Old is New Again: Camp Meeting Era Returns to Eastern Kentucky
By Carl Stagner
Trends and traditions come and go, but thankfully Jesus Christ has stayed the same. To reach a changing world, methods employed by the church have often changed, too, and Spirit-filled believers have embraced change when the message behind it all has proved consistent. Sometimes trends and traditions return and revive, as what is old becomes new again, and what was once outdated regains popularity and practicality. Consider the historical tradition known as the camp meeting: when electronic entertainment options keep neighbors inside, when rugged individualism separates, and when a pandemic isolates, members of the family of God naturally desire reunion. A closer look at a once discontinued Kentucky camp meeting, now revived, suggests an intrinsic need in the souls of sisters and brothers in Christ that the summertime tradition effectively meets.
In the early 1990s, it became increasingly apparent that the “old tabernacle” at Lowmansville, Kentucky, could no longer provide safe shelter for attendees of the Church of God camp meeting. Repairs were needed, but insufficient funding and fading interest seemed to be the death knell for the camp meeting—at least the way it had been known for so many years. Area churches offered to host the event in the years that followed, but even this interim practice eventually ceased. The Church of God camp meeting in eastern Kentucky became, like so many other camp meetings across the country, a product of the past. In view of the situation, few would have guessed what God had in mind a decade later.
In the intervening years, the congregations of the East District of the Kentucky Church of God continued to preach Christ, disciple believers, and reach their communities. But there was something missing, and more and more pastors began to recognize the problem. The unity they espoused seemed elusive in view of the disconnected reality these congregations were experiencing. They understood that unity meant more than parishioners in a single location choosing to get along from Sunday to Sunday; they saw the church as bigger and greater than a single, local expression of the larger body of Christ. The burden to begin having joint services in the old tabernacle at Lowmansville grew, and it was felt by several area pastors.
Coinciding with prayer, backed up by donations, and supported by the East District leadership, the tabernacle on the campgrounds at Lowmansville was restored and reopened to worshipers in 2015. Since then, the camp meeting has attracted guests from across the region and beyond, including parts of Ohio and West Virginia. This year, twenty-nine different congregations were represented at the camp meeting.
Jeff Justice serves as the chairman of the East District. He reflects, “Our pastors came to view camp meeting as a time that brings about yearly revival. It strengthens our identity as the church, bringing us into contact with one another in a way that, for many years, we just didn’t have. Camp meeting has allowed us to look back at our heritage as the Church of God and, at the same time, move forward for generations to come.”
Feature (top) photo: Camp meeting service in eastern Kentucky, June 2021.