I’ll admit, I was nervous when I first walked onto the Smyrna Presbyterian campground on the first Sunday of Campmeeting this year. While I knew I was bound to receive the warm southern welcome I’ve come to naturally expect my entire life, part of me felt like I was invading on something very personal.
For the most part, I was right. Campmeeting is something that’s meaningful to many and deeply rooted in tradition. However, all the nerves I felt were quickly washed away within minutes of interacting with all the kind families that filled the cabins across the grounds.
That Sunday, I sat down in one of the swinging benches just outside the tabernacle for a little while. I listened to the band begin their sound check as the sun started setting, and watched a few late stragglers make their way toward supper before the night service began.
Not even two minutes passed before I was joined on the bench by a sweet 7-year-old girl named Cora Pickett who was wearing a peanut shaped cardboard sign advertising hard-boiled peanuts. She wasn’t very adamant on selling the peanuts but was very eager to tell me why she’s loved coming here her whole life.
“I love hearing the people sing, and all the music, but my favorite thing is being able to swim with my friends whenever I want!”
I appreciated her honesty. While I’m sure swimming with friends is also a favorite of all the older attendees, most were hesitant to straight out tell me so like Cora did.
The gathering of everyone, whether it be swimming or coming together for worship, seems to be the most important aspect of Campmeeting. I was told numerous times that people plan their whole summers around this event because it’s so important and necessary to all who attend every year.
Friends and family were found all over the grounds. The majority of the people I spoke to were accompanied by at least one relative. I ran into two sisters, 17-year-old Shelby Reed and 14-year-old Lacey Reed, who said they have also been going their whole lives.
“I like how it’s the entire congregation coming together for the week. It’s a great time to just be with friends and family,” said Shelby.
“It’s wonderful seeing all the people you’d never get to see and all the relationships you build over the years, I always look forward to it,” said Allison Goggans as her 9-year-old son Preston nodded in agreement beside her.
“Just sitting around on the porch is good too,” Goggans’ aunt Dale Bradford, added as we sat on the front porch of their cabin.
I talked to many people on the campground, but one of the names that became ubiquitous while I was there was Reverend Carl Smith. Just about every single person I met said he would be the best person to talk about Campmeeting with. Smith was previously a pastor at Smyrna Presbyterian for 19 years and has been coming ever since 1973.
I was told he was one of the nicest men I’ll ever meet, and he didn’t disappoint. I caught him right before lunch on Wednesday after sitting through the morning service, and he gave me a big smile before delving into what Campmeeting has meant to him.
“I always love the fellowship, friends, singing and preaching. There’s just a lot of joy here, and that’s what keeps me coming back,” Reverend Smith said.
At its core, Campmeeting is a time for family and tradition. After the little amount of time I spent there, that fact became more than clear. I was even beginning to feel a little jealous myself that I didn’t have something as special as these people have through this annual meeting.
“It’s a family thing; it’s been in my family for generations. I grew up here, my mom grew up here, and my grandmother grew up here. I absolutely love it, and you better believe that my kids are going to grow up on this very same ground,” said 19-year-old Brenna Beech.
Despite never having been to Campmeeting before, there wasn’t one second that passed by where I didn’t feel comfortable and at home. Everywhere I turned, I was welcomed with a warm smile from both young and old, and could sense the genuine happiness shining through.
Kaitlyn Spotts is a rising junior at University of Georgia and a 2010 Heritage High School graduate.