Just off Brown Bridge road and the massive Walmart and Publix centers, there’s a place where you don’t need a cell phone or a watch, hardwood floors or a private apartment.
The bell rings to signal meals and worship, and a bed and a roof house you and your family.
At the 186th Salem Camp Meeting, more than 100 families, many multi-generational, gather to play and pray for the annual, week-long revival-style reunion July 11-18 at the Salem Camp Ground.
Dawn on Saturday, July 12: A trumpeter calls for campers, also called tenters, to wake up for morning services.
Getting out of bed, many of which are in rows of minimalistic rooms in a long, narrow structured tent, they take turns using the shared bathroom or separate bath house, or they may sit on the porch as the air is still cool. Tents range from Sam Ramsey’s – chair of the Salem Board of Trustees and owner of Ramsey’s furniture – small, green one built in 1840 with no individual roofs or doors for each room and sawdust shavings covering the dirt floor to recently built, two-story homes with central air-conditioning.
Others wake from one of the 22 rooms in the Salem Hotel or from their personal RVs.
A 5k kicks off the day before youth services.
Rev. Jonathan Andersen, an associate pastor at Hamilton Mill United Methodist Church in Dacula, Georgia, leads the youth services and activities with Rev. Andrew Covington, the lead pastor at Connexion Church in Covington.
Andersen, in his 26th Campmeeting, said he grew up coming to Salem as a kid.
“Now I’m leading. The people who were leading me as a kid, they’re still all here,” Andersen said. “You watch kids grow up here.”
Families travel from all over Georgia for the week at Salem, and many even come from surrounding states. Kids who don’t go to school together but who are as close as if they saw each other every day reunite once a year.
“Salem is like a spiritual homecoming,” Andersen said. “This is the one place that’s constant in an ever-changing world.”
Youth classes Monday-Friday are incentivized by ribbons, green for perfect attendance and gold for great attendance. At least a gold ribbon three years in a row is rewarded with a Bible.
12:30 p.m. Lunch. Tenters of all ages rotate between eating at the Ramsey Pavilion to finding shade on a tent’s porch to cooling off at the natural spring, the historical reason tenters stayed in the area.
“Everything slows down,” Andersen said. “You sit on front porches and talk for hours. When you’re ready to move on, I’ll go to the next porch.”
A group of teenagers have been coming with their families their entire lives. Anna Catherine, 14, Maggie Doster, 14, Sara Catherine, 16, Grace Taylor, 15, and Sam Doster, 16, said while they used to think of Salem as a required family event, they want to go now and look forward to it all year.
“It brings you back down to Earth,” Anna said.
She said the closing ceremony is her favorite, although a little bittersweet.
They said some people may think Salem Camp Meeting is like an exclusive summer camp, but Anna said anyone who wants should come and see what goes on.
From porch discussions to family cabins to spiritual connectedness, they will already be looking forward to next year’s meeting.