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Baptist Campmeeting Time

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Faith Baptist Campmeeting, Resaca, Georgia

A Campmeeting is a scheduled time when Christian people get together for a few days or a week of concentrated preaching and singing. Some campmeetings are held at churches, while others are held at campgrounds. People often stay at the campgrounds or rent motel rooms. Meals are often provided for attendees.

Most campmeetings take place south of the Mason-Dixon line. I attended my first campmeeting at an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Rossville, Georgia. A pastor friend of mine from an IFB church east of Columbus invited me to go to the campmeeting with him and several men from his church.

Our trip from Columbus to Rossville was frightening, to say the least. My pastor friend was quite a control freak. He insisted on driving the entire 500 miles to the campmeeting. What was frightening, you ask? My friend knew one speed — fast — often driving in excess of 90 miles per hour. What made matters worse was the fact that my friend spent most of the trip with his head turned to the right, talking to me in the front seat. I spent most of the trip hanging on for dear life. Needless to say, I never went anywhere with him again. We later had a falling out. My friend took issue with some of my theology, and decided he could no longer “fellowship” with me. He is now divorced, and no longer in the ministry. (He replaced a pastor who was caught having sex with his secretary in the church office while congregants were out visiting their bus routes.)

Besides the white-knuckle ride to Rossville, several things stand out about the trip and campmeeting.

At the time, I was quite the Fundamentalist Baptist preacher. I had a long list of things I would not do out of wanting to maintain a pure testimony bAt the time, I was quite the Fundamentalist Baptist preacher. I had a long list of things I would not do because I  wanted to maintain a pure testimony before God and man. One thing I would not do is eat at restaurants that served alcohol. That meant, of course, the only place I could get a steak was at Ponderosa. Remember their streaks? Yeah. Not good. Thank God for atheism and Texas Roadhouse.

Several hours into our trip, my pastor friend decided it was time to stop for lunch. He, of course, didn’t have a problem eating at restaurants that served alcohol. So he and his fellow church members chose a restaurant that served booze. I explained my “conviction” to him, and asked that he choose an alcohol-free establishment. Instead, he laughed at me and said I could sit in the car. So, I did. Needless to say, our relationship went south from there.

What stood out the most to me was the campmeeting itself. The campmeeting featured numerous notable IFB preachers. The preaching itself was challenging, convicting, and quite entertaining. What was bizarre was the behavior of many the attendees. The services from start to finish were emotionally charged. Both the music and preaching stoked emotions, leading to behaviors I had never seen before (I was 31 at the time). I saw grown men (and a few women) running the aisles, standing on the pews, waving towels and Bibles, hooting and hollering, and egging the preachers on with shouts of AMEN! and PREACH IT, BROTHER! What I experienced was the Baptist equivalent of a Pentecostal/Charismatic church meeting — without the speaking in tongues. I found the first night to be quite troubling, but by night three, I had joined the nonsense.

The next year, I took a group of people from Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio to a campmeeting at Midway Bible Baptist Church in Fishersville, Virginia. This was, and still is, the home church of Evangelist Don Hardman.

Somerset Baptist was located in the Appalachian foothills of southeast Ohio. Some of the people who went to the campmeeting with me had never been out of southeast Ohio. One woman openly wept as we crossed the bridge over the Ohio River into West Virginia.

This campmeeting was more structured than the one in Georgia, but had similar preaching and music. One thing that stood out to me was how many of the church’s members had cancer and serious illnesses. I later wondered if the area was some of sort of environmental cancer cell.

I also attended one IFB campmeeting in Ohio, held at Fellowship Baptist Church in Lebanon. Fellowship Baptist owns and operates the Fellowship Tract League. As with the meeting in Rossville, the preaching and music at Fellowship Baptist’s campmeeting were emotionally stirring. This led to all sorts of crazy behavior. Normal for regular campmeeting attendees, but One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest-crazy to first-timers.

Fellowship Baptist provided free housing and meals for those in Fellowship Baptist provided free housing and meals for those in attendance. I brought Polly and our children to the campmeeting. Her first night at the meeting was definitely an eyeopening experience for her, as she had never experienced worship southern-style. The churches I pastored were quite staid emotionally, so being around a bunch of people hollering, shouting, standing on pews, and generally acting like they were on crack was quite a phenomenon.

Two things stand out from this campmeeting. First, when we walked into our motel room, there was a used condom on the floor. Ugh. Second, the motel offered free HBO. I was quite anti-TV at the time, and fearful that I might be tempted to watch the Home Barf Office — as I often called HBO in my sermons. To keep myself from giving in to sin, I broke one prong off of the TV’s plug. Yeah, I know, bizarre behavior, but try to understand my actions in light of the Bible verses that say:

And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30)

In my IFB mind, breaking off the electric plug prong was the equivalent of plucking out my eye or cutting off my hand. The goal was to abstain from all appearance of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:22)

By the early 1990s, I had moved on from IFB campmeetings to staid, emotion-free Reformed Baptist/Sovereign Grace meetings. While some attendees would say AMEN when agreeing with the preacher, everyone stayed in their seats. Overt emotional expressions were frowned upon.

