"Are you going to camp meeting?" I asked my friend last summer.
"Oh, is it this weekend? I didn't know … I don't think I got anything in the mail about it." It was obvious I wouldn't be seeing her when I made my much-anticipated annual sojourn at the Gladstone campground. And, sadly, I knew she wasn't the only one of my friends I wouldn't see there.
I'm one of the lucky people in my opinion—lucky enough to have grown up going to Gladstone camp meeting. It was the highlight of my childhood summers, an anchor halfway between school years when I saw not only my school chums but also friends made and only seen again on the campgrounds.
Camp meeting began for me more than a month before the meetings actually started, as I picked and sold flat after flat of my parents' raspberries. When the last berry was picked, I divided my earnings into my daily camp meeting allowances for corn dogs, ice cream and toys from the Dorcas store.
As a pastor's kid, I also have fond memories of camp pitch, where I sat with Dad at his post in the locating office waiting for Ruth, another pastor's kid, to show up, as she did each year. Together we watched as T-shirt-clad pastors hauled benches and played pianos on trailers flying behind tractors all over the massive grounds.
On opening day, swarms of kids filled slivery benches for meetings to sing new songs and whisper under the watchful eyes of exasperated pastors. Though the buildings or tents changed as I worked my way through the divisions, a special aura remained every year.
At last I was a teen, and summer “love” caused throngs of us to climb the rocks above the earliteen tent to watch for likely candidates walking to meetings.
High school became college, and busy summers made camp meeting visits scarce. When I did make it to Gladstone, some of the old magic was missing, because full-time work meant part-time attendance. And, with my husband in tow, the search for earthly love was no longer relevant.
Instead, the childhood messages of “Jesus Loves Me” evolved into a more adult search for God’s eternal love. Though the campground now seems strangely smaller to my mature eyes, the universe—its mysteries and its Master—seems larger than ever. So, I still long to spend a midsummer’s eve at camp meeting to calm my doubts and restore my faith.
And now I have more reason to go than ever. Now two little pairs of eyes join me, wide with the magic of camp meeting. Now two little pairs of hands grab for those same corn dogs. Now two little voices ask me if we can go to camp meeting every time I take the Gladstone exit, even in the dead of winter. And my dear friend Ruth still meets me at camp meeting—with her own little one in tow.
I still see many old childhood friends, often from across the toddler meeting room, but I wish I could see more. Maybe a few more could join me under the trees at the back of the main tent in the evenings as our little ones share crayons, felt books, and what will someday be their memories. Just for a few days, I wish they would come back to our old stompin’ grounds and discover again the special magic of camp meeting.