For Methodists in southeast Mississippi, October is camp meeting time. At 194 years strong, Salem Campground will host its annual revival, albeit with precautions for health safety due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This year’s revival is set the first full week in October with three services on most days. Although the event takes place outdoors beneath an open-air tabernacle, masks will be required as well as a social distancing of six feet. Singing will be limited and children/youth activities have been canceled due to the logistics of disinfecting the indoor facilities where those activities traditionally take place.
The storied wooden tabernacle has been wired for the Internet, and services will be live-streamed via a public Facebook page called “Salem Campmeeting” with no space in the word camp meeting because of a different campground in a different state has a similar online page. Salem’s Facebook site also showcases a detailed agenda with specific times of activities and the names of special singing groups.
The event runs Oct. 4-11. A Sunday morning service with the host pastor will begin at 10 a.m. on Oct. 4 with a prayer meeting at 6 p.m. that day. Services with the guest evangelist will start on Mon. Oct. 5 with evening singing and worship at 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Thrice daily services will run Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 a.m. prayer time, 10:30 a.m. morning worship, and 7 p.m. nightly worship. Special singing starts at 6:30 p.m. each evening to set the tone for worship service. The weeklong event culminates Sun. Oct 11 with worship at 10:30 a.m. and closing service at 5 p.m.
Rev. Jonathan Tullos, the pastor for Pleasant Hill and Salem United Methodist Churches, is host pastor for this year’s camp meeting. Pianist for the week is Linda Pierce of Wade. Rev. Andy Stoddard from St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church in Madison will be the guest evangelist with Rev. Johnny Crosby of Eminence United Methodist Church in Seminary leading the music.
Worshippers come from far and near each fall to attend Salem camp meeting, the oldest existing camp meeting in the state. Established in 1826, the campground sits on the Jackson-George county line one mile west of Mississippi 63 at 26900 Salem Campground Road. Many worshippers camp in little wooden cabins they call “tents.” Twenty-two tents surround the tabernacle, and many have been passed down through the generations from founders of the campground.
Camp meetings date to the very early 1800s when Methodist evangelists, circuit-riders as they were called, traveled on horseback to sparsely populated areas to deliver religious messages. Whenever a preacher was in the vicinity, people traveled up to 25 miles to hear God’s word and to fellowship. Upon arrival at the grounds, they stayed several days sleeping in tents and cooking on campfires. People gathered, creating encampments, for a week or partial week of preaching that took place frequently throughout each day. Between sermons, they mixed and mingled leading to the establishment of societies, which organized and governed the meetings.