If you grew up in the South chances are you know about “campmeeting.” If you know about it, you probably also know that it is pronounced with a silent “g.” Campmeetin’ has been for many years a tradition in the primarily rural sections of the southern United States.

Campmeetings began as a type of outdoor revival meeting on the American frontier In the 19th century. Various Protestant denominations sponsored these events and people came prepared to camp out. Farmers had a bit of a break after their crops were “laid by” and fall harvesting had not yet begun. The campmeetings provided as much for the social life of attendees as it did for their spiritual well being.

Encyclopedia Britannica describes the scene. “Families pitched their tents around a forest clearing where log benches and a rude preaching platform constituted an outdoor church that remained in almost constant session for three or four days. As many as 10,000 to 20,000 people were reported at some meetings. People came partly out of curiosity, partly out of a desire for social contact and festivity, but primarily out of their yearning for religious worship.”

Historians have generally credited James McGready (c. 1760–1817), a Presbyterian, with inaugurating the first typical camp meetings in 1799–1801 in Logan County, Kentucky. Activities included preaching, prayer meetings, hymn singing, weddings, and baptisms.

By 1820, there were almost one thousand camps in America. Although their popularity has diminished with urbanization, this tradition lives on in many places and is a very important part of the spiritual and social lives of some people.

Permanent buildings, most with electricity, air conditioning, and running water have replaced the tents from the early years of campmeetings. These new “tents,” as they still call them, are owned by families and often have been passed from one generation to another.

There are a number of campmeetings around North Georgia with a rich history that continue each summer. I am a Methodist and know more about those with Methodist heritage than others. White Oak Campground near Thomson, established in 1820 and Salem Campmeeting near Conyers was founded in 1828 and are among the oldest, thriving campgrounds in the nation. Lumpkin County Campground in Dawsonville celebrated 184 consecutive years of campmeeting last week. Lawrenceville and Shingleroof in McDonough were both established in 1832, Marietta started in 1837, and Holbrook in Alpharetta and Loudsville began in 1838. Shiloh in Carrollton/Bowdon (more precisely in the Burwell Community) held its 147th encampment earlier this summer. Since 1890 the Indian Speings Holiness Campmeeting has met for ten days each year.

When these campmeetings began all of them were in rural communities where a few miles was a great distance. The agricultural economy and modes of transportation limited opportunities for people to travel far. The environment for many of them has changed dramatically. They are now surrounded by houses and traffic but continue to gather for renewal and refreshing for several days each summer.

This week one of this area’s last campmeetings of the season is going on at Mossy Creek in White County. In 1829 gold was discovered in nearby Duke’s Creek and that same year a parcel of land was sold for $44 that eventually became Mossy Creek Campground.

From its beginnings Mossy Creek grew into an annual week long revival in mid-August and the sense of tradition and worship continues. As in the beginning, camp meeting is still a time to leave the stress of daily life and be in a community of God’s people, sharing His love.

I’ll see you at Mossy Creek tonight.

Jamie Jenkins

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