Less than one mile from the busiest outlet mall north of Atlanta, hundreds of Dawson County families on Sunday were worshipping and carrying on 184 years of revival tradition.
At the conclusion of the week-long Lumpkin County Campmeeting, Rev. Herb Flanders cautioned the standing room only crowd inside the wooden arbor against getting too caught up in tradition.
Traditions are powerful reminders, Flanders said. Traditions bind us together. This arbor is a momento. The whitewashed trees are a momento, the aging tents are momentos, but everything around us is here for the sole purpose of bringing people to Jesus.
Flanders referred to a long-standing tradition of calling people to service with blowing a conch shell aloud. If someone backed up his pickup truck and smashed the conch shell, I hope youll still show up, otherwise the shell is an idol, Flanders said.
The campmeet grounds are small compared to the mall, but its traditional wooden tents date back to 1925. Prior to the wooden structures construction, tents were used during services and people stayed in them during the week-long revival.
George Slaton has been attending campmeets for 80 years.
Ive been coming here since I was in diapers, he said. Its about the family and traditions.
Inside the Slaton and OShields family tent, a reminder from the past is tucked away in a corner.
Kassie Hill, a teacher at Dawson County High School, pointed to etchings in an aging and gray piece of wood about three feet long.
It looks like it says preacher, she said. This tent was once used by some of the visiting preachers.
Along a wall in the tent are more reminders of years gone by.
Colleen Slaton, Georges wife, pointed to one of their own family traditions -- measurements on the wall showing the year-over-year growth of their children.
See there? Thats when Kassie was little girl, Colleen said pointing to a date.
In a tent dating back to 1925, David Sosebee pointed out how his grandfather, Monroe Sosebee, used pieces of a wagon wheel to hang the wooden door. Sosebees father was famed race car driver, Gober Sosebee.
Back then, they just had to make do with whatever they had, he said. We can all learn a lot from that today. Its held up really well after all these years.
Sosebee also explained that camp meetings werent always held in July.
Back in the day, he said, they were held at lay-by time in August. It was the time farmers were finishing harvest and waiting to plant.
In the opposite corner of the campground, at the Nix-Harris tent, Elizabeth Nix, Betty Jo Eades, Virginia Martin and Mario Allen, had old pictures laid across a long, cloth covered picnic table. Their job? To identify each person in the picture, if possible.
Thats our homework, Nix said. Weve been told to do our best and were going to. This is really important for everyone who comes after us.
One of the Nix family members pointed out that the nails used in their tent were special cut nail.
You see that? Those were only used in the early 1900s, Mr. Nix said. They have square heads. All the nails after that had round heads.
Flanders ended Sundays service by asking that each person take a small rock from the grounds and save it in a pocket.
Let that rock serve to remind you that you are Gods witness, he said. That you can change someones life by sharing the love of Jesus Christ.