Why We Still Go to South Union Camp Meeting Every Year
There was a time that I went to church every week mainly because I was the preacher. Today, we attend church weekly because it is important for our spiritual health and that of our local church. We also place a priority of on attending the annual Camp Meeting at South Union. From the time we were mere babies, our grandparents began a grand tradition by bringing us to South Union. Today, we’re pleased that our children and grandchildren keep the link to this spiritual refuge unbroken. This year, our small cabin at South Union was bursting at the seams with three generations as we were all in attendance for the grand 150th anniversary celebration. During this sesquicentennial year, attendance was very good as Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Church of God and others came together under the 108-year-old Arbor for the Gospel.
The experience of Camp Meeting 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.” 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. Our grandparents told us stories of coming to South Union Camp Meeting on horseback and buggies, before electricity and indoor plumbing. 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.
Mainly for us, Camp Meeting is a return to our 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 Camp Meeting 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.
Camp Meeting 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 the 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 Camp Meeting 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.
We are old enough to remember Camp Meeting 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 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.
Join us in prayer and mark your calendars for the 151st year of South Union Campmeeting which will take place July 21-26, 2023.
May God continue to bless and keep you!
Buddy & Carol Smith