COVINGTON – The singing may seem a little softer this year and the preaching a little more fervent as the Saints gather again under the famous Salem Campground tabernacle to thank God for bringing them – and the longest camp reunion in the country – through a global pandemic.
â€œThe summer of 2020 has been a summer we would like to forget, full of isolation and cancellation,â€ said Darrell Huckaby, Salem Campground board member. â€œThis year, most are looking forward to a return to normalcy, and the directors at Salem Campground are eager to help make that happen. The camp reunion, which had been held at the Salem Road facility in Covington every summer since 1828, with the exception of two years during the Interstate War, was only held last year through online virtual services.
But in 2021, the Salem grounds, located at 3940 Salem Road in Covington, will once again be filled with families of all faiths, many of whom have attended Salem Camp Meeting their entire lives, worshiping, celebrating and fellowship together in person for eight days at July.
The 193rd Annual Camp Salem Meeting begins Friday, July 9 at 7:30 p.m. and continues through July 16, with services each evening at 7:30 p.m. and each morning at 11 a.m., except Saturdays. Classes and activities will take place daily, starting with Morning Watch at 7:30 a.m. each weekday, which is a short period of devotion. Bible classes for all ages are held at 9:30 a.m. at Salem United Methodist Church, adjacent to the campground. Homemade meals will be served at noon and dinner at the historic Salem Hotel. The public is invited and can make reservations for any meal by calling 770-786-6841. Individuals and groups are welcome, with advance notice.
â€œWe hated to miss it last summer, we definitely did,â€ said Roland Vaughn, chairman of the Salem Campground board. â€œBut we had no choice under the circumstances. A group of people made sure that we have some kind of online service every night to kind of keep our ministry going, but this year we will be back to normal as much as possible with in-person services, classes, meals. at the hotel and the real Salem experience.
John Howington and Joshua Swaney, who have a catering business serving Hollywood film and TV production companies from their food truck, contracted with Salem to provide meals for the camp reunions and other events. Family meals will be offered to the public before each service. In addition, Keri Hampton, who grew up on the campsite, took over the management of the hotel and all the hospitality. Meal prices and all other information about this year’s camp meeting are available by visiting www.salemcampmeeting.org.
Not being together last summer has been difficult for many who have gathered for years in Salem.
â€œI can tell you it was very painful for those of us who love the Salem Camp Meeting not being able to attend the 2020 camp meeting when it was canceled due to COVID-19,â€ Alice said. Walker, pianist and member of the Salem Campground board of directors. . â€œWe had an effective Zoom conference with multiple Zoom services in 2020â€¦ We are delighted that we were able to retain the same excellent preachers that we would have had all week in 2020. Reverend Dr. Don Martin and Reverend Steven Barnes will alternate as d usual this year.
Walker and his twin sister, Becky Ramsey, who have provided music for many years, will once again play traditional twin grand pianos for all services.
â€œSalem has a long standing reputation for great music and bringing in great preachers, and this year will be no different,â€ Huckaby said. â€œThe pastors of the week will both be familiar to local residents. “
Reverend Don Martin served 44 years in the North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church, several of those years at Covington First United Methodist, as well as Alpharetta First Methodist and the churches of Clermont, Rome and Augusta. Martin is a graduate of Emory University, Mercer University, and the University of Chicago. He will preach on Fridays, Saturdays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays evenings and at 11 am on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Reverend Steven Barnes, who has served as Acting Pastor at Oconee Presbyterian Church in Watkinsville since March 2020, previously served the First Presbyterian Church in Covington. Originally from Texas, Barnes served the Presbyterian Church in a number of roles for 20 years in Texas, North Carolina, and Georgia. He will preach on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursday evenings and at 11:00 am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Huckaby said Big Sunday, which will be July 11, is traditionally the busiest service of the week. The guest preacher that day will be Dr. Byron Thomas, the newly appointed district superintendent of the South-Central District of the North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church.
â€œWe’ll have some great backing vocals and soloists throughout the week,â€ Walker said. “The service schedule is the same except that there will be no Saturday morning service due to the Salem Wide World of Sports.”
Throughout the week, Music Director Tom Roberts, a familiar figure to Salem attendees, will lead the congregation’s song of the church’s great old hymns. Services are held in the open-air tabernacle built in the mid-19th century. Many families who frequent Salem each year stay at the campsite. Everyone is invited to the Salem Tour of Tents on Saturday, July 10, 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Huckaby said he sort of “got married in the Salem Experiment Field Tent.” The local author has attended the Salem Camp Meeting every year of his life, but says he only started “camping” in Salem when he met his wife, Lisa.
â€œSalem is so much about tradition,â€ he said. â€œWe see the same people every year, and this may be the only time we see them. We see families growing up and children growing up one week a year, year after year. Salem is fertile ground for romance. I know many couples – young and old alike – who met their respective spouses in Salem. My son Jackson met his wife Brittney at the camp meeting. Salem meant so much to them that when he was ready to propose he engraved, “Will you marry me?” in one of her favorite trees on the campground and had her sit on a bench below until she noticed the sculpture. Now they will bring their son, Walker Lee Huckaby, to his first Salem.
While there will be many happy reunions this year at the camp meeting, there will be a man whose absence will be felt by generations.
â€œSam Ramsey will be missed this year and every year,â€ Huckaby said. â€œSam was Mr. Salem. No one worked harder all year to maintain Salem, and no one had a bigger heart for the ministry. I went to work for Sam, moving furniture (in his furniture store) when I was 12. We have remained close friends forever. No one will replace him, and we all go to great lengths to make sure the hundreds of little things Sam has taken care of get done. We are fortunate to still have his wife, Becky, who takes over for us. “
Ramsey, who passed away last August, was the former mayor of Covington, a businessman, chairman of the board of directors of Salem and devoted much of his time and energy to ensuring that the meeting of the Salem camp thrives every year. Huckaby has said that his physical presence will be sorely missed, but that the members of the board are determined to continue the legacy he helped build.
â€œIt is a pleasure for me to speak about Salem Camp Meeting because I personally know how much the experience has meant in my life,â€ said Becky Ramsey. â€œI didn’t grow up with the tradition of attending a camp meeting. However, when I first came to worship service at Salem Camp Meeting with my family, I was hooked.
She also met the man she would marry at the service and said “the enthusiasm was overflowing” from Mr Ramsey. After the couple’s wedding, their joint work in planning the annual Camp Salem reunion became a joint year-long project as they handled the details of advertising, music, and worship.
â€œDuring my first worship experience in Salem, I could feel the friendly welcome from the faithful and I was surrounded by Christian love and inclusion,â€ said Ms. Ramsey. â€œThe warm singing of gospel songs and the sincere prayers of the people touched me and warmed my heart. “
She said the first year at Salem led to 50 years of being there, as she returned each year to be rekindled and refreshed. It was also special for her to join her twin sister in presenting music for church services each year. She said the historic tabernacle with its huge oak woods still bearing the ax cuts made by the first settlers offers a unique place of worship.
â€œAs I sat in the sacred worship space, I was able to connect with the generations of faithful Christians who have gathered there since 1828,â€ Ms. Ramsey added. “â€¦ Holy Communion by candlelight, which closes the week, is a respectful and poignant way to leave our spiritual experience at the top of the mountain in Salem and return to serve Jesus in the real world.”