Special Photo ---- Youth, including, from left, Maddie Mooneyham, Blakely Bryant and Marissa Mooneyham, enjoy a cool drink on the George cabin porch at the Smyrna Presbyterian Church Campmeeting.
Since 1825, generations of believers have gathered for the old-time campmeeting hosted by Smyrna Presbyterian Church. It is again campmeeting time and oldtimers and newcomers alike will gather together Friday, June 21, through Thursday, June 27, at the historic campground located at 2920 Ga. Highway 212 in Conyers.
"For a lot of people, it is a form of homecoming," said Rosa Lee, a longtime campmeeting participant. "It's relaxing, a slower pace and multi-generational. So many times we let our tastes in things come between us, but everybody agrees on campmeeting... There's something refreshing about worshiping outdoors. It's relaxing and joyful, not to mention the good food."
In "Glory Through The Ages," a history of the church listed on its website, campmeeting was first mentioned in the Bible when the Israelites, under the leadership of Moses, camped on Mt. Sinai and built a temple there to worship God after fleeing captivity in Egypt.
"People who love the Lord have met for years at churches for religious services where they would camp for several days," Smyrna's history passage states. "Since many churches were too small to accommodate all the people seeking Christ, the congregation moved outside and built a tabernacle. Campmeetings began in America around 1800 in Kentucky and Tennessee. In 1811, there were approximately 400 meetings. They grew quickly in popularity and by 1820, some meetings had over 30,000 participants."
As Smyrna Campmeeting carries on that long tradition, it will have worship services in the tabernacle each evening at 7:30, with guest preachers and musicians from across the region.
Lee, an 11-year veteran of Smyrna Campmeeting and former music minister at Smyrna Presbyterian Church, is coordinating the music this year which will feature local performers as well as the renowned Ugandan Thunder, a children's singing group, as it completes its U.S. tour before returning to Uganda. The group travels the country each year to raise support for around 5,000 orphans back home, Lee said.
Bailey Bala, a 14-year-old girl who Lee says has been singing semi-professionally for a number of years, will also perform at campmeeting. Her family has been long-time campmeeting folks, and her great-grandmother, a member of Smyrna Presbyterian, has the distinction of having a 60-year perfect attendance record at Sunday School.
The bluegrass group Hicks With Kicks will also be part of the musical lineup for this year's campmeeting. The group is the house band at Springs Presbyterian Church in the Morningside community of Atlanta.
The preaching at campmeeting each year is always much anticipated by participants and this year it will be shared by the Rev. Joan Gray of the Greater Atlanta Presbytery and Grant Whittenbarger of Zion Baptist in Covington.
A homecoming service will be held on Sunday morning at 10:30, with Kyle Kyzer, a recent seminary graduate who grew up at Smyrna preaching the morning service.
Gray, a native of South Carolina, will preach Friday through Sunday evenings. The first woman ordained to pastor a church in the Atlanta Presbytery, Gray is a graduate of Presbyterian College and Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur. She has served 10 churches in the Atlanta area as lead pastor, associate pastor and interim pastor.
She is the author of "Presbyterian Polity for Church Officers," "Spiritual Leadership for Church Officers" and "Sail Boat Church: A God-powered Adventure," to be released next year. She is married to Bill Gray, an attorney and ruling elder. They live in Atlanta where the Rev. Gray is co-interim pastor of the Peachtree City Presbyterian Church. She is a former moderator of the General Assembly for the Presbytery.
Whittenbarger will lead the Monday through Thursday evening worship services. He and his family are from Chattanooga, Tenn. Whittenbarger attended Southeastern Baptist College and earned his master's and doctorate from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. He has led churches in Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Whittenbarger was a teenager at Hixon First Baptist Church in Chattanooga, where the father of his future wife, Rhonda, was the pastor. The couple married in 2000 and are the parents of three children.
Kyzer, who will lead the homecoming service, grew up in Conyers where Smyrna was his church home. After graduating from Presbyterian College, Kyzer graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary where he graduated with a master's degree in divinity in 2012. He now lives in Greenville, S.C., where he has founded Common Cup Coffee and Tea, a coffee house ministry.
Bible study led by Porterdale native Darrell Huckaby will be held Monday through Friday during campmeeting at 11 each morning. Huckaby is a retired educator, Citizen columnist, noted author and radio personality. Classes for children of all ages will also be offered at that time. A nursery is provided for all services.
Lanier Gable and Betty Sharpe will return for their 37th year as campmeeting song leader and pianist. Pre-service music begins at 7 each evening.
Beth Sexton is a freelance writer based in Gwinnett County. If you have a story idea, contact Karen Rohr, features editor, at email@example.com.