COVINGTON -- What congregants refer to as the "sweet, sweet spirit of Salem" is something you can't understand until you've experienced it. Those who have are extending an invitation to the Newton and Rockdale communities to join them in worship during the 183rd Salem Camp Meeting, set for July 8-15 at Salem Campground.
As many as 10,000 people are expected to attend this year. Some will bring their RVs or set up residence in one of the cabins, called "tents," on the campground. Some will stay at the 22-room Salem Hotel. Others will just come to visit for a few hours.
But all are welcome, regardless of religious denomination, both old-timers and newcomers alike. Sam Ramsey has been attending the camp meeting his whole life. His great-great-grandfather, George Cunningham Jr., was a founder. Now seven generations of the family have worshiped there.
"I always say if you get sawdust in your shoes, you can't get it out," Ramsey said, referring to the wood shavings that cover the floor of the tabernacle. "The truth of the matter is the reason I keep coming back is the great preaching. We've had some of the top preachers in the country to come."
This year, Don Martin, former pastor at Covington First United Methodist Church, will be one of two featured preachers. Martin is senior pastor at Alpharetta First United Methodist Church.
He will be joined by Brian Dunks, pastor at Columbus Avenue Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, a church with 6,500 members.
Thomas R. Roberts will return as music director and platform leader, positions he has held since 1989.
Camp meeting will get under way with supper at Salem Hotel at 6 p.m. Friday, July 8. Services will be held daily at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. through Friday, July 15. Additionally, there will be morning devotional services at 7:30 a.m., July 11-15. Services will feature various choirs from the local and surrounding area, and a special patriotic service will take place Sunday. Throughout the week, there will be lots of youth activities, Bible classes and time to just sit back and enjoy the shade trees and good conversation.
"It's not only the fellowship, but what we call the sweet, sweet spirit of Salem is always present," Ramsey said. "It's just something I never have missed a year of in my 72 years and I wouldn't want to miss a year. I would fly home every year when I was in the Air Force to come home to camp meeting. It doesn't seem like the year is complete without attending camp meeting."
Ramsey urged those who've never been to Salem to come out and experience it for themselves.
"It's one of those unique things Newton County can offer somebody. If you haven't been, you're really missing out on one of the real treats in Newton and Rockdale," he said.
Founded in 1828, Salem Camp Meeting is one of the oldest in the nation. The tabernacle at Salem is on the National Building Survey of the Library of Congress as one of America's historic buildings and the entire campground was put on the National Historic Register in 1998. The experience at Salem has been captured by articles in Smithsonian and Time magazines. The campground is located at 3940 Salem Road between Covington and Conyers.
Meals are served daily at Salem Hotel at 8 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling 770-786-6841.
For more information on camp meeting and to download a daily schedule of events, visit www.salemcampmeeting.org.