5 rea­sons we need camp meet­ings now more than ever

The Covington News - - RELIGION - JONATHAN AN­DER­SEN GUEST COLUM­NIST Rev. Jonathan An­der­sen is an As­so­ciate Pas­tor at Hamil­ton Mill United Methodist Church in Dac­ula. This is his 26th Camp Meet­ing. He will be one of the 2014 Salem Camp Meet­ing Lead­ers.

Each sum­mer I do some­thing odd by most Amer­i­can stan­dards: I spend one week with my ex­tended fam­ily, we sleep in a crowded cabin with no air con­di­tioner and we go to wor­ship ser­vices three times per day — along­side of hun­dreds of oth­ers — in an open air struc­ture with a saw­dust floor. The songs we sing were writ­ten long be­fore I was born and the ser­mons last much longer than 15 to 18 min­utes.

Each sum­mer I go to camp meet­ing.

Camp meet­ings are uniquely Amer­i­can in­sti­tu­tions that were de­vel­oped dur­ing the early years of the Sec­ond Great Awak­en­ing. At the time, they were a new method for evan­ge­lism and re­vival that sprang up all across the coun­try. Camp meet­ings of­ten pro­vided a place for those who lived in un­set­tled ar­eas to wor­ship and gather as a com­mu­nity for a short pe­riod of time-typ­i­cally dur­ing the late sum­mer. They be­gan with very tem­po­rary ar­range­ments such as tents, wag­ons and brush ar­bors to wor­ship un­der. Over time, these gath­er­ings es­tab­lished more per­ma­nent struc­tures and be­gan to draw people from all over the sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

Fran­cis As­bury once called camp meet­ings “a bat­tle ax and weapon of war” that broke down walls of wicked­ness through­out Amer­ica. He be­lieved they were a great means of grace. And in 1811, he es­ti­mated that these spirit-filled gath­er­ings brought to­gether 1/3 of the to­tal Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion.

More than 200 years later, thou­sands of people con­tinue to make the pil­grim­age each sum­mer to camp meet­ings that have with­stood the test of time.

Here are five rea­sons why I think we still need them to­day.

1. They pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for true Sab­bath rest.

The first thing most people feel when they at­tend a camp meet­ing is that they have passed from busy­ness to tran­quil­ity in just a few small steps. Nes­tled away from bill­boards and rush hour traf­fic, part of the beauty of mod­ern camp meet­ings is that most have lit­er­ally been set apart from the world and in­her­ited the sim­plic­ity of the times in which they were started.

You’ll rarely see a lap­top, tele­vi­sion or gam­ing con­sole. You’ll of­ten see porch swings, laugh­ter and loung­ing. Many who at­tend take the week of camp meet­ing as va­ca­tion from work, and when no one else is wor­ry­ing about be­ing pro­duc­tive or ef­fi­cient, you won’t feel the need to ei­ther.

The ex­pe­ri­ence of camp meet­ing is dif­fi­cult to de­scribe, but Eu­gene Peter­son’s de­scrip­tion of Sab­bath does a phenom­e­nal job: “Un­clut­tered time and space to dis­tance our­selves from the frenzy of our own ac­tiv­i­ties so we can see what God has been and is do­ing.”

2. They aid in the slow work of cul­ti­vat­ing true com­mu­nity.

To­day, the aver­age worker stays in their job less than five years. The aver­age home­owner sells their home in less than 10 years. Sure, in five to 10 years, great re­la­tion­ships can be built. But like cast iron skil­lets, the best re­la­tion­ships are formed slowly over time.

This sum­mer will mark my 26th camp meet­ing. I’ve shared the cry­ing years of in­fancy, the awk­ward years of mid­dle school and the grow­ing years of be­ing a young adult with an in­ter­gen­er­a­tional com­mu­nity that hasn’t gone any­where. Each year in this com­mu­nity ba­bies are cel­e­brated, deaths are mourned, people with cancer are cared for and way­ward chil­dren who once at­tended are lifted up in prayer.

Al­though I sleep in a cabin at camp meet­ing each night that holds three gen­er­a­tions of my fam­ily, gen­er­a­tions of oth­ers have helped them raise me and shape who I am. And they’re not all from the same church. As they were in the be­gin­ning, camp meet­ings con­tinue to be a place where Methodists, Bap­tists, Pres­by­te­ri­ans and oth­ers truly come to­gether for the gospel.

3. They are a foun­da­tion that helps with re­cal­i­bra­tion.

Ques­tions like ‘Who am I?,” “Where am I headed?,” and ‘What is the pur­pose of all of this?” aren’t any­thing new. Yet in a VUCA world — one that is volatile, un­cer­tain, com­plex and am­bigu­ous — these ques­tions are more chal­leng­ing than ever and it’s easy to lose one’s bear­ings. Camp meet­ings are the an­tithe­sis of VUCA. Many of them are now 100+ years old and they ex­ude steadi­ness, em­body reg­u­lar life-shap­ing rit­u­als and of­fer sim­plic­ity.

The al­tar calls, Sab­bath time and com­mu­nity that sur­round camp meet­ings pro­vide just the kinds of op­por­tu­ni­ties through which one can eas­ily ex­plore the deep ques­tions of life and ex­pe­ri­ence the Holy Spirit move in a pow­er­ful way. They also come with the ad­van­tage that you can count on them ev­ery year.

J. Ellsworth Kalas once preached, “As mar­velous as grace is when it in­vades our life, grace needs many con­tin­u­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to in­vade our lives if we are to go on march­ing.” Camp meet­ings pro­vide the time and place for this abun­dant grace to in­vade.

4. They serve as a re­minder that we don’t have to make faith up as we go.

As Chris­tians we’ve been called “to con­tend for the faith that was once and for all en­trusted to the saints.” Yet as con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­cans, we of­ten act as if we can make Chris­tian­ity up as we go along.

Sit­ting un­der old brush ar­bors and taber­na­cles, walk­ing with friends where oth­ers have walked for many years, sleep­ing in cab­ins that have been with fam­i­lies for gen­er­a­tions, singing old gospel hymns and lis­ten­ing to some­one preach with the fer­vor of a sec­ond great awak­en­ing preacher each serve as a re­minder that we’re part of some­thing that started well be­fore us. And the fact that camp meet­ings sur­vive in our world to­day also serves as a tes­ti­mony to the un­stop­pable na­ture of the gospel.

Count­less in­sti­tu­tions have closed down since the turn of the 20th century, but for some rea­son God has pre­served camp meet­ings. I hope they don’t end any­time soon.

5. They form Chris­tians in a deep way.

Ac­cord­ing to James Bryan Smith, spir­i­tual for­ma­tion is the process, em­pow­ered by the Holy Spirit, in which we adopt the nar­ra­tives of Je­sus as the nar­ra­tives of our lives, adopt the prac­tices of Je­sus as the daily rhythms of our lives and spend time with oth­ers do­ing the same.

Camp meet­ings are places where these three things hap­pen in an in­ten­tional way for one week each year. Ev­ery day preach­ing, teach­ing and con­ver­sa­tion take place which help re­place false nar­ra­tives adopted from the world with the true nar­ra­tives about God that Je­sus reg­u­larly taught. Through­out the week, count­less op­por­tu­ni­ties arise to spend time alone in prayer, care for bro­ken and hurt­ing people within the com­mu­nity and en­cour­age oth­ers with love. Ev­ery mo­ment is spent with other people who have cho­sen to ded­i­cate their lives to these same tasks.

The fruit of this for­ma­tion is ev­i­dent at many camp meet­ings. Sim­ply visit and ask around, “How has God used camp meet­ing to shape your life?”

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