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‘A family reunion in Christ’
188th Lumpkin campmeeting concludes
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Justin Denard, 26, blows the conch shell five minutes before the Sunday morning service July 29. The shell call has been a tradition at campmeeting since 1910. - photo by Jessica Taylor

Under the secluded cover of old trees lies what Dr. Charlie Green describes as “an oasis.”

“It’s a neat place,” said Green as he rocked on the front porch of the preacher’s tent at Lumpkin Campground. “I’ll come back in a heartbeat.”

Green, a visiting Methodist pastor from North Hall, was a guest minister invited to deliver his “God Cares” sermons during the 188th annual campmeeting.

And though he has attended camp meetings around the state for years, it was his first time at Dawson County’s special grove.

“It’s something that you have to experience to really understand. You can’t really describe it. It’s absolutely amazing to see all these people come together,” Green said. “It’s really a wonderful thing. I’m thrilled to do these things when I get the opportunity to do them.”

Green’s wife, Phyllis, nodded in agreement as she sat in her rocking chair, knitting away as birds chirped in nearby trees.

“The food has been fantastic,” she said as she reminisced about the homemade meals she enjoyed throughout the week. “And there’s every flavor of homemade ice cream you could ever want.”

As comfortable as the Greens seemed at the preacher’s tent, explaining the importance of campmeeting is something many lifelong worshippers struggle to explain to outsiders.

Beyond the prayer meetings, the sermons, the whitewashing of trees and the ceremonial conch shell call to worship, it’s hard for worshippers to put their finger on what exactly makes campmeeting such a magical experience.

“That’s the hardest question of all of them,” Gary Porter said as he tried to explain campmeeting. “I guess you could call it ‘stay at revival’ – we’re having a revival but we’re staying at the arbor.”

Once inside the seclusion of old growth, the world grows quiet. The hustle and bustle of daily life melts away.

And even though the historic campground is mere feet away from its namesake road, inside the arbor, the noise of the outside world fades in the background as the joyous sounds of rambunctious children frolicking in the woods and birds singing in the trees take over.

“It’s just peaceful,” said Vicki Porter. “To me it’s just really peaceful and quiet. You get away from all the outside stuff that’s going on.”

Porter, who is 78 years old has only missed one campmeeting in her life, and it was due to her birth. She lives about three miles from the campground with her son, Gary, who has also been attending campmeeting all of his 57 years.

“You don’t miss campmeeting,” Gary said as he rocked on the porch swing with his mom.

It’s not enough to just partake in the daily worships at 11 a.m. and 7:45 p.m. , according to mother and son.

“You don’t get the feeling that you would get,” Gary continued. “Yeah, you have to stay.”

Staying in the 51 tents, which over the years have evolved from tents to wooden structures resembling cabins, is one of the many special traditions of the annual revivalists.

The tents, some of which are over one hundred years old, are passed down from generation to generation, continuing the long line of family tradition.

“When you’ve grown up in it, it’s just like taking vacation. It’s something you do with your family,” Gary said. “(Campmeeting is) a family reunion in Christ.”

It truly feels like a giant family reunion when wandering around the campground. There is a feeling of peace that washes over the acreage and a sense of warmth that doesn’t come from the sun.

“It’s like a feeling for us. You can’t really describe it, you know,” said Jana Byrd as she sat gathered with her friends.

It’s a special time of worship and faith for many who travel from areas near and far to come back home for the special revival.

“A lot of these people live in different counties or they work way out of town so you never get to see them but one week a year,” said Hannah Porter, who looks forward to seeing her friends and loved ones during the week.

Mr. Campmeeting himself, Brad McClure, also agreed.

“There’s so many people that it’s the only time of the year I get to see some of these folks,” he said.

The power of campmeeting is undeniable among the annual worshipers. It’s a tremendous bond between families and friends, Methodists and Baptists, that cannot be broken by the influx of commercial development that surrounds the campground.

“It’s just a special place to worship and for the kids to grow up in. Our kids love it and they look forward to it every year,” said Dennis Wallis, who has attended campmeeting for 35 years.

Over the years campmeeting has been pushed back earlier in the year to coincide with the start of school.

When campmeeting first began in 1830, farmers had laid down their plows in what was known as the “lay by time” and they packed up their wagons with their supplies and their Sunday best and set up a bush arbor to worship during August as they waited for their crops to mature.

Now, the Lumpkin Campmeeting folks have agreed to push the weeklong revival to late July so that children can partake in the healing festivities as a last hoorah before school begins.

“What’s really been fun… is watching the little kids,” said Green. “There’s little kids all around here and they run up and down through here and if they stay in this enclosed area they’re safe. Their momma can just let them go. It’s wonderful.”

Over the years, as the 40 Methodists who purchased the 40 acres so many years ago invited their friends and neighbors, the experience grew to include their Baptist friends.

It is still a place of worship for both as visiting ministers like Green and the Baptist minister, Scott Gilbert, take turns delivering sermons so that all at campmeeting can enjoy the services.

“We’re all hoping at the end that we end up in the same place,” Green said. “There’s not going to be a Methodist section and a Baptist section. We’re all going to be together so we might as well learn how to get along and let’s start right here.”