Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Lure of Camp Meeting

The following text was written by my dad back in the early seventies about our family's first experience with camp meeting and the impact it had on our lives. The pamphlet/brochure read as follows:

The Lure of Camp Meeting

By Westbrook Finlayson

At this very moment on a farm somewhere there is an elderly couple saving a dime here and a penny there so they can make it to camp meeting. In factories, offices, stores and homes, people wait impatiently for the arrival of camp meeting time.

How amazing that in this age of luxury and sophistication people still want to spend a week or ten days in rustic surroundings sleeping in sub standard living quarters, sitting on straight wooden benches, listening to a continuous stream of preaching!

Does all this sound to you like pages from the past? It did to me once, but now I have been there. Possibly the only way I can explain it is to tell you how camp meeting got its hold on me. I can recall our family’s decision to go to camp meeting for the first time. We had heard of a camp through an evangelist our young preacher brought to our church. His sermons were full of fire and truth, like some my wife and I had heard as children. They created a hunger for more of this kind of spiritual food. All our family, even the youngest of our six children, loved this dear old preacher from the start and were eager to hear him again when we learned he was to be one of the camp meeting speakers.


We arrived at the camp ground late at night, after a 300 mile trip during which we had absorbed about all the heat and mileage we could take in a day. Most of the people at camp were sleeping, but the secretary gave us a friendly welcome and directed us to our quarters – a kind o f motel arrangement with a drab gray look.

I was clean but with the very barest of conveniences. We stared at each other, amazed to find ourselves in a place like this, far from the luxuries to which we were accustomed. We consoled ourselves that it was an adventure far removed from the routine of our daily life. We felt, as we installed our soap, towels, pillows and linen, that “things would look better in the morning”. Secretly we told ourselves that they had to be better, simply because they couldn’t be worse!

The first night away from home is always restless one for me. No matter how tired I am when I retire, it is difficult for me to sleep well the first night. This was no exception. The overly warm iron bedstead and hard mattress reminded me that our beauty rests and air-conditioning helped make our “sweet home” unlike –well, say, camp! The last look I’d taken at the next day’s schedule hadn’t helped a lot either. The first bell would toll at 6:30 a.m., some time before our usual waking hour.

It must have been three in the morning before I finally dropped off to sleep: and only minutes later, it seemed, the dreaded bell began to ring.


A peep out of the motel room window revealed a kind of early morning bustling which I was not fully prepared to comprehend. People actually did stir around at this hour! In fact, the porch of the big house across the campus was already filling with people--mostly older folk--getting ready for the first prayer meeting of the day. I was later to learn that several such meetings, in informal settings like this one, were the held at different times throughout the day, and that this very communication with God was the real under girding strength and secret behind the success of each camp meeting.

What, really, were we to expect in the days that were to follow? I wondered. Were we dealing with a group of fanatics? Certainly the people we already knew—those who had introduced us to the camp, and the evangelists who had attracted us by his preaching could not be considered “way out” or in any sense off balance. To the contrary, they were good people, intelligent, maybe a bit more serious about their religion than most, but a lot less anxious about material things than the ordinary, every-day Christians we knew. It would be interesting to see what this camp meeting business was all about? We were not too sure we could take a week and a half of it. However, we’d wait and see.

Breakfast at 7:30 a.m. was good. Just plain country eating—bacon, eggs, grits, toast, jelly and coffee. And there was about the dining hall this first morning a feeling of unhurried, loving Christian fellowship, just like one would expect to find in Heaven someday. Food digested better. The warm welcomes touched us. New friendships were being made, and we knew that they would be permanent.


Meeting after meeting, day after day, the friendships became more invaluable, the moments of worship more precious. Business pressures were non-existent. What at first had appeared an arduous routine now became an eagerly awaited series of contacts with humble people of great faith—deep-running souls, constantly seeking a closer walk with God.

And in time, like Wesley, we felt our hearts strangely warmed. One morning as we sat on the porch of the new dining hall watching several hundred teenagers (ours among them) walk cheerfully by us on their way to the nine o’clock youth meeting. I had to ask myself, “Where on this earth, unless in a similar camp meeting, could one find as many young people, with Bibles in hand, going to a little tabernacle to pray and learn more of Him to whom they pray?”

