values will endure. Will outlive the enemies. After all, they say, “What goes around, comes around.” And the Camp Meetings will keep meeting.
JC © 2016
Sandy Point Times