My wife, Carol, and I dedicate this website to the Glory of God and legacy of our ancestors who had a deep devotion to God and South Union Campmeeting. We will be forever grateful to our late grandparents - Arnold & Jennie Lee Bruce and Casey & Grace Smith - for introducing us to the life-giving Spirit of South Union Campmeeting. From the time we were mere babies, our grandparents began a grand tradition by bringing us to South Union. Now into our three-score-and-ten years, we're pleased that our children and grandchildren keep the link unbroken. We therefore dedicate the South Union Campmeeting Website to the beloved memory of our grandparents and great grandparents who are buried at South Union Cemetery and also for the preservation of the rich heritage of faith and worship made possible by those who came before us and prepared a way to praise and worship our Lord and fellowship on these holy grounds. To God be the glory for the blessings we enjoy at South Union!
The Campmeeting Movement began during the revivalism of the late 18th century. One of the most famous was the Cane Ridge Campmeeting in 1801. According to some estimates there were ten thousand people present. Campmeetings have been an important part of the ministry of the church, across denominational lines, since that time. God only knows the number of souls saved and hearts sanctified during campmeetings. The revivalistic atmosphere, the less-than-Sunday-best attire, the choir that never sounded better, and very expectant hearts all added to the campmeeting experience. Campmeeting is a uniquely American institution, and from the earliest days of our nation it has been a vital tool for the propagation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
During the first half of the 1800's, the population of the United States grew from five to thirty million, and the boundary of the nation moved ever westward. Revivals became the primary means of Christianizing the growing and expanding population. These revivals at the beginning of the nineteenth century became known as the Second Great Awakening.
The Campmeeting Movement is first cited at Rehoboth, North Carolina in 1794. The Campmeeting Revival Movement then moved westward to the American frontier. Campmeetings came to characterize revivals. The beginning of these campmeetings can be traced to Cane Ridge, Kentucky. At a meeting in June, 1800, Presbyterian James McGready and two other pastors preached for 3 days; on the fourth day, two traveling Methodist ministers officiated and concluded with an emotional exhortation. Many physically collapsed at what they called conviction of sin. People were convinced they were experiencing a visitation of the Holy Spirit such as the early church had known at Pentecost. By the early part of the 19th Century, campmeetings had become a fixture of Rural America in the Northeast, Midwest and on the American Frontier.
As the summer harvest was completed and the crops "laid by," families would get together and build "brush arbors," where they would hold Christian meetings, sing and catch up on the latest news with each other's families. This is the tradition from which the modern campmeeting has come.
Shingleroof Campmeeting, located in the heart of Henry County, Georgia, is a truly remarkable institution. The story of Shingleroof Campmeeting is a tale of religious devotion, love of heritage and cultural preservation. Read more about Shingleroof Campmeeting.
Far from being a dried relic of the past, campmeetings still provide the opportunity for many people to hear the message of Salvation and Scriptural Holiness. The best way to experience campmeeting is to stay on the grounds the whole time. Carol and I stayed in a (wooden) tent with our grandparents during our childhood but now enjoy a more modern cabin we built in the same spot but with some of the more modern conveniences like air conditioning and running water. You would be amazed at how many children, grandchildren and some of their friends we can pack into our small 1,000 sq. ft. cabin during campmeeting. More importantly is the love of God, His love for us that is shared during these five days. There is truly a special kind of fellowship that takes place around the Arbor and the cabins after the worship services and takes place throughout the day.
Are campmeetings an irrelevant American practice only from centuries past? We think not. Carol and I believe there are reasons why they are needed now more than ever. They include rest, community cultivation, reorientation toward God, the passing on of tradition, and profound Christian formation.
It is that time of year when Carol and I do something strange by most American standards: we spend one week with our children and grandchildren all crowded in our little cabin at South Union Campground, we go to three worship services each day in an open tabernacle that is over one-hundred years old in Mississippi during late July where humidity often almost mirrors triple-digit temps. The songs we sing are the same as those sung by our grandparents, and the preachers challenge us with ancient Christian living themes based on unchanging Bible truths. We are always very excited and expectant when it is campmeeting time at South Union United Methodist Campground near Ackerman, Mississippi.
