Pam Burghart, Chehalis Church office manager, was excited when she heard from the Southwest Washington pastoral team that Chehalis Church would be hosting a regional camp meeting.
“Camp meeting is always a special time for me! This year was certainly different, but I was so thankful for it!” said Burghart. “I think we all needed it after being apart for the past few years. I was so happy to see so many familiar faces and get to share time with our extended church families and friends!”
The Southwest Washington planning team invited Pavel Goia, Ministry magazine editor, to share powerful stories of answers to prayer and sharing faith with neighbors.
The team wanted to mirror many elements of traditional camp meeting and decided to host a taco salad haystack lunch, invite local musicians to participate in Gospel sing along on the church lawn, and close out their camp meeting weekend with singing “The Midnight Cry.”
“Camp meeting makes me long for heaven when we can be together with Jesus forever! I know we'll share our testimonies and sing praises to Jesus! What a camp meeting that will be!”
One of the first tasks for the camp meeting season is to obtain a health and safety permit to protect the well-being of participants if they need emergency services. The problem? Permits associated with gatherings were not yet being issued in early 2022 with pandemic procedures at the time.
As conference leaders prayed about options, several pastors asked: “Could we have local camp meetings in different regions of the conference? We want to invite people back into local worship and fellowship.”
Conference administration agreed with one condition — a group of churches needed to work together to plan and produce a localized camp meeting. Each location could choose their own speaker, musician, theme and schedule.
Soon, pastor districts in Northwest Washington, Southwest Washington and the Olympic Peninsula started formulating plans. Sunset Lake Camp asked to host both family camp and young adult retreat weekends.
“We appreciated the opportunity to experience collective worship and solidarity with the wider body of believers. It was wonderful to experience outdoor worship with fellow believers.”
In all, seven camp meetings were hosted in Bremerton, Sequim, Chehalis, Burlington, Eastsound and two at Sunset Lake with a combined attendance over 1,800 people. Guest speakers included Keren Graves, David Smith, Pavel Goia, Ty Gibson, S. Joseph Kidder and local young adults. The sermons from most camp meetings are archived on the respective church websites and/or social media accounts.
“We had people who traveled to each camp meeting location. They truly went on a camp meeting tour!” said Doug Bing, Washington Conference president.
“This was our first year to not live close to Washington camp meeting,” said Doug Woods, who attended camp meeting in Sequim. “Considering the hours [my wife] Donna works, we wouldn't have made it this year [if there had been traditional camp meeting]. We probably would have watched online or something. So, in that sense, it was very convenient to have it right here in our town.”
“It was nice not having to camp. Even though the camping is such a big part of the fun of camp meeting, there is stress to it,” admitted Judy de Chantal, a member from Port Angeles. “It felt more personalized to have camp meeting close by. More of our own church members who aren’t able to be at the big camp meeting [were able to come].”
“We have friends at the other churches but don’t necessarily get to see them very often, so it was fun to worship and then have potluck together,” said Rachele Deininger, who attended camp meeting in Bremerton and helped with children’s programming. “It just feels good to gather as a community again!”
“I enjoyed camp meeting being in my home church. I'm looking forward to next year in Auburn though."
Anticipating the Future
Camp meeting is a cherished tradition placed on hold by the pandemic. Yet God gave the Washington ministry team great creativity in keeping the camp meeting spirit alive during this three-year period whether through a virtual week of prayer in 2020, a hybrid camp meeting broadcasted from Puyallup to local church partners and homes in 2021 and now regional camp meetings in 2022.
“We’re assembling a Camp Meeting Revitalization Committee to pray and prepare for the return of traditional camp meeting in 2023."
“The opportunity to reimagine something as potentially impactful as a conference-wide spiritual convention that revives our people and catalyzes our mission, may only come once,” Maxwell said. “Pray for us as we press into the heart of Jesus for how to reintroduce camp meeting in ways that will better prepare us for the soon return of Jesus.”