Instead of demonstrating for “freedom” by violently burning someone else’s building or destroying a section of a city somewhere, these youngsters were giving themselves up as love-slaves to Christ. Instead of smoking “pot” or shooting “horse,” they were feasting on God’s Holy Word and opening up new prayer veins between their hearts and God!

The young at camp seemed to say that if the world is to be won to Christ it will have to be won by a band of brothers and not be a cold, shallow, competing church, or by a group of exclusive-minded religious sects departing too often from God’s Word and Christ’s example.


The early rising, the porch prayer meetings, the promising teenagers, the inspiring sermons three times a day, the morning Bible hours, the sun, the mosquitoes, the watermelon cuttings, the fellowships, the new- found books a the book store, the late-night youth prayer sessions—all these are camp meeting. Some say they come away with holiness; in their hearts, “sanctified: they say, sometimes in hushed tones for fear those tender biblical words might be confused with or distorted by other sects or groups who have discredited these precious scriptural truths. Call it what you will, my wife and I and each of our children were changed by the Holy Spirit through camp meeting preaching and prayer.

Since that time our lives have not been the same. There have been rough episodes since, but the One we sought that summer six years ago has seen us through, always without fail. Our four oldest children are now active in a weekly prayer meeting and various other religious activities. The younger ones have their own set with whom they worship and learn. My wife’s testimony rekindles the warmth in my heart each time I hear it. My own witness has been set ablaze by the touch of His Spirit that came one summer’s night.

Jesus said in John 17, “I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through they truth; thy word is truth” (vv. 15-17).

Camp meeting is where we first saw His blessed plan for us in this light. And through this Truth—His Word—we have been set apart, sanctified, if you please: So, by authority of he Scriptures we are not now of this world but of His Kingdom. We must live in the world, but we are set apart by His Truth and are a very real part of his Kingdom, here and now.

The anticipation of seeing old and sainted friends and of being with the youngsters again each summer is with us constantly. Over the past six years some dear friends we first met at camp meeting have gone on to “that land that is fairer than day.” Those of us left behind have had a preview of Heaven and the hosts that must now surround His Throne. We can no longer live as we did before. We have met the Savior. We have fellowship with His people. And it began at camp meeting.

-Henry Westbrook Finlayson

Dad’s, bio was also on the pamphlet that the above text was printed. It read as follows.

Westbrook Finlayson, JD, is a practicing Attorney and Counselor at Law in Gadsden, Alabama. He is the founder-president of The Extended Ministries Association, a Wesleyan-Arminian Evangelical organization, the purpose of which is to bring outstanding evangelists to cities for “Downtown Camp Meetings” in the fall and winter of each year. Dr. Finlayson is a lawyer and a member of the United Methodist Church.

A little background from one of the kids in the backseat.

The Lure of the Camp Meeting was originally published around 1973 when The Extended Ministries was in full swing. It was later made available through THE HERALD out of Wilmore Kentucky as well as reprinted in a few Christian publications

Dad started by mentioning an old evangelist who’s “sermons were filled with fire and truth”. The evangelist became a close friend of my dad. His name was Dr. John R. Church. Dr. Church was invited to our church to preach a week long revival at Bellevue United Methodist Church by our pastor Rev. Randall (Randy). VanLandingham in the Winter of 1966. I remember those nights because I became a Christian on one of them. I was eight years old.

Our first camp meeting experience is reflected in this little pamphlet that dad wrote. Mom and dad packed the station wagon with six children plus luggage. Dad’s description was pretty accurate. Dr. Blanchard was a featured evangelist at Camp Bethlehem in Bonifay, FL that year. Randy VanLandingham was also the camp’s president and probably encouraged dad to drive down and experience it. Hearing Blanchard preach again was probably what lured my parents in making that long trek. We pulled into Bethlehem after dark one summer night of June 1967. It was a very surreal moment and I remember it well.

You can tell by dad’s reflection of the youth of that time, “smoking pot, shooting horse and rioting for peace” reflected a shared concern toward the youth back in the late 60’s. Not being a teenager at that time, I don’t know what shooting horse was all about. It sounds much harsher than tipping cows. Other than the sixty’s reference, I believe dad’s Lure of the Camp Meeting article is timeless, describing what countless families down through the years have experienced in kind.

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