Some things are just etched into your being. These traditions are ones that folks have always observed since childhood, and often woven into the fabric of a culture. And so, these traditions carry on, over and over again.
Up Kingston Highway, deep in the bends of Morrison Campground Road, is a campground that shares its name with the country road. Established in 1868, after a donation of the land by E.R. Morrison, the space is home to an annual 10-day religious retreat. Named Campmeeting, this year’s attendees celebrate their 150th anniversary, and the place in the woods where they found a spiritual common ground years ago.
Despite advertising efforts, like billboards, newspaper ads and word of mouth, there is not a lot of widespread knowledge about the unique religious experience. “We advertise,” says Laura Martin, a member of the third generation of her family that has attended Campmeetings; the family roots at Morrison Campground are now five generations deep. “We’ve heard what people think. Some assume that it’s only for cabin owners, or that we are ‘cult-ish,’” Martin says before her cousin, Wendy Robert interjects, “We are not a cult!” and the table of campers burst into laughter.
Martin and Robert, along with their mothers, twin sisters Ludye Fincher and Judye Williams are experts on the history of Morrison Campground. Fincher’s and Williams’ father bought a cabin (called tents back then because attendees used tents before cabins were built) when they were young girls, and Campmeeting has been an event they haven’t missed in over 60 years.
“Campmeeting is a part of life. There are times we have not taken a vacation, because we had to attend Campmeeting,”, says Ludye. Martin recalls a year when she told her children that, due to conflicts in scheduling, they had to pick between Campmeeting and attending Disney World.
“They picked Campmeeting,” Martin says. “It’s in our heart; it’s what we know.”
Ludye has a great grandchild attending this year. That child will be the fifth generation of their family to take part in this time-tested event.
Campmeeting is a 10-day outdoor church service where all denominations are welcome to join in worship.
“It was originally Methodist only, but it grew to become so family-based, that we opened our service to everyone. There is usually a Methodist preacher and a Baptist preacher, and for our 150th Anniversary celebration, there will even more speakers,” Martin explains.
With the services taking place underneath a large pavilion, outdoors and on wooden pews in July, some would think that comfort would be an issue. The ladies ensure that it is not. Large fans have been installed under the structure to keep the air moving. Organizers also schedule the services at 11a.m. when the morning air is still cool and at 8 p.m. when the midday sun finds its resting place before nightfall. The cabins on the other hand, are a different story altogether.
In the early years of Campmeeting, families used to stay in tents. As time passed, cabins were built provide more reliable shelter. The walls do provide more peace of mind than the walls of a tent, but these are not the modernized cabins often found at campgrounds scattered across the Northwest Georgia countryside. These are cabins that connect families with nature and each other. There is no television, no air conditioning and the cell phone reception is almost nonexistent. Because of these conditions, families don’t hang around inside the cabins during the day.
“It’s too hot in those cabins!” all of the ladies unanimously exclaim.
At night, a fan is necessary to get any relief from the humid summer air. In the daytime, when there are no services, families sit on the front porches of the cabins with enormous fans circulating the air. “And the big fans keep the bugs away,” Martin adds.
However, there are some sweet amenities to Campmeeting. “The Stand” is a concessions building that offers ice cream and sweet candy to the attendees. “On the Thursday of Campmeeting, we have over 50 flavors of homemade ice cream,” Martin says.
There also is a natural spring across the street. The water in the spring is bone-chilling, even smack-dab in the middle summer. It’s cold enough for campers to cool watermelons in the bed of the creek. The children use the spring for recreational activities like swimming and fishing, and the crystal-clear stream is even safe for drinking. The men build a dam that allows the water to collect creating the perfect swimming hole. After the ten-day service, they break the dam and allow the water to take its natural course.
This 150th anniversary was memorable and special events were planned daily. There was an old-fashioned day where attendees dressed in attire from the 1860’s when the camp started. There were numerous singing performances, including The Adorations, a Southern gospel group that the twins, Ludye and Judye are members of.
The Salvation Army celebrated 130 years in Rome, Ga. during Campmeeting. The Methodist district superintendent spoke words of encouragement before the congregation and Dr. Gil Watson served as emcee for the week. There was a night of cabin and family history shared, a memorial night honoring those who have passed on, all of this in addition to children’s church every day and bible study every night.
People come from as far as Texas to attend Campmeeting. It is open to all religions or anyone who wants to become a part of an ages-old meeting with people who appreciate the simple joys found in the foothills of Appalachia.
Robert emphatically states again, “And remember, we are not a cult!”
Go. Rejoice. Enjoy Campmeeting at Morrison Campground on the country road of the same name. Who knows, you may find out it is just right for you.