Posted by: Democratic Thinker | June 25, 2014

Weekly Story: The First Camp Meeting (M.E.)

Weekly Story

A Methodist Episcopal evangelist relates the history of the first ever camp meetings held at the turn of the Nineteenth Century.

The practice of encamping for religious meetings, however, being thus introduced, it was soon reduced to a regular system, and adopted as a powerful means of promoting the work of God.






Methodism a child of Providence—Camp Meetings—Originated in Kentucky—The McGee’s—A Sacramental Service among the Presbyterians—Wonderful outpouring of the Spirit—First Camp Meetings appointed—Their size—Philosophy of their success.

METHODISM, as a distinct ecclesiastical system, is a child of Providence. The history of each of her peculiar institutions and customs indicates it. Episcopal oversight, General and Annual Conferences, Presiding Elderships, Watch Nights, Love Feasts and Class Meetings, have each a history, interesting in itself, and well adapted to illustrate to what far reaching and beneficent results God leads the counsels of humble men, who, while ignorant of the future, aim only at the Divine glory in the present moment.

The introduction of Camp Meetings, and their subsequent very general adoption, as a special means of grace, by the Methodists of the United States, are to be reckoned among the instances in which the course of the Church has been shaped by the providential indications of the will of God.

They originated in Kentucky, in the year 1799. Two pious brothers, named William and John McGee, the former a Presbyterian, and the latter a Methodist minister, had settled in West Tennessee. For some years they had labored harmoniously for the establishment of Christianity in that new country. During the year above named, they set off on a tour through Kentucky, toward the State of Ohio. Arriving at a settlement on the Red River, in the State of Kentucky, where was a Presbyterian Church under the pastoral care of Rev. Mr. McGready, they tarried to attend a Sacramental service then about to be held. Mr. John McGee, was invited to preach; and he did so with great power. Sermons and exhortations from others followed, attended by such an outpouring of the Spirit of God upon the assembly, that instead of separating as usual, they continued the meeting; and others from the surrounding country, hearing of the extraordinary indications of the Divine presence, came in; and the meeting continued several days; the people meantime supplying themselves with provisions, and lodging in covered wagons, huts, and booths.

The McGees soon appointed a Camp Meeting in an adjoining district, and subsequently another still; which were both signally owned of God in the salvation of souls and the sanctification of believers: and thus was commenced that great revival in the Western States which introduced Camp Meetings.

The above facts are drawn from the History of the M. E. Church, by Dr. Bangs, who states further that the congregations at many of these primitive Camp Meetings were so large that it was impossible for any voice to reach them with intelligible language; hence they were divided into groups, and addressed by different speakers at the same time.

At first, these meetings appear to have been held at a church; and they therefore differed from a modern protracted meeting mainly in the facts that they were more numerously attended, that the people from a distance encamped upon the spot, and that the preaching—the congregations being immense,—was mostly from a window or from a platform outside of the church.

The practice of encamping for religious meetings, however, being thus introduced, it was soon reduced to a regular system, and adopted as a powerful means of promoting the work of God.

In several States the Baptists and Presbyterians still employ them; and the Methodists throughout the Union, have habitually held them, and have not failed of large harvests of spiritual profit from them, where they have been thoroughly sustained by the church and properly conducted.

Camp Meetings are believed to owe much of their success to the following considerations:

1. They call God’s people away from their worldly business and cares for several successive days, thereby securing time for the mind to disentangle itself of worldly care, and rise to an undistracted contemplation of spiritual realities.

2. The mind of the church is assisted in the effort thus to rise by being held so constantly and so long in contact with the sublime truths of revelation.

3. Camp Meeting services are well adapted to exercise the powers of faith and prayer in the church; and they therefore greatly strengthen those powers.

4. By calling large numbers of our ministers and people together, to labor and enjoy in concert, they improve the bonds of christian union among us.

5. They offer to the church an admirable break upon the worldliness of summer.

6. Multitudes hear the gospel at Camp Meetings who rarely or never attend church services elsewhere; and of those attracted to the place as they have been, by the singularity of the occasion, thousands have been converted to God.

7. Nor are these the only souls converted at Camp Meeting. These meetings are perhaps never held without being attended by persons under a painful sense of unforgiven sin, and who go there with an intention, often secret it may be, but firmly fixed nevertheless, to avail themselves of the extraordinary facilities there afforded for seeking salvation.

These have not sought in vain; and many a happy father in our Israel, has driven his carriage home from the Camp Meeting, containing his whole family of children, rejoicing in the Lord.

It is to be regretted, however, that happily as these peculiar means of grace are adapted to the promotion of vital piety, and splendid as have been the victories won on these spiritual battlefields, some, even among the members of our own church, are known seriously to question their utility.

—Rev. B. W. Gorham, Camp Meeting Manual (1854).




Tune—Glory! glory!

PRAY what’s the reason, when you meet,
You make so great a noise?
Because the Lord comes in our hearts;
And shall we not rejoice!

“Rebuke them,” cry the pharisees;
But Jesus turns about,
And says, “If these should hold their peace,
The stones would then cry out.”

It matters not what men may say,
Or call us here below;
We mean to sing, and shout, and pray,
Till we to glory go.

The Golden Harp: Camp-Meeting Hymns (1856).


Read the Books.