What is a Camp Meeting?
The following description of the old time camp-meeting comes from the "Memoirs of the Life, Religious Experience, Ministerial Travels and Labours of Mrs. Zilpha Elaw, An American Female of Colour..." published in 1846. Mrs. Elaw writes--"In the year 1817, I attended an American camp-meeting. Oh, how I should like our dear English friends to witness some of our delightful camp-meetings, which are held in the groves of the United States. There many thousands assemble in the open air, and beneath the overspreading bowers, to own and worship our common Lord, the Proprietor of the Universe; there all arise and sing the solemn praises of the King of majesty and glory. It is like heaven descended upon an earthly soil, when all unite to, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow." The hardest hearts are melted into tenderness; the driest eyes overflow with tears, and the loftiest spirits bow down: the Creator's works are gazed upon, and His near presence felt around.
"In order to form a camp-meeting, when the place and time of meeting has been extensively published, each family takes its own tent and all things necessary for lodgings, with seats, provisions, and servants; and with wagons and other vehicles repair to the destined spot, which is generally some wildly rural and wooded retreat in the back grounds of the interior: hundreds of families, and thousands of persons, are seen pressing to the place from all quarters; the meeting usually continues for a week or more: a large circular inclosure of brushwood is formed; immediately inside of which the tents are pitched, and the space in the centre is appropriated to the worship of God, the minister's stand being on one side, and generally on a somewhat rising ground. It is a scaffold constructed of boards, and surrounded with a fence of rails.
"In the space before the platform, searts are placed sufficient to seat four or five thousand persons; and at night the woods are illuminated; there are generally four large mounds of earth constructed, and on them large piles of pine knots are collected and ignited, which make a wonderful blaze and burn a long time; there are also candles and lamps hung about in the trees, together with a light in every tent, and the minister's stand is brilliantly lighted up; so that the illumination attendant upon a camp-meeting, is a magnificently solemn scene.
"The worship commences in the morning before sunrise; the watchmen proceed round the inclosure, blowing with trumpets to awaken every inhabitant of this City of the Lord; they then proceed again round the camp, to summon the inmates of every tent to their family devotions; after which they partake of breakfast, and are again summoned by sound of trumpet to public prayer meeting at the altar which is placed in front of the preaching stand. Many precious souls are on these occasions introduced into the liberty of the children of God; at the close of the prayer meeting the grove is teeming with life and activity; the numberless private conferences, the salutations of old friends again meeting in the flesh, the earnest inquiries of sinners, the pressing exhortations of anxious saints, the concourse of pedestrians, the arrival of horses and carriages of all descriptions render the scene portentously interesting and intensely surprising.
"At ten o'clock, the trumpets sound again to summon the people to public worship; the seats are all speedily filled and as perfect a silence reigns throughout the place as in a Church or Chapel; presently the high praises of God sound melodiously from this consecrated spot, and nothing seems wanting but local elevation to render the place a heaven indeed. It is like God's ancient and holy hill of Zion on her brightest festival days, when the priests conducted the processions of the people to the glorious temple of Jehovah.
"At the conclusion of the service, the people repair to their tents or other rendevous to dinner; at the termination of which prayers are offered up, and hymns are sung in the tents, and in the different groups scattered over the ground; and many precious souls enter into the liberty of God's dear children. At two o'clock, a public prayer-meeting commences at the stand, and is continued till three, when the ministers preach again to the people. At six o'clock in the evening, the public services commence again as before; and at the hour of ten, the trumpet is blown as a signal for all to retire to rest; an those who are unprovided with lodgings, leave the ground.
"On the last morning of the camp-meeting, which is continued for a week, a solemn love feast is held; after which, all the tents are struck and everything put in readiness for departure; the ministers finally form themselves in procession and march round the encampment the people falling into rank, stand still, and commence singing a solemn farewell hymn; and as the different ranks of the people march by, they shake hands with their pastors, take an affectionate farewell of them, and pass on in procesison, until the last or rear rank have taken their adieu. This farewell scene is a most moving and affecting occasion. Hundreds of Christians, dear to each other and beloved in the Spirit embrace each other for the last time, and part to meet no more, until the morning of the resurrection; and many a stout-hearted sinner has been so shaken to pieces at the pathetic sight, as to fall into deep conviction of his depravity before God, which has ended in genuine repentance and saving conversion to Christ..."
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