Campmeetings are uniquely American institutions that were developed during the early years of the Second Great Awakening. At the time, they were a new method for evangelism and revival that sprang up all across America. Campmeetings often provided a place for those who lived in unsettled areas to worship and gather as a community for a short period of time - typically during the late summer. They began with very temporary arrangements such as tents, wagons, and brush arbors to worship under. Over time, these gatherings established more permanent structures and began to draw people from all over the surrounding communities.
Francis Asbury once called camp meetings “a battle ax and weapon of war” that broke down walls of wickedness throughout America. He believed they were a great means of God’s grace. And in 1811, he estimated that these spirit-filled gatherings brought together one-third of the total American population.
More than 200 years later, thousands of people continue to make the pilgrimage each summer to campmeetings that have withstood the test of time.
Why do we still need campmeeting today?
Camp Meeting provides an opportunity for true Sabbath rest.
The experience of campmeeting is difficult to describe, but Eugene Peterson’s description of Sabbath does a phenomenal job: “uncluttered time and space to distance ourselves from the frenzy of our own activities so we can see what God has been and is doing.”
The first thing most people feel when they attend a campmeeting is that the setting helps them pass from busyness to tranquility. Nestled away from billboards and rush hour traffic, part of the beauty of modern camp meetings is that most have literally been set apart from the world and inherited the simplicity of the times in which they were started. For a few days, the digital age is paused and in its place are porch swings, laughter, a leisurely walk down the hill for a refreshing drink from the ever-flowing underground spring and fellowship around a freshly cut watermelon. For the most part, others view campmeeting as a much-needed break from the world’s hectic pace where no one else is worrying about being productive or efficient. The good news is that you will feel the same freedom and immediately appreciate the noticeably different quieted and slower pace.
Our grandparents told us stories of coming to South Union Campmeeting on horseback and buggies, before electricity and indoor plumbing. Before ice was available, they would go together and kill a beef and what was left over would be salted heavily and put into a hole in the ground behind the wooden tents. They had chicken coups behind the tents and would get a couple out each morning to slaughter for cooking. They had an underground box behind the tent in which they would place a 50-pound block of ice from the ice delivery wagon from town. A one-horse drawn wagon would deliver 100-pound blocks of ice from Ackerman to South Union at 15 cents a pound. Why did they do this? They left their farms and homes for days after their crops were 'laid by' to experience spiritual renewal. Living in tents and meeting under the tabernacle, they gathered for prayers, worship, Bible study and fellowship. They spent this time apart, seeking to know God and to deepen their relationship with Him.
Campmeeting reflects true community.
Carol and I have missed some campmeetings in our adult life, but together this summer makes well over thirty that we’ve attended through the years. We’ve shared the crying years of infancy, the awkward years of middle school, the growing years of being a young adult and now the twilight years with an inter-generational community that hasn’t gone anywhere. Each year in this community babies are celebrated, deaths are mourned, people with cancer are cared for, and wayward children who once attended are lifted up in prayer.
Our cabin at campmeeting holds three generations of our family but generations of others have helped raise us and shape who we are. And they’re not all from the same church. As in the beginning, campmeeting at South Union continues to be a place where Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Church of God and others truly come together for the Gospel.
Campmeeting is a foundation that helps with re-calibration.
Questions like “Who am I?,” “Where am I headed?,” and “What’s the purpose of all of this?” aren’t anything new. Yet in a society that for the greater part has forgotten God, these questions are more challenging than ever and it’s easy to lose one’s bearings. The campmeeting experience at South Union is the antithesis of our godless age and the only antidote toward salvation and wholeness. Although South Union Campmeeting is 150 years old, the tradition still exudes steadiness, embodies life-shaping rituals, and offers simplicity.
The altar calls, Sabbath time, and community that surround camp meetings provide just the kinds of opportunities through which one can easily explore the deep questions of life and experience the Holy Spirit move in a powerful way. Campmeeting at South Union also comes with the advantage that you can count on it every year.
J. Ellsworth Kalas once preached, “As marvelous as grace is when it invades our life, grace needs many continuing opportunities to invade our lives if we are to go on marching.” South Union Campmeeting provides the time and place for this abundant grace to invade.
