Last month, we talked to you about “Why I Still Go to Church Every Week” (even though I am the preacher!). In that article (which is still posted), we talked about why I believe weekly church attendance is still important to the life and spiritual health of the individual Christian and their local church.
As the Camp Meeting season begins wrapping up (6 of the 9 Regional Conferences have completed their Camp Meetings at the time of this writing), I thought I would do kind of a Part II, i.e., “Why I Still Go to Camp Meeting Every Year” (Besides It Is A Part of My Job!).
Let me start off by confessing my bias: I love Camp Meeting. I freely confess to being (mostly) an old-fashioned, old-line (just plain old!) traditional, Seventh-day Adventist. I am proud of that.
The thing that I think may save me from being completely tied to thinking that the way we have always done things is the way we keep doing things is that intertwined in my traditional Adventist upbringing is a rather strong pragmatic streak. That is, while emotionally, I might like to keep things the way they are pragmatically, I like what works (as long as it does not violate any Biblical principles).
For example, I might think that people ought to get up and go to Sabbath School on Sabbath like they get up and go to work the rest of the week. But if people aren’t doing that anymore, I would rather see people come to Sabbath School at 10:30 or whenever, than not come at 9:30. Notwithstanding the preferences of traditionalists like me, starting Sabbath School at 9:30 and Divine Worship at 11:00 is not a Biblical principle.
So-I Love Camp Meeting. When I was working at South Central Conference, the Conference Treasurer called Camp Meeting my “sacred cow” (which she tried to slay every year during budget meeting time because of its considerable cost).
But I grew up every year going to Camp Meeting. My father would take his vacation time every year (my mother was a stay at home mom for years), pile my mother, my 2 sisters, my brother and I into his station wagon-along with all of our clothes, food and everything else needed to stay in a tent for 10 days-and drive 400 miles to Pine Forge for the old Allegheny Conference Camp Meeting (That was back in the days before Allegheny split into Allegheny East and West).
Think about that for a minute. My father used his vacation time to drive 400 miles and cram 6 people into a tent for 10 days. Every year (though our last year at Pine Forge, we stayed in the home of Elder Walter Starks and Mrs. Starks-I think they had 6 or 7 children of their own, plus our family and another family stayed with them for Camp Meeting! By the time, Allegheny East and West separated, we were making the much shorter ride to Mt. Vernon, Ohio and we had “moved on up” to staying in a dormitory. There, we crammed all 6 of us in a dormitory room. But-that was progress!).
When I tell that to my young adult daughter, she looks at me as though I am speaking Latin. Give up vacation time for Camp Meeting? And pay money to sleep in a tent??? For 10 days???? I can almost hear my daughter saying “Daddy, was there some kind of vegetarian drug you all were on back in those days?”
But as unappealing as all of that sounded, I loved those days. Maybe it was because that was all we knew-but those were some great days-great memories.
But to a great extent-those days are gone. My suspicion is that there are not a whole lot of my daughter’s colleagues who are willing to do what my parents (who were the same age then that my daughter is now) did back in the day: Give up their vacation time and come to Camp Meeting for 10 days.
My parents are both gone now, awaiting the return of Jesus. They obviously are no longer attending Camp Meeting. And even though my daughter is a church school teacher who is off during the summer and would not have to give up her vacation time (or stay in a tent-in fact, her aunt and uncle live in Huntsville-she could stay with them), she only comes on weekends.
Faced with a declining number of people who stay at Camp Meeting for the entire 10 days but with escalating costs (around $300,000 when I was at South Central), more and more conferences will have to face the Shakespearian question concerning 10 day Camp Meetings: “To be-or not to be?”
The answer-for me, at least-came again for me as I was visiting South Atlantic’s Camp Meeting a few weeks ago. It was my 3rd Camp Meeting (I try to visit between 3-5 Camp Meetings per year). I had visited Southwest Region and South Central and had enjoyed their Camp Meetings-all of the good preaching and the re-connecting with old friends, etc.
But the realization of the continuing blessings of Camp Meeting came again during the Divine Worship service during Camp Meeting. It did not come during the sermon-though the Lord really used Elder Michael Polite in a singular manner. It did not come during the music-though that was very good as well.
But the realization that we still need Camp Meeting came during the hymn of worship. They sang an old song-I believe it was their theme song for that Camp Meeting – “Will Your Anchor Hold?” And as the approximately 4,000 Camp Meeting attendees sang that familiar chorus enthusiastically:
We have an anchor
That keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure
While the billows roll
Fastened to the Rock
Which cannot move
Grounded firm and deep
In the Savior’s love
It hit me. This is why we have Camp Meeting. Camp Meeting brings us together and reminds us that for all of our problems, drama, etc., the things that bind us together and unite us-in particular, our common need for that Anchor, Christ Jesus-and our common hope in His second coming-are far more important than the things that separate us.
Coming together-and there are not a whole lot of things that bring large numbers of us together other than Camp Meeting-remind us that we are more than a collection of churches-we are a part of the family of God. Camp Meeting is a kind of family reunion; it is the only time that I get to see certain members of my family.
I believe that there are certain things that the Lord does when large numbers of His people come together that do not happen at other times. I believe there are blessings that happen at Camp Meeting that only happen at Camp Meeting.
Camp Meeting may not be for everyone. Certainly-given what it costs-not just for an individual conference, but for individual members, it may not be something that everyone can do or that everyone even wants to do.
But the opportunity to come together with my church family in a way that I cannot do any other time and to receive blessings that I may well not receive any other time is an experience that I look forward to every year.
Its why-a zillion years after my father piled us into his 1955 Chevrolet and took my mother, my 2 sisters, my brother and I to my first Camp Meeting in Pine Forge, Pennsylvania-I still go to Camp Meeting every year.