camp meetings

   Camp meetings were a unique form of religious gathering developed on the American frontier at the beginning of the 19th century. Each meeting offered a week or more of religious activity, including preaching, services, music prayer meetings, Bible study, and counseling sessions for those in the process of converting. Attendees brought food, bedding, and other necessities for camping out.
   The camp meeting is generally traced to summer 1800, when members of three congregations pastored by Rev. James McGready in rural Kentucky gathered to await an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Others heard about the meeting and came to see; many converted in the sea of expectant emotion. As news of the event spread, other ministers organized similar gatherings. At one such meeting the next year at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, more than 25,000 people showed up. At first, ministers from many denominations cooperated in the camp meetings, but over the next years most of the Baptists and Presbyterians dropped out, uncomfortable with the emotional atmosphere and the loose theology. Methodists, Free Will Baptists, and Cumberland Presbyterians (who had split with their parent group over support for the camp meetings) remained the primary supporters. The journals and memoirs of Methodist ministers include many accounts of their visits to and participation in camp meetings.
   The Methodists used the camp meetings for the rest of the century as a primary tool for growth in rural areas, though they increasingly became routine affairs that served more to nurture current church members than convert new ones. In the decades after the Civil War, the Holiness movement found the Methodist camp meetings fertile ground for their work; their first national organization was the National Camp Meeting Association for the Promotion of Holiness, founded in 1867. Holiness churches and the first Holiness denominations grew out of camp meetings.
   The camp meeting structure eventually passed to the Pentecostals, who through the early 20th century used it to strengthen their new movement. Once again, however, the institution became routine and was used more to nurture members rather than to find new ones. Most Holiness and Pentecostal denominations continue to maintain one or more campgrounds, at which summer preaching and recreational programs are held for members who wish to take their vacation in a Christian camp setting.
   See also revivalism.
   Further reading:
   ■ Kenneth O. Brown, Holy Ground: A Study of the American Camp Meeting (New York: Garland, 1992)
   ■ Dickson D. Bruce Jr., And They All Sang Hallelujah: Plain-Folk Camp-Meeting Religion, 1800-1845. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1974)
   ■ Charles A. Johnson, The Frontier Camp Meeting (Dallas, Tex.: Southern Methodist University Press, 1955)
   ■ Wallace Thornton Jr., ed., Sons of Thunder: Camp Meeting Sermons by Post-World War II Holiness Revivalists (Salem, Ohio: Schmul, 1999).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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