This week, we're doing Campmeeting. For the first time ever, I'm working for the adult meetings. I've never actually gone to adult meetings before--I've never been drawn by the allure of fine imported preachers. Campmeeting was always about something else.
I remember Campmeeting. I remember standing in line for snow cones. I remember roving the campground in kid packs. I remember making crafts with wood pieces and googly eyes, some of which my father can still embarrass me by digging out of a box. I remember the color of the sunlight, as evening sidled closer, filtering through leaves on the blacktop broken by tree-roots, hundreds of sandaled feet drifting in random patterns past. I remember the sound of voices on outdoor speakers.
I grew up with the Best Campmeeting Ever,* in Gladstone, Oregon. It lasted 10 days, and boasted a mini grocery store among the services on campus. We stayed in a tent that was a wood and canvas hybrid, and had bunk beds, a table, and shelves built in. I could get a three-scoop cone of frozen yogurt in the snack shop, but I loved the lemon-lime snow cones best.
A hundred things happened at Campmeeting. I remember losing a tooth, and falling flat on my face just after I got a cast off my leg. And walking all around campus with the first boy that ever asked me out (and then changing my mind and avoiding him like piranha-water).
The year I was nine I was baptized at Campmeeting, down in the front of the adult meeting. I was probably an illustration for some giving campaign or evangelism initiative. I didn't care. It was my baptism, and it had happened at my favorite place on earth.
And then things changed. The villain usually blamed was the fire marshal. One fateful year we had to cancel, and have a "convocation" in a venue in the city. I was appalled--there was no leaf-dappled sunlight or tents, and worst of all, no snow cones. Just a ton of people in church clothes listening to sermons. Who goes to Campmeeting for sermons?
When the dust settled from all of this, Campmeeting was shorter, the hybrid tents were gone, and I was a teen, and had to work in the summer. And Campmeeting as an adult isn't the same as it was. The magic never looks the same, when you're part of making it.
Campmeetings are changing all over. WE are changing, so it can't be helped. The church is thinner, and older, and it lives in a world that doesn't pause enough. Furthermore, Campmeeting is peopled by two populations now. There are those who come for the sermons, and those who come for the snow cones (or the pronto pups, if that be your ilk.)
But those who come for the sermons are getting fewer. The people who dress in their Sabbath best and drive out of town to pick their way across brambled fields for parking and listen to sermons in the summer heat are not the youngest set in the church.
Today sermons can be had for free in the comfort of my own wifi. But community is a desperate commodity. Belonging to something--something alive, and family-friendly, and where people connect over things that really matter--is a treasure that can't be priced.
If and when our Campmeetings fail, and come to an end, it isn't the messages we will miss out on. This media-filled age will never lack for messages, even the ones with a three-angelic flavor. I will not pine for the hours on metal benches listening for familiar ideas in fresh language (or fresh ideas in old rhetoric). I will reminisce over snow cones, and packs of kids playing in the summer-dry dirt. I will miss the buzz of music, and the scent of pronto pups. I will pine for the familiar faces.
So today, if you have a community, if you have a Campmeeting, if you have someplace to belong, make the most of it. Go eat a snow cone. Go talk to someone you barely remember from school. Close your eyes and feel the music. Today, if you are part of something bigger than your local church, embrace it. Make memories.
These traditions of ours are relics--they began in the days before we were a denomination. And as the world changes, they may not be with us forever.
Oh, the church can live without Campmeeting. There is more than one way to pursue community. The point is only that we have to pursue it. Unlike the grace of God, it doesn't come without our asking. So whatever chance you have for community, whatever chance you have to belong, I say take it. Make it count. Enjoy it.
I'm going to. Hope to see you at Campmeeting!
*Sorry, this designation is not up for debate.