Salem mem­o­ries past, present, fu­ture

The 186th Salem Camp Meet­ing re­turns with a week of events

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - SAMANTHA REAR­DON news@cov­news.com

Sam Ram­sey has a scrap­book-like mem­ory of sto­ries that have shaped his life, sto­ries that be­gin with the same set­ting.

For half a century, Ram­sey — a for­mer mayor and councilman and cur­rent New­ton County res­i­dent and owner of Ram­sey Fur­ni­ture — has chaired the Salem Camp Meet­ing.

It started in 1828 and is one of the old­est camp meet­ings in the coun­try that continues to thrive. The an­nual, week­long event draws “campers” from all over the na­tion, and the camp­ground it­self holds a spot on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places.

About 100 preach­ers from around the coun­try will be head­ing to the camp­ground to lead wor­ship and classes. Ram­sey said they’re some of the best, and he’s got­ten to know many of them over the years.

“We’ve got 17 people that have grown up at Salem camp­ground that are now full time min­is­ters in the last 25 years be­cause of the ex­pe­ri­ence of Salem Camp­ground,” he con­tin­ued. “Not many churches can say that.”

Ram­sey has known Pas­tor Alice Rogers, he ex­plained — mak­ing a mea­sure­ment of her height with his hand — “all her life.”

Rogers grew up at Salem and now preaches at Glenn Me­mo­rial Church in De­catur. She will be preach­ing at Salem this year, along with oth­ers.

“We’ve got quite a group,” Ram­sey said. “That’s what makes it all worth­while — see­ing the in­flu­ence of it in other people’s lives as well as my own.”

The ex­pe­ri­ence, he says, is what makes Salem spe­cial. But the ex­pe­ri­ence is not some­thing he can de­scribe ad­e­quately in words.

“A lot of the times I feel like it’s as close to heaven on earth as you can be,” Ram­sey said. “It’s quite an ex­pe­ri­ence. You have to be out there and ex­pe­ri­ence it for yourself.”

Ram­sey knows the his­tory of Salem. Af­ter all, Ram­sey’s great-grand­fa­ther, a county com­mis­sioner for 40 years, was Salem chair­man be­fore his grand­fa­ther and fa­ther suc­ceeded him.

“A lot of people don’t un­der­stand Salem,” Ram­sey said. “It’s a camp­ground be­cause of the spring. There’s a spring there that has 30 gal­lons per minute of 65 de­gree wa­ter. Back when the camp­ground first got started, they not only needed enough wa­ter for all the people over there, but you also needed wa­ter for all the an­i­mals. That’s the rea­son it is the way it is.”

One of Ram­sey’s first mem­o­ries at Salem dates back to his sixth year.

“We all gath­ered around the ra­dio in the ho­tel lobby and lis­tened to the Ja­panese sur­ren­der,” Ram­sey said of the day World War II ended.

Marvin Franklin, a bishop from Mis­sis­sippi, had a son in the war.

“And he stood there, grown man, and just stood there and cried. He said, ‘ My son is com­ing back. Thank the Lord.’”

The same ho­tel Ram­sey sat in as a child houses fam­i­lies dur­ing the camp meet­ing. It has a 125-seat din­ing hall where campers join for break­fast and din­ner each morn­ing.

Through­out the week, campers meet for ev­ery daily event — ser­vice, classes, af­ter­noon re­cre­ation.

“We start out ev­ery ser­vice with a song,” Ram­sey said. “There’s a sweet, sweet spirit at this place. You re­ally do feel the Holy Spirit is with you when you’re out there.”

Ram­sey met his wife, Becky, at Salem. She and her twin sis­ter Alice have been play­ing the piano at Salem for 43 years.

“One of the new fea­tures at Salem this year is the gazebo out in front of the ho­tel,” Ram­sey ex­plained of the struc­ture he built in the same spot he and Becky were mar­ried at years ago. “I built it in honor of Becky and Alice, be­cause I feel like for some­body who’s been play­ing there for 43 years de­serves some­thing in their honor.”

Mu­sic will play a large role in a spe­cial Sun­day morn­ing ser­vice, Ram­sey ex­plained. There will be a bag­piper, a pro­ces­sional, color guard per­formed by Boy Scout Troupe 222, a spe­cial per­for­mance by Ju­lianna Las­seter of Cov­ing­ton and more. The Salem and Cov­ing­ton United Methodist Churches’ choirs will join for a per­for­mance.

Be­cause Salem is in­ter­de­nom­i­na­tional, Ram­sey said ev­ery­one is wel­come to join in the week­long event, which be­gins Fri­day, July 11 and runs through Fri­day, July 18.

“It’s been fa­mous for a long time,” Ram­sey said. “The taber­na­cle can maybe fill 1,000 people un­der it, and I’ve seen it many times.”

And like the times Ram­sey has spent mak­ing mem­o­ries at Salem, he ex­pects this year to be just as full of new ones.

For more in­for­ma­tion on the Salem Camp Meet­ing 2014, in­clud­ing daily sched­ule, profiles of camp meet­ing lead­ers, do­na­tions and more visit salem­camp­meet­ing.org.

Dr. P. Alice

Rogers Se­nior pas­tor of Glenn Me­mo­rial United Methodist Church

Dr. Robert

Les­lie Holmes

Rev. Andrew Cov­ing­ton

Rev. Jonathan An­der­son

Alice Walker & Becky Ram­sey

Thomas Roberts

Dr. Hal Brady

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