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Campmeeting a 181 year tradition

POSTED: July 20, 2011 4:00 a.m.
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T.J. Byrd blows on a conch shell to signal the start of service during a past campmeeting.

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An annual tradition will light up Lumpkin Campground on Sunday as families and friends gather to whitewash tree trunks in preparation for a weeklong spiritual revival known as campmeeting.

"We painted the trees so we wouldn't run into them before we got electricity," said Thelma Byrd, who has attended campmeeting each summer for more than eight decades.

"It's been 81 years I've been coming to campmeeting. I've gone my whole life," she said.

Local Methodists began meeting for summer revival at Lumpkin Campground 181 years ago after 40 local men each donated $1 for its purchase. Later, as Baptists married into those founding families, Methodist and Baptist ministers began sharing the pulpit.

In the early days, families would pack up their horse drawn, covered wagons with blankets, pots and pans, canned foods, cows for milk, live chickens for fresh eggs and supper, hay for the animals and enough pies and cakes to last a week.

Then they'd stay for the week in rustic family cabins they called tents, where they met up with family and old friends to pass along stories of faith and rejoice in the spirit.

Some things about campmeeting have changed over the years. The campground got electricity in the early 1940s, so the tents have gas stoves, running water and many have air conditioning. Some of the larger families, such as Byrd's, even have their meals catered each night.

"There's about 30 in the family alone. Sometimes we're feeding 50 or 60 friends and family at night," said Byrd, who started baking cakes on Monday to freeze for next week.

But many of the traditions from years gone by remain unchanged.

A few minutes before each service, descendants of Bunyan Elliott blow a conch shell he brought home from a trip to the beach in Alabama in 1910.

Services under the campground's open arbor will begin at 7:45 p.m. Monday and are held daily the rest of the week at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7:45 p.m.

This year's ministers are the Revs. James Smith and Pete Martin. Eddie Tatum will be the song leader.

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