Southern New England Conference Camp Meeting: Then and Now.
The camp meeting is a phenomenon of American frontier Christianity. The movement of thousands of settlers to new territories without permanent villages of the types they knew meant they were without religious communities. Not only were there few authorized houses of worship, there were fewer ordained ministers to fill the pulpits. The "camp meeting" led by itinerant preachers was an innovative response to this situation. Word of mouth told there was to be a religious meeting at a certain location. Due to the primitive means of transportation, if the meeting was to be more than a few miles' distance from the homes of those attending, they would need to stay at the revival for its entire duration, or as long as they desired to remain. People generally camped out at or near the revival site, as on the frontier there were usually neither adequate accommodations nor the funds for frontier families to use them. People were attracted to large camp meetings from a wide area. Some came out of sincere religious devotion or interest, others out of curiosity and a desire for a break from the arduous frontier routine; the structure of the situation created new converts.[Cam]
As per the above exert from Wikipedia 2010 Southern New England Conference (SNEC) Camp Meeting is such a place. SNEC Camp Meeting is an annual event of spiritual rejuvenation in the Adventist Church. This year marked its’ one hundred and forty second anniversary. Camp Meeting is usually a nine day event held on the grounds of SNEC Headquarters in South Lancaster, MA. There are accommodations for those who remain for the duration. On the camp ground you will find several sites for tents and RVs, along with bathrooms and showers with hot running water. Over the past 142 years the accommodations has gotten better, where individual can stay in the dormitories of Atlantic Union College down the street and eat in its modern dining facility. In addition, attendance has grown in leaps and bounds. Tochterman states,
“That SNEC has more than 15,000 members worshipping in 129 churches or small groups in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is one of the fastest growing churches in the world today with a world-wide membership of more than 15 million. We worship in 8 languages – Cambodian, Chinese, English, French, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Twi.” [Fra10].
Over the years, due to tremendous growth, SNEC camp meeting had expanded from two weekends to five.
As per SNEC web site, “In the summer of 2008 for the first time in the Southern New England Conference, several camp meetings were held in succession for various language groups rather than simultaneously.” [Car08]
This was a much needed change from the past, when all meetings were held together throughout the camp ground, neighboring churches and college campus to accommodate the various languages and increased attendance. Now there are two weekends for English speaking members, along with one weekend each for Hispanic; Portuguese/Cape Verdean and French /Haitian speaking members.
It was a sunny Sabbath morning around 9:00am when I arrived at the camp ground. This weekend featured English speaking members, although all are welcome to attend. As I approach the main entrance, I stopped at the booth on my right. It was manned by a pastor and other individuals. They greeted me a warm smile, brisk handshake and give me a program. The program showed a layout of the grounds and scheduled events throughout the day. The day’s program featured dynamic preachers for the adult and youth pavilions, along with programming for every age group. Such as Beginners (Ages birth – 3); Kindergarten (Ages 4 – 7); Primary (Grades 2,3,4); Junior (Grades 5 & 6); Earliteen (Grades 7 & 8); Youth (High School); Young Adults and Adults. At the entrance are two pastors greeting everyone that pass by, to their right is a uniformed police officer with gun holstered, staff and handcuff attached to his belt. Hopefully the officer will not arrest anyone today; his presence is to keep the traffic flowing due the number of people in attendance. I stand there for a while to observe the scene. At the left of the entrance stood a group of adolescent girls, dressed in their Sabbath best (or as you would say “their Sunday best”). They were texting and giggling at the two young boys that walked past them. The boys looked sharp, their haircuts were not more than a day old, dressed in black suits, both with burgundy ties, one wore a white shirt and the other a light blue oxford, both with shoes that glistened in the sunlight. They smiled at the girls and continued through the entrance. There are groups of adults greeting each other with hugs and handshakes. Friends sharing info with those they haven’t spoke to in awhile. Couples strolling along to the entrance pushing strollers, little kids tugging at their parents and they all look happy to be there. I shook the pastors’ hands, nod to the policeman as I walked through the entrance.
As you walk along the road toward the main pavilion, on the right are rows of tents. Which have people sitting at tables eating breakfast, some neatly kept with beds made, while others have basket of fruits hanging in front of them. On the left there is a large white tent; under the tent is large TV showing videos of student missionaries working in South Korea. Next to that there is displays featuring the local college and schools within the conference. Outside the white tent is a crowd of people, some talking with friends, some hugging, others shaking hands and parents who are directing their second and third graders to the primary tent which is just beyond the row of tents on the right. At the main pavilion, Sabbath school is in progress; all though t is not crowded they are adults sitting in the overflow seats which are under the shelter of the blue sky enjoying the morning sun. About 100 yards down the road to the right is the youth pavilion. A light blue wooden building with the back and one side opened for camp meeting.
As I approach the youth pavilion, I can hear the youths’ singing. They appear energized by the three young men who are upfront playing instruments as they lead out the song service. They are dressed in black pants and white shirts. One of them are playing the bass guitar, one the piano and the other the organ, these young men are from a local church who are very popular with the crowd. They have the crowd vigorously singing “Soon and Very Soon.” Their harmony was magnificent. Thus I stood on the outside and listen for awhile. After the singing, a young woman got up prayed and introduces the speaker. The preacher approached the podium and opened with a quote by St. John Chrysostom, 3rd century Archbishop of Constantinople which states “We must not mind insulting men, if by respecting them we offend God.” He prayed and continues to minister to the youths. This man is dynamic as he electrified the crowd. However behind me, two young men all dressed up is trying to impress a group of young ladies with their best “Mack Daddy” impersonation, a few exchanging phone numbers, and others are taking pictures with or talking on cell phones. In the back seats are individuals singing and texting. What is interesting is I see their thumbs moving but they are not looking at the keyboards. What skills? After a while longer, I decided to venture down to the junior tent.
The junior tent is further down the road by the soccer field. Along the road I am flanked by rows of RVs, children running to……, a young boy fell and is crying for his mom as others try to help him. Upon approaching the tent I can the children listening attentively to a man upfront with chains around his neck and a large bucket in his hand. I did not get what the story was about, as he was finishing up. I circled back through rows of tents on my right and RVs on my left, followed by more tents on both sides. Passing the bathroom and showers on my right, I turned left towards the main pavilion. Walking towards me is an old friend that I haven’t seen in years. We stopped, hugged each other, give updates of our lives including our families and reminisce on the past. We promised to keep in touch, as we continued to our destinations. I arrived at the main pavilion, sat down and listened to the sermon already in progress. The minister was fantastic; he lifted my spirits and rejuvenated my soul. It is now lunch time and crowds of people are walking towards the main entrance.
I had lunch potluck style with other members of my congregation on the grounds of the college campus. We all come to be spiritually rejuvenated for the next year, spend time with family and friends, while stopping and enjoying the beauty of the outdoors. What’s different than years past is that most people including spent more time enjoying the programs and each other than on cell phones. However to fill your spiritual cup, I invite you a day at camp meeting the end of June, 2011 where someone will give you lunch. If not for the spiritual aspect, join us in So. Lancaster, MA for the curiosity factor and you will be amazed by the hospitality of the Adventist.