COVINGTON - One of the longest standing local traditions is about to get under way again.
The 181st Salem Camp Meeting will take place July 10 to 17 at Salem Camp Ground.
The non-denominational event draws thousands of worshipers each summer. Some bring their RVs or set up residence in one of the cabins, called "tents," on the campground. Others stay at the 32-room Salem Hotel, located on site. Others just come to visit.
"It's not just for people staying on the campground. We want people in the community to come," said Sam Ramsey, chairman of the Salem Camp Ground Board of Trustees.
Camp Meeting will kick off July 10, with supper at Salem Hotel, followed by an 8 p.m. worship service. Thereafter, worship services will take place at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. daily.
Ramsey estimates 10,000 people from 15 states attended last year, and he's expecting a similar turnout this year. Many families have been participating for generations. Ramsey has attended every year of his life.
"I'm 70. I always say I've been here 71 years because my mother was there in August before I was born in December," he said.
"I think the main reason people come is to hear the outstanding preaching we have. That and the music," he added.
Over the years, 125 preachers from all over the country have participated in Camp Meeting. This year, Dr. Richard A. Hunter and Dr. David Dykes will officiate.
Hunter previously served at Allen Memorial Church in Oxford and is pastor at Snellville United Methodist Church.
A native of Birmingham, Ala., he graduated from Chandler School of Theology in 1983 and received a Doctor of Ministry degree from McCormick Theological Seminary.
While serving as pastor at Hillside United Methodist Church in Woodstock, Hunter helped develop the birthing congregations model. The church birthed two daughter churches, and the model is being used throughout the denomination.
Hunter and his wife Meri have two children, Anna and Austin.
Dykes has been preaching since age 17 and now is the pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas.
Dykes grew up in South Alabama and received his bachelor's degree from Samford University and a Master of Divinity degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
He has published articles in Moody Monthly, Church Administration and Guideposts and is the author of six books.
His wife Cindy travels the country speaking to women's groups. They have two daughters, Jenni and Laura Grace.
Special musical guest Florence Fowler Peacock from Chapel Hill, N.C., will perform patriotic tunes on Sunday along with the choirs of Covington First United Methodist Church and Salem Methodist Church.
Thomas R. Roberts will return as music director and platform leader, a position he has held since 1989.
Alice Walker and Becky Ramsey, twin sisters who play the piano and organ, will also perform. The two have been performing at Salem since 1971. Both received bachelor's degrees from Agnes Scott College and have earned two certifications from the American Guild of Organists.
Walker is the organist and director of senior adult choir at Covington First Presbyterian Church.
Ramsey is organist and director of music for senior adults at Covington First United Methodist Church and organist at Oxford College.
Both have performed in Europe and Canada and have played some of the largest pipe organs in the world.
Salem Camp Ground is located at 3940 Salem Road in Covington. For more information, visit www.salemcampmeeting.org.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.