Saturday, June 26, 2010

Camp Meeting

The Preacher Waxing Warm

We've just concluded our annual Church of God in Tennessee Camp-Meeting. For those who may not know: Each year the people from all churches throughout the state gather in one place for five nights of worship of God, fellowship with one another and instruction in the Word of God, the Holy Bible. Now-a-days we have something over 400 churches in this state alone, so you can see that this is a massive undertaking. 3000 to 4000 people attend these services each night. Our speakers were all well known people. Loran Livingston, David Griffis, Tommy Bates, Mark Williams and for the concluding service John Hagee. They were all in top form and had something fresh to share with us. I've never heard them preach any better than they preached this week.

Of course Camp-Meeting now is very different from what it was 70 + years ago when I first started attending. You see, I've been attending Camp-Meetings all of my natural life because my Dad and Mom were pastors before me. This week we were in the sanctuary of our headquarters church (North Cleveland Church of God) which is air-conditioned. PA equipment, at least 3, maybe 4 Video Cameras, keyboards, organ, trained and talented singers all made their good contributions to a pleasant worship experience. Books, CDs and DVDs were on sale in the lobby. There were two overflow areas (totally packed the last night) plus the main sanctuary.

Of course I don't remember all the details of those first years for I was a baby in Mother's arms. I CAN remember much though from the time I was eight years old. I remember hearing Ray Hughes preach about Jesus in a Florida Camp-Meeting at the campground in Wimauma. I can close my eyes and be transported in thought to that place and hear him even now, saying, "Come with me down the via Dolorosa. Let your bare feet touch the cool cobblestone pavement and smell the green moss growing on the stone walls where the sun does not reach it but for moments each day. We are following a noisy crowd as they follow the man called Jesus, who is carrying a rugged old cross on which he will be hanged today......" and on he went describing the crucifixion of Jesus. In my mind I can hear the congregation saying "Amen". I can see the old folks with eyes glued toward the podium, fanning with a cardboard fan that contains advertisement for a funeral home. My folks (Mom, Dad, Grandma Jones, my brothers and baby sister) are all there. It is hot. I can hear someone slap their hand against their legs - swatting mosquitos. The old model A Ford goes by with a tank mounted on back, spraying for mosquitos, chiggers, and any other bugs that might succumb to the fumes made by a mixture with a heavy base of kerosene (called coal oil). In my mind's eye I can see people bowing their heads and coughing as their hands reached for their mouths to stop them from ingesting the bug spray. But I can also remember that no one wanted to leave the open-air tabernacle area during the preaching. When the invitation was given for people to come and pray - we all rushed forward. Everyone was engrossed in the message of Jesus!

There are so many wonderful memories of Camp Meeting. At the Wimauma campground there was a huge bell hung on the back of the tabernacle which was rung about 10 minutes before and again at starting time of each service. In those days there were many campers, camped in tents. Some slept in their cars. Some built one or two room cabins on the property. My grandmother had a cabin which had two rooms. One for cooking and eating - the other for sleeping. The boards on the floor were partially covered by linoleum rugs. We kids slept on a pallet on the floor. Kerosene lanterns served as our light. A "two-burner" kerosene stove served as the kitchen range. An ice-box was filled daily with a 25 pound block of ice. Ahhh... what memories. Singing lessons from V.B. (Vep) Ellis. Music by Vep and Leon Ellis, Vestal Kerce, Arnold Godwin, the Blackwood Brothers, Hovie Lister and the Statesmen, the Speer Family, the Florida Boys with L.G. Beasley, Videt Polk and so many many more.

In Tennessee, the Camp Meetings were also great events. Preachers like Y.W. Kidd, A.V. Beaube, W.E. Johnson, Wade Horton, Paul Henson, T.L. Lowery, Steve Brock, George Alford, Jack and Danny Drake, George Voorhis, Clyde C. Cox, Albert Batts and others too numerous to list. Singing by Connor Hall, Calvin Wigley, Gordon Stallings and his family, Ray Branham family, special choirs, quartets, and solos. My own Mom and Dad were called on to sing at Camp Meetings in Tennessee. If I were to tell the whole story it would be too lengthy for this blog. In fact - I'm going to have to hunt some pictures to help break the monotony of my writing. Smile with me folks.

I must put in just a word for what I have always considered to be the most special part of Camp Meeting: the Morning Bible Study. I always loved the Bible Study better. I never could understand why more people were not in attendance for them. Most times there were half (or less) number of people in the morning study sessions than the night services. They were often not as emotional. Maybe that was the reason. Of course some of our folks work during the day and could only come at night. But Bible Study - sitting under the teaching of those old-timers like David Lemons, George Alford, Albert Batts, etc., was so rich. Some of them could quote verbatim an entire book - like 1st Thessalonians or Timothy or Titus or Malachi - and give such powerful insights into the meaning of the Bible. It was so satisfying to me.

