CONYERS -- Like a family gathering in the summertime, one of the longest standing local traditions is about to get under way again.
The 182nd Salem Camp Meeting will take place July 9-16 at Salem Campground.
The nondenominational 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.
Sam Ramsey, chairman of the Salem Camp Ground Board of Trustees, said he expected 10,000 people overall to attend the camp meeting. He said 500 people stay on the campgrounds during the week while others come to attend the services.
"Once you get sawdust in your shoes, you can't shake it," Ramsey said. "It kind of has that feel of one big family, a homecoming in a way. Some folks can only come for the services while other folks come just to be here."
And then there's the preaching. Hundreds of preachers from all over the country have participated in camp meeting. This year, Dr. John Ed Mathison and Dr. David D. Swanson will officiate.
Mathison is the former senior minister of Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church in Montgomery, Ala., which is one of the largest Methodist churches in the United States.
Swanson is the senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Orlando. His congregation is listed among the largest in the Presbyterian Church, USA.
The campgrounds will have a new pavilion completed for the camp meeting. The structure was built to look like a small tabernacle and includes two shuffle board courts "for the young and old to interact," Ramsey said.
The area around the natural springs has also been refurbished and the dining hall in the campground hotel will be redone.
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 of arts 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. She is married to Sam Ramsey.
Both Walker and Ramsey have performed in Europe and Canada and have played some of the largest pipe organs in the world.