It is clear, at least to me, that worship style and practices are driven by cultural and tribal norms, not God/Holy Spirit. Have you ever been to a campmeeting? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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6 Comments

  1. Avatar
    BJW

    Seventh-day Adventists also have camp meetings. I actually have a pleasant memory of them, but I liked the people (usually) and they always took place in early summer, which is a nice time in Massachusetts.

  2. Avatar
    Southern Lady

    Yes! I got to go as a kid with my aunt (who was also a kid-six months younger than me, actually) and my grandfather. He was in the Wesleyan church. It was “up in the mountains” in North Carolina. (I grew up in the Piedmont section of North Carolina.)

    There were services (can’t remember how wild they were.) I do remember there was a lot about sanctification. I don’t think IFB talked about that as much, so that fascinated me. Of course, I then started worrying about getting sanctified.

    We got to stay in a cabin at the site. I think we were there for a week, maybe a little less. It was in the summer and was just fun for a kid to run around outside. It’s a good memory. It makes me feel good to think that my grandfather enjoyed our company enough that he took us there. I think my grandmother came later because she always needed to stay home and feed the dogs. She wasn’t quite as social as he was. He loved to get out and go places.

    My other camp meeting experience was as an adult going to my Uncle Coyt’s meeting. He was a preacher. I remember one of the featured speakers was pretty unimpressive and he commented on that. This was a meeting that my husband and I drove to each night. But the big thing for us was the food. The food was provided by Uncle Coyt’s daughters. And they knew what they were doing. So delicious. And that’s where I had the best tomato I’ve ever had in my life. These tomatoes were simply sliced and put out as a side dish. Haven’t had any as good since. But I keep searching.

  3. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    OT, but have to share: I entered a master’s program in geology in my late 40s, coming from a background in computer engineering. That meant I needed to take a lot of undergrad classes to catch up in my new field. It also meant I was unfamiliar with that geology staple, the field trip. Our professors got us out of the classroom/lab whenever possible, packing us, them, and camping gear into a trio of badly used, large SUVs.

    One of the professors– I’ll call him Jim–had A Reputation. No, not what you’re thinking. While driving, Jim liked to chat, and liked to look at his front seat passenger while he did so. Now, geology instructors take their students to places where you can see the rocks; deserts are perfect for this. But I live in a congested area, far from the exposed rocks, and so our field trips consisted of long drives, the nearest-home third of which were in harrowing traffic. Riding shotgun with Jim to a field trip area was An Experience. I was warned not to do it by my classmates, but it was rare that we could talk Jim out of driving. The folks in the back seats listened to music, zoned out, or otherwise distracted themselves from the real potential of sudden death in an auto accident, but I wanted to pick Jim’s brain. Surely, Jim’s driving couldn’t be THAT bad.

    So, I’m still alive. Jim is as well, though he must be in his 80s now. We see each other occasionally and have lunch. ( I graduated in 2013, but I made some wonderful friends at that school, and Jim is one of them.) I learned a ton from him…but I really didn’t retain much from our conversation when we traveled together!

  4. Avatar
    Matilda

    We lived in a small town out in the sticks in the UK where x-tians were pretty insular, so not many went to events like the Keswick Convention, as it was so far away. The pentecostal church in the town thought it was a cut above the rest of us, baptists, methodists etc. I did know one family who went to a penty family camp and when I asked the 2 children about it, the first thing they told me, something that was obviously puzzling to them and they didn’t know who to ask about it, was that their jackets had been stolen – it was a closed site – and they’d been told not to tell anyone. Their image of superiority over the rest of the local churches mustn’t be tarnished!

  5. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    Well, now I feel like I missed out on some fundamentalist hoe-down! I don’t know if our church didn’t participate in these or if it was just my family that didn’t participate. My grandma was pretty non social, and her elderly mother lived with us and was a great excuse why grandma couldn’t participate in a lot of activities. My mom was also an introvert, and as a divorced woman didn’t become “respectable” again until she remarried when I was 11.

    I only went on children’s and youth retreats, which were generally fun. There were several church camps in Tennessee, one small one was located close to my house but our church did use it because it was probably owned by someone that was the wrong denomination.

    I sure wish I could have gone to what you described though!

  6. Avatar
    mary

    oh dear, the campmeeting. i remember being in an outdoor structure with a roof and open sides. we were pentecostal so the screaming, wailing, running, rolling, etc were par for the course. mainly sis and i were hot and bored. no one provided meals or lodging, each family took care of themselves. sis and i would wait out the lunacy then feast on bobs big boy burgers late at night when it was all over. most people in our churches did not attend as it was a long drive from our location. the main memory was sis and i agreed to be saved when the preacher shamed us all by saying turn to the person next to you and say you’ll see them in heaven. mom started crying so we agreed to stop the scene. it was all so bizarre. thanks for the memories.

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