Glory Through The Ages
Campmeeting was first recorded in the Bible when the Israelites, under the leadership of Moses, camped on Mt. Sinai and built a temple there to worship God after fleeing captivity in Egypt. People who love the Lord have met for years at churches for religious services where they would camp for several days. Since many churches were too small to accommodate all the people seeking Christ, the congregation moved outside and built a tabernacle. Campmeetings began in America around 1800 in Kentucky and Tennessee. In 1811, there were approximately 400 meetings. They grew quickly in popularity and by 1820 some meetings had over 30,000 participants. According to Gwen Neville "interlocking kin groups" are the center of campmeetings where there is a strong sense of ancestry and tradition. Campmeeting is as necessary today as it was in the early 19th century because people always need a time of spiritual renewal to see where they are in their spiritual growth and decide to recommit their lives to the Lord as well as to enjoy fellowship with the family of God.
Campmeeting at Smyrna Presbyterian Church was begun in 1825 when the Hopewell Presbytery established a system of meetings known as campmeetings. The first mention of campmeeting at Smyrna was in the Session Minutes of October 16, 1831. The time was set for the Thursday before the 3rd Sabbath. Reverend James Gamble, Mr. Mooney and Mr. Chamberlain were at the meetings in "Old Smyrna Church" in Dekalb County, Georgia.
Subsequent meetings were held in October of 1832 and in September of 1833 when a three day meeting was held. A four day meeting took place in November of 1843. Reverend John S. Wilson proposed a series of group meetings to be held in various sections of the Presbytery. The meeting held for Bethany, Social Circle, Smyrna and McDonough acquired seven white men and one slave as a new member of the congregations. S.T. Pharr and G.E. McColy attended this meeting.
The Smyrna Congregation moved to its new and present location November 27-29, 1840. The land lying in a square around the Smyrna meeting house was sold to the church by James F. Hollingsworth for $22.50. It was sold on Christmas Day in 1840. It had a good spring and a wooded grove. The land was a 5 acre plot which was part of Lot Number 204 of the formerly Henry County and Newton County land. Ann Stowers sold 2.75 acres to the church for $22.50. This land adjoined the present property.
On September 16, 1846, campmeeting was appointed by the Presbytery. Reverend Mr. Parsons, McCarter, Pattison and Keith were in attendance. The session was organized consisting of the elders of Smyrna Church and Bethany Church. Members present were Andrew Griffin, A. Livingston, H.P. Richards, H. Taylor, William Hollingsworth, J.P. Marbut, Thomas Russell and Moses Hollingsworth.
The first tent of a permanent nature was erected by Aaron Hollingsworth. Prior to 1873, the open arbor was covered with boards. Later it was covered with shingles. This arbor served until 1891, when the present tabernacle was built. Campmeeting was suspended in 1864 because of the War Between the States. The original tabernacle was made of wood with pinned mortise joints held together by notched braces. The structure was lit with tallow candles on stakes in three corners. Three large green timbers were brought in and arranged to make a platform four feet square with dirt piled in the center with a hollow scooped out. Light wood knots were lit. Boys who were 12 gathered the knots and lit the fire. People could see their way to and from the tabernacle to the tents that way. Tents and the semi-permanent cabins were built around the tabernacle.
In 1872, services where held at 9:00, 11:00, 3:00 and at night. People came to the encampment in covered wagons when the harvest had ended. The time frame of July through October was chosen for this reason. Since there was nothing at the present site, but the brush arbor tabernacle, it was necessary to bring everything one had on hand to set up camp. The worshippers brought the cook, the stove, their bedding, clothes, animals, tents and equipment. Cows were milked and the milk was stored in the spring to keep it cool. Chickens were used for meat and eggs. Vegetables fresh from harvest were prepared over the open fire or in the cook stoves. The lake gave campers a place to swim. The spring provided the campground with water as it does today.
In 1921, the campground and church fell into disrepair. The Presbytery of Greater Atlanta was called upon for financial assistance. Repairs and improvements were made. The tents were improved with each church having its own cabin for members. Those cabins were named for the churches that built them. The names are on those cabins to this day, in 1999. Some of the churches building cabins were Administration, Avondale, Presbytery, Ormewood, Decatur, Central, North Avenue, Pryor Street, Druid Hills, Peachtree-McDonough, Westminister, First Atlanta (Lyon's Den), Covington, Philadelphia, Georgia Avenue, Gordon Street, Rock Springs, Kirkwood, Capitol View and Morningside. Out of this interest by the Presbytery, a Bible conference was held in 1922 with members and friends of Smyrna attending. There was a 10 day conference held in 1923 in which 150 young people throughout the Presbytery attended. Reverend Peter Marshall was on of the conference leaders along with Reverend Lyons of First Atlanta. Smyrna Campground offered the Presbytery full charge of campmeeting and youth conferences for five years from 1924 to 1929. The lake was added, then the hotel, water, water works, sewage, swimming pool, cafeteria and faculty house. Conferences were now held separate from campmeeting which the church conducted in 1928. By 1929, two conferences were held: Pioneer and Young People. In 1960, Smyrna paid $5,000 for the campground, buildings and equipment because the Presbytery wanted to build a larger camp at Camp Calvin. Smyrna Church has since leased the cabins to church members who keep them up. Presently the church uses the campground for 2 youth camps, Bible school, retreats and Campmeeting services. Meals began to be served in the cafeteria in 1958. On October 7, 1997, around 11:00pm, 4 cabins burned. The were Decatur, Westminister, First Atlanta (Lyon's Den) and a new cabin, Smyrna. The cause of the fire was unknown. As to date, May 1999, three of the cabins have been rebuilt from monies collected from friends of Smyrna. Many of the original campers have contributed and returned to see the campground of their youth.
Churches throughout the Presbytery have felt the influence of Smyrna Campground services on their on their members. People now come from all over the United States and other countries to attend the campmeeting services held between July and August each year. Attendance has numbered 500 at some serves. The Smyrna Campground and Presbyterian Church, Inc., has the total responsibility for the campground. Cabins are still leased to members. Swimming lessons are held each summer. People still fellowship under the huge oak trees. Whether it is the row of cabins, the ancient, weather-beaten tabernacle with the metal roof, the worn soil trampled by hundreds of feet over the centuries, the visits of the Holy Spirit, the shouts of laughter, or the whispers of prayers that cause one to remember Smyrna, it still remains a place where everyone is welcomed to worship the Lord Jesus Christ on this Holy Ground.
GLORY THROUGH THE AGES, 1827-1977, 150 Years, Pictorial Directory of Smyrna Presbyterian Church
HISTORY OF THE SMYRNA CAMPMEETING, Office of Smyrna Presbyterian Church, Conyers, Georgia, 1999
THE ROCKDALE CITIZEN, July 25, 1997
THE SMYRNA SON TIMES, volume 1, issue 9, p. 1
THE STORY OF THE GREATER ATLANTA PRESBYTERY, Chp. VII, "At Work", p. 041/04 Fax #404-833-7414, pp. 192-197