Salem memories past, present, future
The 186th Salem Camp Meeting returns with a week of events
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
Rev. Andrew Covington
Rev. Jonathan Anderson
Alice Walker & Becky Ramsey
Dr. Hal Brady