I’m going to our “NAC” in a few days--umpteenth time since my first one. I was 16 and had never been anywhere. Convention and Youth Convention combined in Anderson that year--1944; I went to hear Dr. E. Stanley Jones. I grew up attending Grand Junction from a babe in arms in 1927 or 1928. Rich Willowby said it right when he wrote, “Nothing is more Church of God than camp meeting!”
In 1947, I listened to Spanish preaching for the first time, hearing Brother Toyfolla at Sumerset, TX Mexican CM. It was 1951, I believe, when I visited Hope, AR and Earl Gladney hosted several of us. In 1952, my family and I found ourselves at Eastland, TX, where we examined the remnants of J. T. Wilson’s Eastland Bible Training School. I have now lived long enough to see that property sold to the city of Eastland for city development and the Texas Camp Meeting is anybody’s guess.
In the early 70’s, I hard Willard Wiilcox describe the N CA Diamond Arrow camp the Cathedral of the Pines. The name stuck. Since then, I have visited other camp sites like the Ontario fellowship that meets on the Free Methodist grounds at Thames. In the meantime, my wife and I have been on our Anderson grounds and heard public announcements of “between 38,000-42,000 present.
That very first national encampment met in 1883--Bangor, MI. Willowby described that meeting on the Harris Farm, two miles north of Bangor. Sebastian Michels handled dining details. They offered free meals, everyone contributed, and Sebastian handled the tab.
The following year of 1884, a few dozen turned into a few hundred. One man walked 170 miles, from Ohio I believe. In 1885 200-300 people met; they erected 19 tents. They experienced 230 consecrations and 200 claimed sanctification. By 1890, thousands were driving in, requiring a large tabernacle, a large tent, two other locations, with accommodations for simultaneous services.
In 1992, they relocated to Grand Junction. This July, I will attend the 116th annual CM at Grand Junction, still working in the Dining Hall, working with historian Dale Stultz, and promoting the new Old Main coffee table volume of our early history.
The grounds have changed dramatically since I ate Sunday dinner picnic style on the grounds back by the cemetery where D. S. Warner is buried. I remember our area leaders like Joe Cironi, L. S. Shaw, “Dad” Hartman (the unofficial Bishop), O. L. Yerty, noted for his healing practices.
I thought Hershel Rice was the greatest I ever heard, when he came as a young graduate on his honeymoon--early 30s--until I hard Boyce Blackwelder, the NC firebrand. I have other memories, such as my “first love” at twelve, and the year the “Storey Brothers” joined me in lugging a watermelon from South Haven to Grand Junction, hitch-hiking the 11 ½ miles both ways.
This was what all people of the Wesleyan and Holiness heritage did quite naturally; it was not a Church of God phenomenon (as Wallace Thornton reminds us, Radical Righteousness, Schmul, 1998,39ff).
Francis Asbury pioneered Methodism in America, riding horseback 45 years, traveling 270,000 miles, preaching 16,500 sermons, and presiding over 240 annual conferences and ordaining 4,000 preachers. At his death, he left 2000 ministers, 200,000 Methodists, and several thousand Canadian Methodists, plus a whole string of us non-Methodist cousins.
It seems Presbyterians promoted and led the earliest camp meetings, men like James McGready and Barton Stone. Without doubt, the most famous camp meeting was that 1801 meeting at Cane Ridge, KY. That in 2001 celebrated its second centennial with “The Great Gathering 2001” (Restoration Movement history).
Those people were self-reliant frontiersmen that seated their families in wagons, loaded their bedrolls, gathered available flour, meal, meat and vegetables, and headed for Cane Ridge (near Paris, KY north of Winchester-Lexington). They cooked on open fires and slept in their blankets beneath their wagons, beginning the 19th century phenomenon called frontier camp meeting.
By 1805, camp meeting had become what Asbury called “Methodist’s harvest time.” He called for Methodists to conduct 600 camps by 1810. Thus, camp meeting became predominantly Methodist oriented with the Methodist Episcopal church the largest denomination in the US by 1830.
Peter Cartright experienced conversion in an 1801 camp meeting and became a leading camp meeting preacher for the next half century. Sojourner Truth, an illiterate black female slave, escaped slavery and became an exponent of holiness, abolition, and women’s rights, before retiring in Battle Creek, MI. She holds the Cereal City’s first claim to national fame for moving to the city where I currently reside.
I am blogging this became CM has fallen by the wayside--times change--and I’m sorry that so many miss so much of what was very important in our support system. Today I can email and message with people around the world, and do, but it is so important that we relate to one another. This is not a world for people to live in alone, yet many younger people fail to see how this relates to our concepts of congregationalism, family, etc.
This is not a time and place for Lone Rangers and independents. We are individuals, but we no longer live as frontier people who really needed their camp meetings. However, people fill chat rooms, they occupy bars, et al. Why? Because we still need eyeball to eyeball conversation; we still need the touch of a friendly hand; we still need to drink coffee together, or share a watermelon heart together.
We are a world neighborhood and our world will be a better place in which to live when we can get over being afraid of each other. Moreover, we can eliminate many of our enemies, one by one, by making friends with them.
North American Convention, for Tommie and me, is a place where the church checks its pulse beat and gets a health check up and a great place to meet some of our “church” friends--not our only friends by any means. . .
Peace and Grace, Wayne