I recently spent July 17-23 preaching at the Shingleroof Campmeeting in Georgia. My brother George and I shared the twice a day preaching schedule.
We don’t have many campmeetings in Alabama. Georgia has several. When I went to school in Georgia at Young-Harris Junior College and Emory University, I discovered that many Methodist preachers were either converted or called to the ministry during camp meetings.
Many of the campmeetings are over a hundred years old. They always met at the time when the crops were “laid by” and there was a break before the time to start harvesting. Campmeeting in those days was something like a house at the lake or the beach today. It was normally a two week vacation time.
Shingleroof is located just south of Atlanta. It is about 175 years old. The campground has 100 acres. It is not far from Eagle’s Landing. It is surrounded by upper income homes.
The center of the campmeeting is the open air tabernacle. The Shingleroof tabernacle will seat about 700 folks. It is the central focus of the camp meeting.
Forming a huge square around the tabernacle are 48 cabins, or “tents” as they are called. This was the “beach house” that people had a hundred years ago. They have about 20 spots for RV’s and campers. During campmeeting there are usually about 2,000 on campus.
The cabins are built right next to each other. It is beautiful to see a couple of hundred children out playing in front of the cabins. There will be three or four kickball and softball games or volleyball or basketball. They have all sorts of homemade games. There are huge trees that have homemade swings on them. There will be an equal number of teenagers playing ball, etc.
Most of these cabins are not air conditioned. Many of them have sawdust floors. Some of them are 75+ years old. Most of them will sleep about 20 people. A few of them have been updated.
People do a lot of cooking before they come to campmeeting. Cabins will have a lot of babies, children, parents, grandparents, and sometimes great-grandparents staying together. One lady told me that she baked eleven cakes before coming to campmeeting!
One thing I love is eating. The preachers are invited to a different tent for each meal. That means three times a day you get to go and eat with different families and they do fix good food for the preachers. My mother always told me that it made a cook feel good if you ate a lot of the food. I made all the cooks feel very, very good! Then after the evening worship service, they have homemade ice cream.
I can’t convey to you the feeling to see people spending a week talking, relating and enjoying family. There are no televisions or radios, etc. People enjoy worshiping, studying, and creating relationships.
I was so impressed by the trustees of the campmeeting. One reason Shingleroof is thriving so much today, I think, is because of the youthful trustees. I think there are six trustees and the oldest is in his fifties. The youngest is in his twenties.
The worship services are lively with great music and congregational singing. The tabernacle is packed and there are a lot of people who bring their chairs and sit on the outside. I have actually seen people sit outside when it is sprinkling. They just put up their umbrellas and continue to participate. Various church choirs come out each night to sing.
The campmeeting is an intergenerational experience. There are a lot of babies and a lot of great-grandparents and a lot of people in between. It is just a marvelous thing to see the interaction of all of the generations.
People are very faithful to the tradition of going to campmeeting. One night they have what they refer to as roll call. They start with people who are there for the first time and there were a lot. They then go up in increments to five years, ten years, fifteen years. When they asked how many people had attended campmeeting for fifty years, there must have been over a hundred people standing. When they got up to sixty and seventy there were still large numbers. When they hit eighty years of attendance, there were about twenty-five people. When they hit ninety years, there were about five people. The person who had attended the most had attended ninety-four campmeetings. They then announced that there were two other people who had attended more. They were sitting on the porch of the cabins listening but they didn’t feel up to coming down to the tabernacle!
God has a lot of vehicles that He is using to establish His Kingdom. Shingleroof Campmeeting is a unique venue – yet one that has blessed my life. I have preached there every third year since 1994. They have even invited George and me to come back in three years. If the campmeeting can survive the change in times, and the Mathison brothers preaching, it has to be a special project of God.
I saw many people whose lives have been changed through the Shingleroof Campmeeting. This past July I witnessed many decisions that people made that will effect the establishment of God’s Kingdom here on earth!
I haven’t adequately described the experience, but I hope you will visit a Campmeeting sometime. You will be inspired and challenged.