Camp Meeting Drawing

This rendering shows the site of the Bethel Campgrounds chapel, where Bethel United Methodist Church will host its Bethel Camp Meeting Aug. 11-18.

Bethel United Methodist Church in Elysian Fields will host its annual Camp Meeting services at 7 p.m. nightly Aug. 11-18 at Bethel Campgrounds.

The annual Homecoming Sunday with dinner on the grounds follows the 11 a.m. service Aug. 18.

Speakers during the week include:

Sunday, Aug. 11: Tim Turner of Bethel UMC/Mt. Zion UMC; special music by Melinda Boyd and Zeb Mathews.

Monday: Dick Dobbins of Summit UMC in Marshall; special music by Summit UMC musicians.

Tuesday: Harold Coburn of First United Methodist Church in Marshall; special music by Joe Buck Crisp.

Wednesday: Chad Commander, youth minister for Golden Rule Presbyterian Church, Bethel and Mt. Zion United Methodist Churches.

Thursday: Kevin Otto of First UMC in Carthage; special music by First UMC Choir.

Friday: Ray Prince of Mims Chapel UMC/WRS UMC in Avinger; special music by Mike and Susan McCracken.

Homecoming Sunday: Tom Hill, former member of Bethel and retired minister.

Background

Sometime after the organization of Bethel Methodist Church in 1850, the first camp meeting was held. The church and the camp meeting were on the same grounds, about three miles west of Elysian Fields on West Road. Later, the church was moved, but the camp meeting is still held every year in the place where it first began.

The pastor at the time the camp meeting was organized was the Rev. W.H. Ardis. The first year, there were only four or five families who tented because of a fever, according to the late Mrs. A.C. Tiller.

The tents were made of jute bagging, and the meals were cooked on outdoor fires. Services were held under brush arbors until 1880. At that time, the first tabernacle made of lumber was constructed. It burned in 1919 but was rebuilt in time for the revival in August. This tabernacle burned in January 1982. A metal tabernacle was constructed in time for the August services.

As many as 36 cabins, or tents as they continued to be called, were on the grounds at one time or another — many of them with one to four families in each cabin. Some of the campers stayed in the church.

At times ,there were as many as 10 or 12 visiting preachers — in later years, seven or eight preachers. The visiting preachers would come in buggies, and some of the church members would take care of the feeding and watering of their horses. Everyone enjoyed wonderful, cold water from a local spring. A big wooden barrel was filled with the water and placed on a wooden platform attached to one of the trees still at the campgrounds.

The meetings usually lasted 10 days. Services for the day began with a sunrise prayer service, a 9 a.m. service and an 11 a.m. service. In the late afternoon they began at 3 p.m.

The lights for these early camp meetings were on elevated platforms scattered about the grounds. The source of these lights was pine knots. Later these gave way to kerosene lights, then gasoline and now electric lights furnished by the Panola-Harrison REA.

During the year,s there have been several couples who married at camp meeting. Two deaths occurred on the campground — Dr. Downs in 1886 and Jim Mitchell in 1912, and the funeral services for Margaret Metcalf Tiller were held at the campgrounds in 2000.

Dirt floors were used in the first camp houses built out of lumber. Water was furnished by the spring that remains there today. The tabernacle floor was of sawdust as it is today. One of the things that has remained the same is the joy that the children have in playing in the sawdust after the evening service.

When cars became more available, camping on the grounds stopped, but the revival continued, beginning the second Sunday in August and ending on the third Sunday, which has been designated as Homecoming Sunday.

Dinner is served on long tables under the sycamore trees immediately following the 11 a.m. service.