“My first campmeeting I was two months old,” says Ann Whitmire, 67.
She has vague memories of singing in the choir under the arbor at Lumpkin Campground as a child, and gestures her height then would have fallen somewhere near her knee.
It’s Friday night at the campground and Whitmire is reminiscing about the family members she’s seen saved during the week-long tradition that started 187 years ago. She’s one of countless attendees who took part in the annual revival before they could talk.
Whitmire’s sister Carol Ransom, 70, too has gone every year since she was born.
Ransom’s grandsons, Ford, 12, and Ray, 8, have gone every year of their lives.
The family is not alone in their commitment to camping. Knock on nearly any tent door and you’ll find people with similar stories, whose family affiliation dates back to the creation of the campground in 1830.
That year, a group of 40 local men each gave a dollar to purchase the 40 acres of land that makes up the campground, across the street from Bethel United Methodist Church.
Then, the property was part of Lumpkin County, giving name to the campground and the road that runs parallel.
Since then, families have passed down their
“tents,” their heritage and their stories about the origins of the annual
People move into the wooden cabins the Saturday before the revival begins with service under the stars on Monday night.
The tents range in size and shape, some old and mossy with hay on dirt floors while others stand tall with new plywood and screen doors and real glass windows.
Ronnie Ransom, Carol’s husband, said their grandkids are the reason they built a new two-story tent No. 33 in 2010.
He points out the tent between his and the Cox family tent, No. 34. It’s one of the oldest on the campground, though exactly how old no one is sure.
A sign on the door states it belongs to the Lamb family.
Tents belong to the family that built them or
moved into them. There’s a rule that if owners don’t
“tent” for three years, their tent reverts back to the campground.
That doesn’t happen very often, though.
The draw of campmeeting is strong, and those
who grow up there tend to bring their families and children back each year.
Each family’s history is etched on the campground, from the tents to the arbor, which still has some of the original beams holding together the structure where families and friends gather to hear the word, to the unmistakable trees that glow in the dark.
Whitmire and Carol Ransom’s maiden names were McClure, and their father Ford planted the first row of white-striped trees inside the line of tents in 1953.
Ford’s parents also grew up going to campmeeting.
Something that’s also special about campmeeting is that it brings both Methodists and Baptists together under one roof.
Whitmire and Carol Ransom grew up going to Concord Baptist Church. Their mother, Emily Cox McClure, belonged to Bethel United Methodist Church.
“Even though this is a Methodist campground there were as many Baptists as Methodists,” Ransom said. “We went to Baptist church all the time and then we would come to campmeeting. I remember mother saying one time ‘I thought at least one of my children would become Methodist’.”
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 revival services began with the kickoff at 7:45 p.m. on Monday. The rest of the week there were services at 11 a.m. and 7:45 p.m.
On Sunday, services at 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. closed out the week.
Though the campground is used for vacation bible school each year and the whitewashed trees and dark cabins create curiosity for many visitors who drive by, its campmeeting that makes the place shine.
“It comes alive this week,” said Whitmire, looking out over the 40 shaded acres as familiar to her as the savior she’s drawn to worship.