APPLING — In 1873, thousands of Methodists traveled by horse and wagon to the White Oak Campground to learn about God’s grace.
Last week, at the 140th encampment, Methodists traveled by Fords and Toyotas to hear the same message and get back to their religious roots.
“The camp-meeting movement was at the very core of Methodism when Francis Asbury preached in America,” said the Rev. Mary Kirkland. “This was actually one of the sites he preached at and people would come from all around to hear the message and camp out.”
In the beginning, people lived in tents for nearly 10 days during the revival. Today, the annual summer camp meeting is held for five days during the last full week of June. Unlike their ancestors, campers spend their evenings in cabins passed down through generations. In keeping with tradition, however, they call the cabins “tents.”
“My tent is passed down through the family for at least five generations,” said Lynn Hobbs, who has been coming to the revival for 53 years. “My grandmother just died at 103. She was the oldest tenter here at the campground and now the tent is willed to my mother.”
The tents are rustic in appearance. They are filled with furniture passed down through generations, old photographs and antique décor. Most tents have one hallway with bedrooms on both sides and a long table where families eat together.
Laura Adams, now the oldest camper at 91, has been going to revivals since 1958.
“My great grandparents tented here in the 1800s,” she said. “Now I’m keeping that tradition alive with my great grandchildren.”
Although family tradition is one aspect of the camp, daily services under the Tabernacle, an outdoor, church-like facility, is the main reason for revival.
“There’s something about this place that puts you in a closeness with nature and a closeness you don’t feel in your local church,” she said, “the openness and awareness of God being here in nature.”
This “open-air” concept of revival goes back to the Second Great Awakening during the 1800s, said the Rev. Thomas Hall. Although the approach back then was “hellfire-and-brimstone,” he said, the camp message keeps with tradition and still focuses on sin and repentance.
“This place is not as primitive as it was 100 years ago,” he said,” but it is primitive for us. It helps people recapture some of that and experience what would have been experienced back then.”
Camp meetings consisted of daily services at 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Other activities during the week included children’s activities, hiking and swimming.