For at least one week this year, the palm pilots will be put away, video games will gather dust and e-mails will go unanswered. Life will return to a simpler, slower rhythm as families gather once again at the woodchip-covered Tabernacle for a week of spiritual replenishment during the 179th annual Salem Campmeeting, July 13 to July 20, on the historic Salem campgrounds in Newton County.
The Salem Campmeeting, founded in 1828, is one of the oldest continuing camp meetings in the country, running every year except during the Civil War. Part revival, part summer camp and part family reunion, the camp meeting harkens back to a time when rural and agricultural families took time out during the busy summer months to attend to their souls and to each other. Today's families still do the same, taking a respite from the hustle of modern life to reunite with relatives and friends and to get some of that old time religion.
More than 475 people are expected to stay on the grounds in "tents" - cabins owned by families often for generations - and at the Salem Hotel. Another 300-plus attend daily from outside the campgrounds.
"Most of them grow up out there," said Mayor Sam Ramsey, vice chair of the Salem Board of Trustees, "and their children come, too." Ramsey, who met his wife, Becky Ramsey, at Salem, is the fifth generation in his family to be involved in the camp, and his great-great-grandfather, George Cunningham Jr., helped found Salem Camp meeting.
This year's camp meeting holds a special treat for the youth. Former NFL football player Santana Dotson gives a special talk on Saturday, July 14, at 1 p.m. Dotson, a defensive lineman for the Super Bowl XXXI Champion Green Bay Packers, now heads the Santana Dotson Foundation, a nonprofit to raise scholarships for promising inner city high school students. He was recently in the area for a business venture and came into Ramsey's shop. They began talking and when Ramsey pitched the idea of speaking at Salem, Dotson liked the idea.
Ramsey is excited to be able to bring a speaker who can reach the kids and be a role model to them.
The main guest speakers of the week are Dr. Clayton Oliphint, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church, a 6,000 member congregation in Richardson, Texas, and Dr. Marshall Edwards, retired pastor at Blowing Rock First Baptist Church, N.C. This will be Oliphint's first time preaching at Salem and preaching at a camp meeting in general. He's no stranger to camp meetings, however, and has fond memories attending the West Texas Cowboy Camp Meeting during his junior high years.
"It was a great atmosphere and great experiences," said Oliphint. "I think that's why I'm very excited about Salem and being asked to be a part of this. I remember those days."
Marshall is a Newton County native and an old hand at Salem, having been frequently asked back to preach.
"He just knows how to get out in the pulpit and get his message across," said Ramsey. "He has enough humor to keep people's attention and has a strong message before it's over."
Excellent preachers are one of the reasons Salem has lasted so long, according to Ramsey.
"We have always put first priority on preaching the gospel," said Ramsey.
Worshipers will also be regaled with performances by choirs from churches and congregations from all over Newton County and Atlanta.
This year attendees will be able to enjoy sermons, talks, and performances in relative comfort thanks to the addition of 18 overhead fans and four air coolers at the Tabernacle, which cost $225 and $5000 each respectively, according to Ramsey.
The weather was also a factor in moving the dates back from August, the traditional month of camp meetings, to July, said Ramsey.
For more information: 770-786-6841, www.salemcampground.org.