Camp Meetings

Photo courtesy of Office of Archives, Statistics and Research.

Camp Meetings Begin

The first camp-meeting of Seventh-day Adventists was held under the management of Elders White and Andrews, in the town of Wright, Michigan, September 1-7, 1868. The results of this meeting were so encouraging that the plan of holding meetings of this kind during the summer months was soon generally adopted among Adventists (Yearbook, 1884). The first camp meeting in Arkansas was held in 1886 and the first in Louisiana in 1889. Camp meetings were then held every year with few exceptions, usually in July or August. The meetings were located where they would be accessible to as many Adventists as possible, while at the same time serving as an evangelistic extension into new territory. Usually tent evangelism was carried on for two weeks or more before the camp meeting. After the camp meeting, the evangelistic meetings would continue for another week or more, usually resulting in a baptism and possibly the organization of a Sabbath school (Beeler, 1996). In addition to the major camp meeting, two or three smaller ones were held each year in areas where more isolated members could attend, and this helped spread the work into new territory.

Conference Sessions

Conference sessions (constituency meetings) were held every year at the main camp meeting, including the election of officers. The presidents were usually reelected but when a change took place between sessions, the General Conference appointed the new president. The position was then elected at the next constituency meeting (Beeler, 1996).

Railroad Travel to Camp Meeting

For many years the most common means of traveling to camp meeting was by rail. Due to the increased number of travelers to and from camp meeting, conference leaders were able to get a reduced rate from the railroad companies. In 1937, it was voted to authorize the conference treasurer to join the Union in giving a gift to the railroad officials in appreciation for the many courtesies they had extended (Minutes, 1937).

1904 Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad advertisement in the Southwestern Union Record.

First Arkansas Camp Meeting

The first Arkansas camp meeting was held August 4-10, 1886, in a grove near the town of Springdale. It was laid out in a hollow square with family tents on three sides and the large tent and reception tent on the fourth. There were more than 250 people who camped on the grounds, many traveling long distances over rough roads. The editor of the Springdale News was so impressed with the neatness, order, and regularity that prevailed, that he devoted nearly three-columns of the paper to the meeting, to Adventists and their work (Jones, 1886).

The Travel was Worth it

One family came a distance of 30 miles by team, “just to see what kind of people we were.” The gentleman was a merchant, and had been closing his store on the Sabbath for about six weeks, having become convinced that it was the day to keep, although he had never heard a sermon, or known a Seventh-day Adventist. A minister in his vicinity had preached against it, which so affected this gentleman that he began to investigate the scriptures, and soon embraced the Sabbath (Henderson, 1888). Another man had walked 160 miles to attend the camp meeting. He had never heard an Adventist sermon, but had commenced to keep the Sabbath through reading, and felt that he must attend the meeting (Jones, 1886).

Twenty-three new members were baptized at the camp meeting and many others went home, planning to unite with the church nearest them (Jones, 1886).

Tents Needed

As the work continued to grow, the working force gradually increased, and there was a new tendency toward assigning workers to specific territories. But each territory was large and there were many calls for meetings in almost every direction. Tents were in constant use from early spring to late fall. The conference’s tent fund was frequently exhausted, calling for new appeals for funds (Beeler, 1996).

Photo courtesy of Office of Archives, Statistics and Research.

First Louisiana Camp Meeting

The first Louisiana camp meeting was held July 19-20, 1898, in a grove outside the city limits of Alexandria. This meeting brought a new unity to the small isolated churches and groups in Louisiana (Evans, 1898). A second camp meeting followed in 1899 at Welsh, Louisiana, and a third in 1900 at Marthaville. The church in Louisiana was listed as a mission field of the General Conference until the fourth camp meeting, held in Crowley (25 miles west of Lafayette) July 12-22, 1901. Members came from Welsh, Marthaville, Mansfield, Shreveport, Hope Villa, Lake Charles, and New Orleans. It was there that the Louisiana Conference was organized, with the conference headquarters in New Orleans, and the official beginning date August 1, 1901. The Louisiana Conference became part of the Southern Union Conference (Horton, 1901). Camp meeting continued to be held every year except in 1902 when it was thought best to postpone camp meeting and the conference session until after harvest, and in 1905 when it was cancelled due to an outbreak of yellow fever (Review, 1905).

Teen Meetings Added

During the camp meeting held in Baton Rouge in the spring of 1959, the conference officials realized that although there were meetings for children up to ages ten or eleven and meetings for young adults, they did not have anything that appealed to teenagers and this age-group was losing interest. A panel of experts consisting of representatives from the conference, the union, and the general conference was organized to provide answers about things this age-group asks. Immediate plans were put in place to have a “Teen Tent” for the teenage youth at the Gentry camp meeting that summer and at all camp meetings in the coming years (Winger, 1959).

First Arkansas Camp Meeting
First Arkansas Black Camp Meeting
First Louisiana Camp Meeting
First Louisiana Black Camp Meeting
First South Louisiana Camp Meeting

Flyer from a 1952 Camp meeting

Images courtesy of Bonnie Hernandez.


Citations

(1884). Yearbook of the Seventh-day Adventist Denomination. Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, p. 16.

(1905, Nov. 9). Review and Herald, p. 16.

(1937, Dec. 15). Executive Committee Minutes. Shreveport, LA: Arkansas-Louisiana Conference of SDA.

Beeler, Charles R. (1996). A History of Seventh-day Adventists in Arkansas and Louisiana 1888-1996. Keene: Arkansas-Louisiana Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, pp. 35, 43.

Evans, J. E. (1898, Aug. 23). Review and Herald, p. 542.

Henderson, J. P. (1888, Sep. 18). Ibid., p. 604.

Horton, S. B. (1901, Aug. 13). Ibid., p. 526.

Jones, D. T. (1886, Aug. 31). Ibid., p. 556.

Winger, D. M. (1959, Jul. 29). Southwestern Union Record, p. 3.