Dr. Bill Jones addressed the Church of God in Michigan in our August online “Action” paper, after a summer of family gatherings and Camp Meeting at Charlevoix and St. Louis, and being guest preacher at Payne, Ohio. He had scheduling problems with Warner Camp and sent Demetrius Booker in his place and I was delighted to see my friend Demetrius, even if he is Afro-American rather than Greek as his name might suggest (love you bro!).Bill recalled that camp meetings “were a major form of evangelism and spiritual training for our fledgling movement,” which is no longer true. American culture has changed and we Americans have changed, as has the role of Camp Meetings. Whereas early camp meetings drew thousands from communities across America, most attenders today are devoutly loyal, but as one who has attended camp meetings for 85 years, today’s version is more family tradition and vacation than evangelistic.
He wondered if Camp Meetings are like Sunday night services ... something that had its time but its time has passed. Whatever the case, we need to dialogue his question as to “…what is the purpose of Camp Meetings today?”
I would be the first to admit that few people use camp meeting for leadership training, or Christian Education, or Missionary Education anymore. As a child I was thrilled beyond measure when exposed to Warren and Frances Edmondson, raising funds to go abroad. Warren was killed following that camp but Frances married Bob Clark and they spent a lifetime in Missionary Service. Now, the feature service on Missionary Day at Warner Camp can scarcely draw 50-75 people, and that mostly Christian Women’s Connection.
Most camps I know have scaled back to a family vacation, a purpose I neither minimize nor want neglected, but that is not our primary focus as people of God. Bill wrote after attending Charlevoix, St. Louis, and Payne, Ohio. Add Demetrius Booker being at Warner camp and I have to say “We can’t be more historical than this, if our purpose is teaching history and maintaining a museum.” Bill had a scheduling conflict, but he did send Demetrius, one of very few blacks attending Warner this year, and I didn’t see many more at St. Louis—we were pretty colorless, if I do say so (a whole other story)!
Bill observed that almost everything we do at camp meeting, we can do equally well-or-better at home or elsewhere. He also said what I know to be true, “Every Camp Meeting I attended this summer was tight on finances and wondering how it could generate more support.” … Does that suggest that we are already concentrating our funds to where, as Bill days, “… money flows to vision and ministry.”?
SO, what might our Camp Meetings think about in the years ahead? Bill suggested that we “focus on the value of God’s people from all across the state getting together to "network and discuss with people of common mind, and allow great ideas to be hatched" and build ties that bind us together. Good as far as it goes . . . !Here in Michigan, I would like to see our several Camp Boards cooperate together, coordinate programming and events, and refocus their mission so as to be of more value to the local church and more in harmony with our primary reason for existence. I resonated with this paragraph: “Second, focus on the community where the Camp Meeting is being held. Campers can band together to do service projects, feed the hungry, and love the children of the community. If there is a local Church of God near the Camp Ground, do it in the name of that church that can continue ministry when the Camp Meeting is over. What if a Camp Meeting held a community health clinic, or did a concert for the youth of the community, or provided a neighborhood party with food and games for those in the area? Somehow, we ought to think about how we can reach, serve and love those who are not at our Camp Meeting."
One thing I know: If Camp Meetings remain “a party for the saved,” they will die! If they are as of much value as some of us contend, then we should invest enough money and programming into them to develop them as the viable Retreat and Educational centers they could be. If not, we should divest ourselves of the financial drain and turn to more productive measures. This will sound extreme to some, but I have invested my blood, sweat, and tears in church camps across this nation, and I am reevaluating my own commitment and values, having attended my first camp meeting at Grand Junction in 1927-28, not sure which, but a babe in arms.
Our CM Boards are limping along as best they can, with totally inadequate resources. The house at Grand Junction that was the home of D. S. Warner is badly deteriorated after we restored it in 1992 to the best of our financial ability. NOW, if repaired, it will be, at best, a restored farm house, a onetime historic relic that was a pretty nice Queen Anne style home occupied by D. S. Warner. BUT, we disgrace him and our message by our limp-along efforts, so I took it upon myself in annual business session in 2012 to make the motion empowering the Trustee Board to restore if able or destroy and build a fitting facility commensurate with the needs of our camping program—as a memorial. DO WHAT THEY NEED TO DO!
This monologue is not a neatly defined plan for future camp meetings, but I hope it will illustrate our need to think on what Bill said and even open up dialogue-and-action enabling us to return to being the people of God Peter described by I Peter 2:9 – people of clear origin (responded to God), of unique character (a royal priesthood), with a focused purpose (declare his praises, meaning more than just fellowshipping together).
As Gerald Nevitt once wrote: “A new vision of what the church is to be and do in our world must begin with an understanding of who we are. Although every Christian may not fully understand, it is critically important that each church havea firm conviction regarding his identity” (GOD’S PEOPLE ON MISSION THROUGH MINISTRY/29/1995).