Well - this week was no exception. Mitchell Tolle, a very successful artist who has his own gallery in Berea, Kentucky, gave us masterful teaching based on Psalms 1. It was like a breath of fresh air. He threw down a challenge to us to become radical Christians! I wish you could have heard each session. WOW! Tolle is also the pastor of the Man 'O War Church of God in Lexington, KY. If I'm ever in that area I want to attend and see what the Lord is doing there.

Two Friends Listen; W. Paul Fritts and Edward L. Williams

I'm looking for a place to stop. My Dad taught me that I should learn how to "dismiss" the people and do it smoothly. He would stand and walk to the pulpit and say, "You're dismissed!"
OK. You're dismissed!


jack69 said...

Some preachers are very wise. My dad had the same idea about the close fo a service. When you are through you are through, "let my people go!"

Of course I was with you the whole way Fred. But for me of course it was North Carolina Camp meetings. I could substitute NC for Flroida and it would practically be the same.

Camp meeting was the place (For me to meet girls). When I got older Dad & Mom would have their hands full to keep me in the tent or the tabernacle, so they gave up. Knowing the Camp Meeting had watchmen and I could not get into much trouble. hahahaha.

Thanks for the report and the walk down memory lane.

Looking forward to seeing you in the near future.
Kiss Lady FRances for me, and thank her again for the buzz word for LDL (Low down one)

L A Brannen said...

OK Fred, I'm commenting. And believe it or not, I can also remember a visit to the Florida Campmeeting. I remember being in that two room camp that Grandma had. I know it's hard to believe that I can remember such as that, seeing that I am so young. hahahaha!

I remember the Tennessee Campmeetings more and of course the Louisiana Campmeetings. Those were good ole campmeetings. I wish we could have another one like those. The sad thing about it is that it is in the past and the past does not return. We'll just have to work on making the present acceptable.

Every now and then I see and hear a preacher that makes me feel like God is still in the church to do what He has always been there to do; to bless the body of Christ. And I've noticed that the blessings seem to be expressed differently now-a-days. Well, what time I have left, I guess I can live with it. Living with it is really not so bad. I've experienced some good times in my latter years. I just wish it happened more often.

Dar said...

Dear, dear Fred,
I am so sorry to have not noticed your wonderful, so inspiring entry before now. I am considering it a birthday gift, as my birthday was the 28th of June. You preach well, I did not feel antsy to leave. I love the Lord and you reminded me so well how blessed I am to have memories of Camp Luther, to be so blessed with a family of faith, even tho we don't get in the pew too often, we do believe in our Savior. We have a wonderful lot of blessings, lots of hugs to pass around and freedom to run around the land we are keeping for our woodland friends. We are Blessed, truly blessed.

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Hi There, Even though I was born and raised a Methodist, I remember Camp Meetings... They must have been done by district --rather than state, since the numbers weren't 'that' big. BUT---in my area of southwest VA, we would get in the car and drive to Jonesville, VA (which was the district camp).

Camp meetings were held in the tabernacle (outdoors) at that campsite in Jonesville. I remember it being hotter than hot --but we all did have little paper fans to fan ourselves... I also remember the mosquitos and bugs....

I don't know if they still have Camp Meetings in Jonesville, VA anymore--but I'll bet they are in an indoor air-conditioned facility now!!!!

Great post... I enjoyed reading about your memories.

About Me

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Cleveland, TN, United States
I am Fred Alton Brannen, the son of Louis A. Brannen (deceased) and Bonnie Jones Brannen, Louis was an Ordained Bishop with the Church of God. Bonnie is an Ordained Licensed Minister and at 89 years of age is still actively engaged in speaking and singing engagements. I am married to the former Frances Hildreth. We celebrated 53 years of marriage this past June and we are the parents of 3, grand-parents of 10, and great-grandparents of 10. I pastored in Tennessee for 24 years and served the Church in some capacity in missions for over 23 years. I retired from full-time ministry in August of 2008 but remain active, speaking and singing and teaching whenever opportunity affords itself. In January of 2010 I received a letter of commendation for having been credentialed as a minister in the Church of God for 50 years! My family is very important to me. Our get togethers are always noisy affairs and most times will include family sing-alongs. The children love their Mom's cooking so we have the privilege of seeing them regularly! WE LOVE having them over.

TheCabin on Day One

TheCabin on Day One
Fred Alton