Those on the inside can’t fully explain it and those on the outside can’t fully understand it.
“It’s hard to explain to people when you tell people what you are doing this week,” said Michael Garrett. ”You don’t get the full experience unless you stay the whole time.”
After 186 years of history and community, campmeeting in Dawson County draws families that have spent a week at Lumpkin Campground across the street from Bethel United Methodist Church on Lumpkin Campground Rd., since before the Civil War.
Every year families gather for revival in a joint effort between the Methodist and Baptist churches. Pastors teach twice a day throughout the week and families spend the rest of the time visiting, playing games and sitting on porches together in fellowship.
The arbor at the heart of the property still has some of the original beams holding together the structure where families and friends sit beneath the fans and lights to hear the word. They seem to symbolize a strength and unity that undergirds the spiritual community in Dawsonville.
“It’s our favorite time of the year,” said 21-year-old Jana Byrd, who has attended her entire life.
“It’s better than Christmas for us. It’s where all of our family can come together and have a good time.”
The meeting dates back to 1830 when a group of 40 men pitched in their $1 each to purchase the 40 acres to be used for revival.
The original purchasers and families have continued the tradition, passing down stories and tents and heritage. All of the property was Lumpkin County before Dawson County was even born, hence the name Lumpkin Campground.
Everyone that tries to talk about the week-long experience can only say they look forward all year and there is nothing like it.
“This is my favorite week of the whole entire year. I would rather come here than any vacation anywhere else,” said Garrett, whose family dates back to one of the original land purchasers.
“It’s kind of like you are at church all week,” said Callie Pruett. “They play music throughout the day.”
People move into wooden “tents” the Saturday before the revival begins with service under the stars on Monday night and newly white-washed trees that will light up camp for people making their way back after service.
The tents are actually cabins that range in size and shape and level of finish—all with the familiar homey feel of a good story passed down between families year after year. Each family seems to know their story.
“I love the fellowship that you get to have with people. Last night, we sat around and talked on the porch for about four hours until midnight. It’s people you see in the community every week but you don’t sit down and talk to them,” Garrett said.
Though the tents have evolved through the years to include everything from air conditioning to TVs and dishwashers, there is still a feeling of separation from the hustle and hurry of regular life.
“It seems like everybody goes back in time a little bit and that’s what’s neat in my opinion,” he said. “400 is 400 yards away from here but it is still secluded and you feel like you went back in time.”
To purchase a tent on the property, you have to first be on the list for availability. Beyond that you must have a tie to a family or a church affiliated with the event.
Though getting a tent may be a tough prospect, being welcomed into the community is not.
Everyone walking in and out and around the grounds immediately welcomes visitors and invites them to stay for dinner and for service.
According to Garrett, that is the heart of it.
“It’s like an outreach thing,” he said as he talked about kids bringing friends to visit or stay.
“They may come to know Jesus here which is what this is all about. I mean, yeah we like to have fun and fellowship and play games and stuff but really the whole week is about getting closer to Jesus and being revived through Him,” Garrett said.
“The surrounding circle around here, you are stuck in it and the Spirit is stuck in it, which is good. You are always in with that fellowship.”
Byrd understands those feelings, too.
“I actually got saved here so for me the campground is my home,” she said.
The revival services began with the kickoff at 7:45 p.m. on Monday. The rest of the week there are services at 11 a.m. and 7:45 p.m. being preached by the Revs. Doug Thrasher and Pete Martin.
On Sunday there are services at 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. to close out the week.