Camp Meeting, 2013-Part II
Each year, I share with you in this space what I learn as I have the opportunity to go to camp meetings in other conferences.
This year, from the end of May, until the end of June, I had the privilege of visiting 5 camp meetings, the 2 that we have in South Central, plus, Georgia-Cumberland, Southeastern and Allegheny West. I had awonderful time; I was on a Camp Meeting “high!”
It started in Georgia-Cumberland on the campus of Southern Adventist University. It is very significant that though Georgia-Cumberland operates an outstanding camping facility, Cohutta Springs, which we used many times when I was Youth Director, they had their main camp meeting on the campus of Southern Adventist University.
That may seem strange, but the truth of the matter is that several of the things needed to have camp meeting, e.g. , a very large meeting facility, large numbers of rooms for housing, etc., are not needed to operate a campground.
For example, I am guessing that there are about 150 hotel rooms at Cohutta Springs; we would need that many rooms just to house our staff, then, we would have to house our campers in a separate facility.
The problem is:
A. That facility would cost a ton to build
B. That facility would only be needed for camp meeting, BUT,
C. It would have to maintained (heated, cooled, etc.) for the entire year
The largest meeting facility at Cohutta (at least in the days when we were using it) seated about 500 people, max. We would need something that would 2-3 thousand, plus another facility for our young adults and another one for young people and, another one for our children.
Yet rarely, if ever, would you need all of those facilities for anything other than camp meeting. But you would still need to maintain them, heating – cooling etc., all year round. That is the challenge of trying to have camp meeting on your camp ground.
The thing that fascinated me about Georgia-Cumberland’s camp meeting was (among other things) the efficiency of their service time wise. They had 2 Divine Worship Services at 8:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., with Sabbath School in between.
In South Central, we start Sabbath School at 9:00 a.m., with Divine Worship at 10:45 a.m., with a target ending time of 1:00 p.m, or sooner.
We got out at Georgia-Cumberland for their second service at 1:00, which means that they did almosttwo services in the time that it takes for us to do one. Amazing!
Of course, they do not have choirs; their conference president makes a lot fewer remarks than oursdoes; I think the only time he got up to say anything was when he introduced the speaker.
It is an interesting dynamic to have two services; for me at least. I have done it twice in my life. Both services are exactly the same; the same hymn, the same special music, etc. The first time I was the speaker for a place where I had to speak for 2 services, the pastor who introduced me even usedexactly the same words.
The audiences for the two services are typically different, but the staff (e.g., the pastoral staff, the audio-visual people, etc.) is the same for both services. I typically am uncomfortable making those people sit through the same sermon twice, so I changed some things for the second service.
That is weird, in a way, because if I like a sermon, I want to hear it again, and again and again. I have already listened to some sermons from this past camp meeting twice and I plan to listen to them several more times. But I do not like to make people listen to the same sermon more than once.
Two weeks later, I was at the Southeastern Conference’s camp meeting. I was fascinated by a number of things. First, one of the privileges of being president is never having to worry about having a parking space or trying to find a seat in a crowded church; people are so nice about taking care of Mrs. Edmond and me about those type of things.
But when you go to someone else’s camp meeting, those privileges belong to someone else, and rightly so. So, when Mrs. Edmond and I pulled up late (because I do not think she will see this, I am going to blame her for making us late!), we had to park a long way away, just like everyone else! I told my wife, “This is how it is going to be for us when we are out of office! “
I did not mind the walk, but my wife had on high heels. Thankfully, I heard someone come up behind me and say, “need a ride, Mr. President?” It was a security person, on a golf cart, from Southeastern, who used to live in South Central.
The other thing that fascinated me was time (again) and the different way that I approach time in South Central, and how I approach it when I am in someone else’s conference, and I am not responsible for what happens.
There are basically two ways that regional conferences approach camp meeting, church officers convention and other major worship services. One is the kind of tightly scripted, time-conscious method, where someone says to the platform participants before they come out for worship, “if you have the scripture reading (or the opening hymn, or the special music or whatever) this morning, just read the scripture (or announce the hymn, or give the special music or whatever). Please do not give a testimony or preach before your assignment, just do whatever the assignment is.” In South Central, you probably can guess who the person who says that is.
But there is a reason why I do that (other than what I know appears to be an obsession with time): First, there are always programs that come behind Divine Worship at camp meeting, and if Divine Worship runs long, it affects those programs, especially for people who stay off campus.
But even more importantly, I believe that the most important thing that happens during any Divine Worship is the preaching of the Word of God. In South Central, I am trying to get us to the Word of God as soon as possible. If we are going to have to be long doing something, I want to us to be long in hearing the Word of the Lord.
I have learned that if you are not intentional about that, if somebody is not insistent about that, then you will have a service where at least some of the platform participants feel as though it is not a problem for them to add their extra touch to the program.
The other way to approach worship at major events is to allow worship to just sort of let it flow. If someone wants to give a testimony before reading the scripture or giving the special music, then, let them do that. If the Lord blesses the choir and they want to reprise the song when they are finished singing, let them.
In the worship service at Southeastern, the choir was blessed to do an excellent job. I was thinking” You all need to reprise that !” I never think that in South Central!
The service at their camp meeting ended about an hour after our service did. But the music was great, the sermon was great; one of our pastors, Elder Debleaire Snell, senior pastor, Huntsville First Church, was mightily used of God. And even though he did not get up to preach until the time we were getting out at our camp meeting, no one seemed to mind the time. And since I wasn’t responsible for anything that happened at someone else’s camp meeting, I did not mind either.
But we ate in their dining hall for Sabbath dinner and I noticed that as I was leaving to speak for their afternoon program, not only were there people in the dining hall who were still eating, there were people who had not gotten their food yet!
The lesson I learned, again, is that you cannot have it both ways. Either you are going to be veryintentional about trying to make sure that worship is both spiritual and punctual, or, you can decide that you are only going to be intentional about it being spiritual. There is nothing wrong with not beingintentional about being punctual, but in a black church, that usually means getting out of church at 2:00or later.
The next week, I was at the Allegheny West Conference, for their camp meeting. That is home for me, I grew up in that conference.
Again, there was a mighty Word from the Lord for Divine Worship. Dr. Leslie Pollard, the President of Oakwood University, spoke for Divine Worship. Dr. Pollard and I went to Oakwood and then Andrews Theological Seminary together; I have heard him preach a number of times, the Lord used him in a special way as our keynote speaker at our Camp Meeting.
But I have never heard him, or too many other preachers, be used by God in that manner. While old-fashioned Adventists, like me, typically do not do this, people sometimes will stand up at various points in the sermon when they feel especially moved by the Word of God. There was a lady near us whostood the entire sermon.
I had a wonderful time this camp meeting season. I feel extremely blessed. Our camp meeting was special, and then I was blessed for Mrs. Edmond and me to be the guests at 3 other camp meetings. I received the opportunity to worship with our brothers and sisters at other camp meetings and to learn things that I hope the Lord can use to make our camp meeting better next year and in the years to come.
I can hardly wait for Camp Meeting, 2014.