The Methodist Camp Meeting (1819) By Jacques Gérard Milbert (1766-1840) - Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division (LC-USZ62-2497), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=376417
Perhaps one of the stranger things someone encounters in Saint Maggie is the Methodist camp meeting. Most contemporary readers – and especially those who do not have a relationship with a church, much less a Methodist church – will wonder why a group of people would trek out into the wilderness, put up tents, and participate in worship services and hear preachers for a week or longer.
As I wrote in the “Definitions and Bible References” section of Saint Maggie, a camp meeting is “an event usually held in the woods or a field provided by a farmer. Participants camped out for one to three weeks, listened to preaching and exhortations, sang hymns, and took part in prayer meetings. Some camp meeting grounds still exist, and some are still in operation, such as the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association in Ocean Grove, NJ.” (Saint Maggie, p. 271)
Camp meetings grew out of “spontaneous all-night camp meetings” that sprang up in what is now the state of Kentucky in 1799.” https://southwellfleet.wordpress.com/2012/08/27/south-wellfleet-methodists-and-camp-meetings/ This was the beginning of what is known as the Second Great Awakening, a religious revival that swept through the young nation. (In case you’re wondering, the First Great Awakening is a series of revivals that caught fire in Great Britain and its the colonies during the 1730s and 1740s.)
These long-form revivals were events that happened usually late in the summer (August) to coincide with the farming cycle and were attended by churches that had an evangelical orientation, such as the Methodists. In the 1800s the term “evangelical” meant someone or some church that focused primarily on preaching and trying to live by the “Good News.” The “Good News” is that Jesus Christ lived, died, and was resurrected to save humans from sin and evil, and justify them (aka, line them up) with how God’s wants them to be and live.
Maggie is this kind of an evangelical. In Saint Maggie, and during a camp meeting she becomes convicted that she will live by the “law of love," something that comes from Jesus’ statement that the two greatest commandments – on which all the other commandments are based – are 1) loving God with everything you’ve got, and 2) loving others as you love yourself. This is what Maggie strives to do, sometimes with greater success, and sometimes flopping miserably on her face.
In short, camp meetings are meant to revive and refresh the faithful.
While I was writing Saint Maggie, I found a handbook on Camp Meetings. Oh, those nineteenth-century folk! How they loved handbooks and manuals. This one is called A Camp Meeting Manual, a Practical Book for the Camp Ground; in Two Parts, by Rev. B.W. Gorham, published by H.V. Degen in Boston, 1854. I used the book to write the description of the camp meeting Maggie attends. I went into a great deal of detail in the novel, but I wanted to paint a picture of what a camp meeting might have been like for today's readers. The excerpt is below.
Since I’ll be up on Cape Cod this week, I think I will make a visit to at least one location where camp meetings were held. Years ago, I did some research on a Methodist pastor who lived in the New York City area. I immersed myself in his journals, and they revealed that he took several trips to the Cape to attend camp meetings there. In fact, that fellow was a camp meeting fanatic! It would be fun to visit the Eastham location or the South Wellfleet location to get some photos, if I can.
Anyway, I hope I’ll have a fun blog on Friday, gentle readers!