Salem holds 186th camp meeting

Salem Camp Meeting 186th annual celebration

Youth and adults gather to pray at the annual Salem Camp Meeting. (Special Photo)

Youth and adults gather to pray at the annual Salem Camp Meeting. (Special Photo)

It was 1969. The dashing young man, who would someday become mayor of his hometown smiled at the pretty piano-playing young lady from Druid Hills and asked her for a date.

That date was extra special, not because he bought her a 10-cent Coca-Cola at the concession stand, but because it was during Salem Camp Meeting, an event that many have come to identify with that couple, Mr. and Mrs. Sam Ramsey of Covington.

After that 10-cent Coca-Cola, more dates followed and Sam Ramsey and Becky Griffin were married the next year.

Today, the couple, along with Mrs. Ramsey’s twin sister, Alice Walker, are among the most well-known and avid supporters of the annual Salem Camp Meeting. Ramsey serves as chairman of its board of trustees and the two sisters play twin pianos at the weeklong worship celebration each summer.

A new feature at camp meeting this year will be the gazebo where guests can gather and drink from its water fountain. Ramsey had the gazebo built in front of the hotel on the very spot where he met his future wife. He has given the new gathering spot this year in honor of his wife and her sister, who have been pianists for camp meeting for 43 years.

Like the Ramseys, many other longtime Salem Camp Meeting attendees have special stories and memories of days and nights spent at the historic tabernacle off Salem Road.

New memories will be made this month as Salem Camp Meeting kicks off its 186th annual celebration Friday, July 11, with a message brought by Alice Rogers at 8 p.m. Supper will be held at the Salem Hotel that night at 6 p.m. The twin sisters will play music on the grand pianos beginning at 7:45 p.m.

Rogers is a lifelong camper at Salem Camp Meeting. The daughter of Bill and Pat Rogers, she grew up in Conyers. Rogers received her bachelor’s degree in English and religion from Converse College in 1983; a masters of divinity degree from Duke University Divinity School in 1986 and a doctor of ministry degree from Emory in 1998.

Now the senior pastor of Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church in Decatur near the Emory campus, Rogers has been an ordained UMC elder since 1987. She has served rural, urban, suburban and inner city churches.

From 2002 until last year, Rogers served as associate professor in the Practice of Practical Theology and directed the Contextual Education and Teaching Parish Programs at Candler School of Theology at Emory. She continues to serve as a faculty member at Candler where she teaches the new Doctor of Ministry Program and the Master of Divinity Degree Program.

Salem Camp Meeting continues through Friday, July 18. Rogers will preach that first night, as well as July 14, 16 and 17, at 8 p.m. and on July 14 and 17 at 11 a.m. Robert Leslie Holmes will preach the 8 p.m. worship services on July 12, 13, 15 and 18 and the 11 a.m. services July 15, 16 and 18.

Holmes was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and came to the U.S. with his wife, Barbara and young son, Gary in 1967. He was honored in Belfast and Dublin for his contributions to the negotiations leading up to the Northern Ireland “Good Friday Accord” that helped bring peace after 30-plus years of political turmoil in that region.

Holmes is a graduate of the University of Mobile, Reformed Theological Seminary and Columbia Theological Seminary. He serves as professor of homiletics and applied theology at Erskine Theological Seminary and professor of preaching the pastoral theology at Reformed Theological Seminary’s Atlanta campus.

He is a contributing editor of “Preaching: The Professional Journal for Those Who Proclaim God’s Word.” Holmes has spoken and taught at universities, seminaries and churches on six continents.

Joining Rogers and Holmes in preaching duties will be Dr. Hal Brady, who will preach the Sunday, July 13, service at 11 a.m. He has a weekly television show through Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasting, serves as a member of the World Methodist Council and chairs the Conference Center Task Force of the South Georgia Conference.

A native of LaGrange, Brady received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia; master of divinity degree from the Candler School of Theology and a doctor of ministry degree from Emory University. He has led UMC congregations in Georgia and Texas for 50 years. Following his retirement, he founded Hal Brady Ministries.

Thomas Roberts will again be in charge of the music. He has been the music director and platform leader for camp meeting since 1989. He served as full-time director of music for United Methodist and Presbyterian churches from 1966-92. He and his wife, Susan served as directors of the Chancel Choir at Christ Church UMC in Florida from 1998-2007.

Twin sisters Ramsey and Walker, who both hold degrees from Agnes Scott College and hold certifications from the American Guild of Organists, have played duets since the age of 5. Walker is organist and director of the Ambassador Choir at Covington First Presbyterian Church and Ramsey is organist and director of music for senior adults at Covington First UMC.

The Revs. Jonathan Anderson and Andrew Covington will serve as youth ministers for camp meeting. Anderson is an associate pastor at Hamilton Mill UMC in Dacula. He graduated from Duke Divinity School in 2012, and counts this year as his 26th camp meeting. Covington is the lead pastor of Connexion Church, a United Methodist community church in Covington. Before planting Connexion Church, he was the minister to students at Conyers First UMC.

From its first supper at 6 p.m. on July 11, the days and nights of Salem Camp Meeting are filled with devotions, classes, activities for youth, special music, the “Wide World of Salem Sports” and many other activities and meals.

Special music sounds like a listing of “Who’s Who” as it will be brought by regional churches through the week. Music will be provided by the Conyers First UMC Choir, First Baptist Church of Covington Choir, UMC of Covington, Salem UMC Choirs, Glenn Memorial UMC Choir, Covington UMC Singing Saints Choir, Cannon UMC Choir, Rockdale Baptist Joyful Singers, Lawrenceville Road Methodist Choir, Belmont Baptist Choir, Salem Baptist of McDonough Choir, Snellville UMC Choir, Covington First Presbyterian Ambassador Choir, Crossroads UMC Choir, Conyers First Baptist Church Choir, Lithonia Baptist Church Choir and the Joyful Messengers.

The 186th Salem Camp Meeting will end on July 18 at 9:30 p.m. with a candlelight closing service.

The 1854 tabernacle, where much of the preaching and singing will take place, is on the National Building Survey as one of the historic buildings in America. The entire campground is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Salem Hotel features a 125-seat dining hall and churches and individuals can make reservations by calling 770-786-4916. Salem Camp Meeting is interdenominational and Ramsey said everyone is invited to attend. All area youth are invited to a special service July 12 at 10:45 a.m.

For a full schedule of each day’s events, go to www.salemcampmeeting.org.

Beth Slaughter Sexton is a freelance writer based in Gwinnett County. Contact her at bethslaughtersexton@gmail.com.