My (Buddy’s) late grandfather, Casey T. Smith (Paw Paw to me), was saved at South Union when he was 9 years old. The year was 1905. When Paw Paw was in his nineties, he told me he was so excited about his newfound life in Christ afterwards that he couldn't eat for a day and half. His mother was troubled that he wasn’t eating but he couldn't explain to her why he wasn’t hungry. Paw Paw said, "It troubled momma (the fact that he wouldn't eat anything) to the point that she threatened to whoop me." It was apparent by my Paw Paw’s heart-felt testimony that his decision to trust Jesus was life altering for him.
Campmeeting serves as a reminder that we don’t have to make faith up as we go.
As Christians we’ve been called “to contend for the faith that was once and for all entrusted to the saints.” Yet as contemporary Americans, we often act as if we can make Christianity up as we go along.
Sitting under a one hundred eight-year-old tabernacle constructed in part by our family members, walking with friends where others have walked for many years, sleeping on grounds that have been with families for generations, singing old Gospel hymns, and listening to someone preach with the fervor of a second great awakening preacher each serve as a reminder that we’re part of something that started well before us. And the fact that South Union Campmeeting continues in our world today also serves as a testimony to the unstoppable nature of the Gospel. Countless institutions have closed down since the turn of the 20th century, but for some reason God has preserved this sacred place.
Carol and I were powerfully influenced by our beloved high school principal and patron saint of South Union, Miss Erin Moss, who made the following observations in a Memorial Day address at South Union in 2001:
“ …Now we can't talk about everything that happened in the past, but let us look back to the time when South Union first became a place of worship. None of us, of course, knew personally our founding fathers, but in that group was my great-grandfather, the Reverend Archie Moss, a circuit rider, who with another circuit rider, the Reverend Humphrey Buck, and a layman, Carl Pollard, met, had prayer, and started South Union Camp Meeting, the first of which was held in 1872. Before that time there was a South Union Methodist Church. The three men that I just mentioned and their wives were members of that first church, a log church built about 1840. Now, of course all in that first generation have passed on but they left to those coming after them South Union, a place of worship. The second and third generations added their touch to South Union history. They added their touch for the lives that followed them. And in this second and third generation, all those people kept and used South Union as a place of worship and now they have passed it on to us who are following them. My generation, the fourth, is the oldest generation now living. We have moved to the front line and are fast crossing over to the other side. But we have with us about three generations of people who are younger than we are who also love South Union and we are looking to them to keep coming here after we are gone and to keep this a place of worship, never turning it into anything else.”
By God’s grace, Carol and I accepted Miss Moss’s charge and will do our part to see that South Union doesn’t end anytime soon.
Campmeeting forms Christians in a deep way.
So, why do we still need South Union Campmeeting today? Now, as then, campmeeting is uniquely designed to move us out of our schedule and distractions to experience time in a spiritual environment apart from the world. The experience of South Union Campmeeting has been a unique gift first offered to us by our grandparents that we are extending to our children and grandchildren. It's still a rare opportunity to reflect, refresh and rebuild our personal relationship with God.
At South Union Campmeeting, you can experience powerful worship services based on unchanging Biblical truths from faithful preachers of righteousness. Your children and grandchildren can experience the best of ministry opportunities that will introduce them to Christ and help prepare them for a lifetime of godly living.
You can experience personal growth in your relationship with God and participate in leisure activities with your family and friends. For almost a century and a half, South Union’s ministries and programs have been relevant to all aspects of contemporary spiritual life. We hope you and your family will experience campmeeting at South Union this year!
Today many people believe the usefulness of the campmeeting has passed. They consider it an old mode of operation that needs to be put to sleep but we strongly disagree. We're committed to giving of our time and resources to keep it alive so that our children, grandchildren and future generations may continue to reap the same transformation of heart and mind as we have found at South Union.
We are old enough to remember campmeeting days at South Union when we had to haul the water from the spring and the floors under the Arbor and in the tents were sawdust. We also remember is the sight of altars covered with people seeking God and lives being saved by God's grace and sanctified by His Holy Spirit. No, God does not need tents, sawdust, benches, or campgrounds to meet with us. But when we choose to set aside a special time to get away from the normal routine to seek God and to hear from Him, He will meet with us like at no other time. Our faith will be met with God’s faithfulness to minister to us, drawing us ever closer to Him.
May God bless and keep you.
Buddy & Carol Smith
126 County Road 1063
Plantersville, MS 38862