I’ve been thinking about Camp Meeting lately. Probably weird, I know, but it’s been in my mind and the memories have been oh so sweet. I saw a picture this morning of the camp meeting kitchen with it’s sawdust floors, long supper table with bench seating. I can see the huge old exhaust fan, ice pick hanging on the nail, Ice cream coolers, old speaker to listen to services, the smell of onions and the taste of tang. I think about the hours spent watching my grandma, grandpa, parents, family members and church members cook and prepare meals and Happy Home hotdogs.
I remember sitting on the onion table and watching Mr. King George cut onions with that long thumbnail of his and his special box of knives. “They’re a gift from Dolly Parton. My Ira works for her you know.” I remember him saying with the sweetest pride and no, he never let me touch them or their special box. I remeber Mrs. Miriam with her container of tang and me being so excited to have some with breakfast as she mixed it up. I remember my grandma wrapped in her apron telling me to go get some ice and heading to the back. I distinctly remember hanging the freezer lid on the hook and hacking away with the old ice pick. I remember wiping the tables and preparing for the preacher. Goodmama would ask us kids to serve the preacher and his family. She took pride in her work and in her service. She loved people and she loved that kitchen. I think of my daddy steaming buns in the old kitchen and in the new with my uncles and Mr Leroy working the windows and Abi and I shuffling hotdogs and lemonade to and fro. I remember the smell of the old bathrooms and sometimes I can go in a park bathroom and it’ll take me right back to those weeks when I was so young. I think of flinging granddaddy long legs and begging to take a shower in that dark and dank place.
I think of nights spent in the youth cabin with our girl friends and the silliness that ensued. I think of Goodmama dragging me out to the old cabins to prepare for Mrs. Leake and her girls. I remember dusting and sweeping and making red and pink hearts with special messages on the dresser for her to see when she arrived. I smile now as I look over at that dresser that now resides in my bedroom. I think of the booming voices and sweaty passionate preachers as they mop their brow with a hanky and tell of God’s love for His people. I remember seeing people in all states of worship as they love on God in a variety of ways. I remember learning. I remember a preacher jokingly saying that he thought there would be a slapping booth for Eve in heaven for us women and not having a clue what he meant. Now I think it’s hilarious. I remembered my momma buying me a CD from the worship leader one year. I can’t remember his name but it was written in blue and maybe yellow writing. I can still feel the way the sawdust felt as I covered my entire legs in it as us girls played in it in the cool evenings. I remember wishing I had a fancy church fan like some of the other people. I remember where certain people sat, how they worshipped and their voices as they encouraged the preacher; many are long gone. I remember getting my first vision during the week of camp meeting and sharing it before the congregation. Uncle Walter encouraging me after a service explaining the words from God about my giftings that had been spoken over me. I remember standing embarrassed and nervous to sing at Lilly’s baby dedication especially when we realized we left the words at home and neither Abi or I could remember much of them. I remember some of the sermons and the feeling as the Holy Spirit settled over the place and the people.
I think that this is where I learned the foundation and fundamentals of serving. Of loving people. To appreciate tradition and the importance of learning from my elders. It taught me to be brave and steadfast. It helped me learn to want to be consistent in church attendance.
It’s been years since the kitchen and cabins were knocked down and even more since the bathrooms were demolished to make way for the Family Life Center. I remember fussing and crying over the demolition projects. I remember my grandma crying over it and as a pre-teen and teenager not understanding where tradition should end and new growth should begin. I think of the changes we’ve made and the changes that time has brought. I think “it looks so very different” but feels almost the same. It went from one family cooking the entire time to taking turns to now it being a struggle to find families willing to take it for one afternoon. From three meals a day with hotdogs to only hotdogs. From 10 days to 7. To no ketchup to ketchup. The rickety ceiling fans have been replaced with ones that don’t squeak or wobble. We’ve got an ice maker now and the ice pick is gone. I’ve got a husband who thrives in the new commercial kitchen environment and I can’t sit and watch those same elders work back and forth across the sawdust floor. The Passie Circle prepares the kitchen in advance, my grandma with the other grandmas don’t wrangle us youngins into it anymore.
But the people are there. They look a little different than I remember but they are there. There’s Tammy praying with a lady who just lost her husband. She only comes to buy hotdogs but God sent Tammy at the perfect time and Tammy has her embraced and praying over her and for her right there in the hotdog line. There’s new families talking to the old families about services and older gents encouraging the young ones to try the yummy onions. I see the new kids in youth group serving in the kitchen for the first time and the look of pride as they deliver that first cup of lemonade. I see the lost being saved, the stolen redeemed. I see Jeremy there and I remember his first campmeeting and I’m amazed at how God has worked in his life. The same goes for my Kyle and some of the other husbands and wives that have stayed since the years of youth group with Mrs Viola. I see the community coming together and loving each other as we share gifts and talents with each other. I see My girl there and I think of the memories, the sights and smells and feelings that are being imprinted on her brain and in her spirit.
I know change has to happen for growth to occur and that while we should appreciate tradition, we have to move forward from what we learn and outgrow. But at the same time, I also pray that she has time to learn what I have learned and grow as I have grown through the campmeeting experience. It has helped to teach me, strengthen me, given me a sense of the past and my heritage, it’s grown me. It helped me find my way back to God when I seemed so far away and frankly was lost in pain and confusion during the college years and the death of Goodmama. It’s pushed me to step forward and embrace the alter, to strive for better with a God who loves me. It’s a beautiful place and process that I’m not sure can be replicated. I wish everyone could experience it. To come and feel so much in an open tabernacle with pine benches and a sawdust floor. I wish people desired to know the old time experience and meet God as I have during those nights under the yellow lights.
Times are changing. My generation is searching to simplify and to be more organic in all of life’s choices, we are searching for truth in an overbearing, over-busy, overwhelming world. Maybe the campmeeting feeling is exactly what we need now more than ever. I pray that as we transition to new things, new forms of outreach and community/relationship building that we somehow can hold onto the feeling of the campmeeting experience. It grew me and saved me and I know I’m not alone.