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Posted: July 10, 2009 12:30 a.m.

Another year of music and praise

Christian camp draws thousands from across the state

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Richard Hunter, Snellville UMC

The remembrance that something very special takes place each year at Salem Campmeetings draws a crowd of ten thousand to hear a timeless message and to experience the spirit of fellowship, worship and spiritual growth. Founded in 1828, the interdenominational campground is a place of rich history, tradition, reunion, peace, renewal, love and acceptance. The community is invited to attend the 181st Salem Campmeeting July 10 through July 17 with services at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

"I’m looking forward to campmeeting this year more than ever because we all need to be encouraged," said Sam Ramsey, chairman of the Board of Trustees. "The main reason campmeeting has continued is the preaching of the word under the tabernacle."

Dr. Richard A. Hunter, Dr. David Dykes, Thomas R. Roberts, Alice Walker, Becky Ramsey, and guest choirs from Conyers UMC, Smyrna UMC Youth, FBC of Covington, Salem UMC, Covington UMC, Avondale First Baptist, Covington UMC Senior Saints, Cannon UMC, Rockdale Baptist Joyful Senior Saints, Conyers Baptist, Salem Baptist Church of McDonough, Snellville UMC, First Presbyterian Church of Covington Ambassador, Crossroads UMC, First Baptist Church of Conyers, and Lawrenceville Road UMC and soloist Florence Fowler Peacock will minister through message and song.

"A big part of the week for us is getting to know the musicians who come in," said pianist Becky Ramsey. "It is a very important part of preparing our hearts to receive the Lord. So many of the things that we believe are expressed in our music."

Her thoughts turned to favorites that capture the feeling at Salem, for example, "People Need the Lord," "There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit in This Place" and a song the children sing with gusto, "There is Something Better Than Gold."

Dr. Richard A. Hunter, senior pastor at Snellville UMC, a 4,000-member church in the North Georgia Conference, is a native of Birmingham, Ala., and a life-long Methodist. His passions in ministry are preaching, visioning and raising up leaders for Christ’s church. He graduated from Candler School of Theology in 1983 and received a Doctor of Ministry from McCormick Theological Seminary. His thesis was "Making Disciples in a Rapidly Growing Congregation." He was ordained Deacon in 1981 and Elder in 1985.

Dr. David O. Dykes is pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, one of the leading churches in America in terms of missions and evangelism. The church has over 13,000 members and is known around the world for its emphasis on direct missions. Dykes grew up in South Alabama where he came to know the Lord when he was nine years old and began preaching at the age of 17. He graduated from Samford University with a Bachelor of Arts in 1975. He received a Master of Divinity and the Doctor of Ministry from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His doctoral emphasis was on evangelism and church growth.

In the last 20 years, eight people were called into full-time Christian ministry at Salem, including the Rev. Tom Elliott, senior pastor at the Cannon United Methodist Church in Snellville; Dr. P. Alice Rogers, director of Contextual Education II and the Teaching Parish Program at the Candler School of Theology; and the Rev. Case Thorp, associate pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Fla.

Families and friends return annually to stay for the week and participate in a variety of activities for children, young people and adults.

"The Christian fellowship among the families who tent is marvelous but our aim is not only to enrich the families who have been coming for years, but to reach out to the community with the gospel of Christ," said Becky Ramsey as she thought of the un-churched population.

Of the 500 people who will stay in the tents, half are under 18 years of age. For the third year, a special youth service will be held on Saturday morning. Dr. Hunter will encourage the teens to dedicate their life to Christ.

In preparation for the special music at Salem, the Covington FUMC met recently on Wednesday evening for choir practice. A God-thing happened as a soldier came into the church expecting to attend a prayer meeting and found that they were not having one. He was invited to join the choir practice as they rehearsed "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." He shared how the choir’s kindness brought peace and closure as he had just heard that his close friend was killed in action in Afghanistan. "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" was his friend’s favorite song.

Salem’s Sunday morning service will have a special patriotic emphasis. The Boy Scout Troop Color Guard will walk down the aisles of the tabernacle presenting the flags as former Covington native Florence Fowler Peacock and the combined choirs of Covington FUMC and Salem UMC sing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and the national anthem.

Peacock has treasured memories of attending Salem Campmeeting as a child with her grandmother and into her teen years as she gathered with friends and beaus. She credits Salem for giving her a strong foundation to build her life on. Despite her travels and living abroad with her husband in Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and England, her recollection of Salem has not faded.

"I love the way you can sing with a strong voice at Salem Camp Ground," said Peacock who enjoys expressing her religious feelings through song. "I like the hymns we sang because they were so direct, personal and simple. It is a very beautiful place —I remember the trees, flowers and how the dirt floor and wood shavings felt under my feet. The outdoor worship meant a lot to me."

Salem Camp Ground is located 3 miles south of I-20 on Salem Road (Exit 83 off I-20). between Covington and Conyers. The camp ground has camper hook ups and a hotel with private baths, a nostalgic wrap around porch with rocking chairs and home style cooking. For Salem Hotel meal or room reservations, call 770-786-6841 or visit www.salemcampmeeting.org.

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