Monday, July 29, 2013

Campmeeting, Anyone?

Last week was a special time for many people in my hometown and county – the annual Campmeeting. What’s Campmeeting, you might ask? Well, let me tell you. :-)

One of the largest tents at Shingleroof. 

Campmeeting (or the annual encampment, as it’s sometimes called) is a week full of worship, fellowship, and food. People stay in rustic cabins (which are still called tents, since that’s the only kind of shelter many people had during the early days of many Campmeetings). They’re built of wood and usually have tin roofs, the windows are simple cut-outs with no coverings other than curtains, and the main areas in most are still sawdust-covered dirt.

The tents are arranged in a rectangle, facing an open-air tabernacle on the hill at the center. Porches cluttered with well-worn chairs, swings, and old church pews face the tabernacle. Mother Nature provides the only air conditioning, with the help of some fans (electric in the tents but lots of hand-held paper ones from a local funeral home in the tabernacle).

The tabernacle today
Fellowship and worship are the two main focuses of Campmeeting. Church services are held in the tabernacle twice a day (morning and evening). The Campmeeting I grew up attending (Shingleroof in Henry County, Ga.) was established as a Methodist gathering in 1831. It’s become more interdenominational over the years, with choirs and pastors from multiple denominations taking part in worship.

The grounds of Shingleroof were used for training local Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. Campmeetings were still held during the war, although attendance was much smaller. Confederate veterans often met for reunions at Shingleroof after the war.

When a family went to Campmeeting, they literally moved there for the week. Cows, chickens, and any other necessities were loaded onto or hitched behind wagons for the journey to Shingleroof. Two nearby springs provided plenty of water for everyone, once you made the trips back and forth with your buckets.

For more than 100 years, Shingleroof Campmeeting always began with the Friday night service before the third Sunday in August, and continued for a week. The timing was set because farmers had laid by their crops and the weather usually was favorable. The date was shifted a couple of times when I was growing up because school started earlier, so now our Campmeeting is in July.

A row of tents at Shingleroof
Many of the tents belong to families with ties to Shingleroof dating back multiple generations, or even to its inception. One of my mom’s cousins owns a tent, so my sister and I spent plenty of days stirring up sawdust as we ran through, playing board games on the porch, and plotting strategy for the annual water balloon battle after church on the final night. The sound of rain on a tin roof takes me right back to sharing the tiny front room with my cousin after we’d had another day of fun. And the song “Showers of Blessing” always reminds me of belting it out with a tabernacle full of people while a storm raged and the wind blew rain in across us.

My daughter and I were able to stop by their tent and a few others before services one night last week, and of course were offered homemade cake everywhere we went. Do you have something similar to Shingleroof Campmeeting where you live, or have you ever been to a Campmeeting? If so, I’d love to hear about it – because it’s hard to beat that special combination of worship, time with family and friends, and remembering the good things we share. 

~ Leigh 

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