A Borrowed Camp Meeting

We are having what we call  Camp Meeting Sundays here at Pine Mountain UMC during August.  Now I know just enough about REAL camp meeting to know that what we are doing is a distant cousin, not nearly as afire or unpredictable as the original.  We are like the shy, nervous part of the family who grabs at any little bit of excitement that we can when we can without having to move too far away from our comfort zone. So our camp meetings take place on Sunday mornings rather than all day (and evening) all week.  They are in our Sanctuary, and even though the traditional brass crosses and candlesticks have been replaced with the wooden ones a dear church member made, I have to admit it is not at all like sitting in a hard pew under an arbor, smelling the wood shavings, feeling the breeze and hearing the cicadas sing their own special hymns.

But the purpose is the same: to put on the brakes, to take time to get it – one more time –  the whole thing. Christ is alive and well and messing with our spirits if we will allow it. Christ, the head of the Church, the king of the kingdom that sparkles right here in our midst wants something FOR us and something FROM us. What he wants for us is a blessed assurance that all is well. All is well even in the darkness that the world can throw out there.  He wants us to grab ahold of the fact that we are his.  He has claimed us.  We are safe in the fold and leaning on the everlasting arms. (Notice how the old songs tell the old, old story?)   That’s what he wants for us.

What he want from us is to take him seriously.

If camp meeting is anything, it is serious.  In the old days, while they waited for harvest time, people in the community came together to have church.  And the heart of the experience was the altar call every evening.  People didn’t want to miss being there to see which of the unsaved sinners of the community would walk that path down to the altar, receive Christ, change their lives and escape the wrath to come. There was great celebration! And well there should have been.

In the more modern camp meetings, no matter where they are, the pews are filled more with the old faithfuls of the church. Families come together for reunions.  And even though the music is joyful, the sermons are lively and the mood is more upbeat than usual, for many of us, the altar call of the past has moved from counting the new converts into a time of personal prayer, a time of rededication and well, just a drawing back to the feelings we had at first.

As a pastor, walking the path with someone who makes the decision to profess his or her faith is pure joy!  To see the church grow in number, to see lives turned to Christ, is about as serious and real and as good as it gets. I am so grateful for all those chances I have had to share those journeys.

But the cousin remembering who he is and whose he is isn’t that far away. John Wesley talked a lot about our heads and our hearts. It’s not that hard to know in our heads all the stories of Jesus, all the letters of Paul, all the traditions of the church.  But to know in our heads that we are God’s love is a bit different from dancing with it in our hearts.

So, here’s what I think.  If at any time during our camp meeting Sundays, our hearts become strangely warmed; if we feel them fluttering at the advances of Christ just as we did our first boyfriend or girlfriend;  if we catch a glimpse of what Jesus’ church can be because he lives in us; if we look over and see that same old woman we have seen sitting in that same pew for the last 25 years, and all of a sudden see not an old woman but a child of God…… well, I would say that was revival!

I’ll take that any day of the week!  Thank you all for your faithfulness. Thank you for sitting in the pews.  Let’s see what happens when we let loose and shout – Revive us again!  Please, Lord!  Revive us again!



Taking to the Road

Last week I joined the Pine Mountain UMC Mission Team on our annual summer work week at Henderson Settlement.  Henderson Settlement is the center of a wonderful community in Frakes, Kentucky and is a part of the Red Bird Missionary Conference. The Conference, created to assist the poor and elderly of this coal mining area of Kentucky and Tennessee, has been around for almost 100 years. Over the years is has grown and matured and made itself so much a part of the community it’s hard to imagine a Clay or Bell or Harlan County without it.

What always strikes me when I visit this area of America where the mountains have names and are a part of the family, but where the employment is almost non-existent, especially with the lessening of need for coal and the shutting down of many mines, is the strength and heart of the people.  There is poverty here.  There is need here.  There is even hopelessness here at times.  But there is a beauty here, a depth of life, a common core of community that makes me catch my breath every time I experience it.

How does that happen?  That beauty?  That trust? That assurance that in the midst of pain, hope perches like a feather on the soul as Emily Dickenson says? The psalmist says, “I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

Perhaps it is the mountains.  The ancient earth bubbled up from the depths, carpeted with green, home to bear and elk and rabbit and cardinal. Perhaps it is the assurance of being surrounded by these great friends who will never abandon them, that reminds the people there that God is indeed in their midst and will provide.

I don’t know.  I only know that I have a sense of peace when I am there. I sleep so good at night!  When I feel so poor, so needy, so hopeless – which, if the truth be known, is more often than I care to admit – I am comforted when I remember Red Bird and all that goes on there day in and day out. We painted and hammered and measured and roofed.  A good, good thing to do.

Yet, their gentle greetings – “how are youins doing today?” rings in my mind like a sweet mountain breeze.  God takes you and me, rich and poor, kind and hateful, educated in knowledge and educated in life, and shakes us up all together.  I believe God’s desire is for us to bubble up like a mountain and bring the comfort of which Christ taught to this land. That’s all. To do no harm.  To do good. To simply and authentically stay in love with the God who created us.

If you would like to know more about Henderson Settlement or Red Bird Missionary Conference, go to their web pages.  Maybe a summer mission trip will be in the future for you. You will be richly blessed.

Grace and Peace,