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The bells are tolling for the Methodist Camp Meeting
Bell at campground
The bell calling people to the annual Camp Meeting at the Methodist Campgrounds will sound again. - photo by Photo provided

This year, thanks to some work of a few good Methodist men, an old tradition will again be revived at the 211th annual encampment of the Effingham United Methodists. The bell has been restored and is ready to be tolled for services. Betty Waller recalls the bell always rang a few minutes ahead of services and then again when services started.  A gentleman who was mentally challenged named Cecil Edwards, now deceased, rang the bell for services for many years. Margaret F. Edwards remembers the delight he had in ringing that bell. He usually wore a blue seersucker suit and light colored straw hat.  The old bell will again announce services for 2011.

Betty Waller recalls that they usually built a bonfire at night and would have boiled peanuts on Monday night, then all the young folks would walk to Springfield and back in the late evening after church. Sometimes they had folk dancing and lots of activities.
Carolyn N. Seckinger remembers tenting with the youth and attending five services a day.  There was a devotion time before breakfast, a service at 11 a.m., an afternoon service at 3 p.m. and then worship at 7:30 p.m. The youth also had evening vespers or a prayer service later.

She remembers that the young people went down to Log Landing to swim as part of their recreation. She nearly drowned as an inexperienced swimmer and her life was saved by Neil Ratchford. She recalls her parents bringing her with her mattress and bed linens to the tent. Her mother let her take a nice bedspread for her bed.

On the last evening her father was tired and in haste they loaded the bedding in the truck and went home. They arrived without Mother Mary’s bedspread and even went back to look for it unsuccessfully. Her mother never forgot this.

Retired Rev. Earl Seckinger recalls tenting with his mother’s family, Uncle Bertie and Aunt Annie Rahn. They took care of a cook and food for the week. Brother Earl remembers that his uncle brought soda crackers for the children and this was to him a very special treat. His most memorable Camp Meeting was in 1949 when he accepted the call to a life of service in the ministry along with another, Rev. James Clary. During the 1970s, he and wife Carolyn served as youth counselors.

In the old days the area was fenced so that roaming cattle stayed out of the Camp Ground.  Way back at the fence line, Betty Waller recalls the old privies or outhouses which none were sorry to see replaced with nicer bathrooms in later years.

Shirley (Dasher) Palmer recalls tenting with her father’s family in the Nease Tent. They prepared the tent for the week with loads of fresh pine straw covering the dirt floors in the crude cabins. Most memorable to her is seeing all of her aunts kneel on that straw in prayer.

Margaret Edwards recalls how they went from primitive to improved conditions and now the Youth Tent and dining hall are air conditioned. It is like a swanky hotel now, she tells the campers, compared to her childhood in a very hot building.

Conditions have changed over the years for the preachers, too. They camped in a tent that resembled a house with a porch, Betty Waller remembers. Their quarters improved to the small block building where the bell is located. It was known as the Rev. Thad Nease tent named for an Effingham native pastor. Now the pastors stay at Ebenezer Retreat in cabins or a motel unless lucky enough to visit with relatives.

Even though it is a little more modern, the week of worship free of many comforts of home like air conditioning and television, is a spiritual renewal and a wonderful time for the Methodists in Effingham. The singing of hymns will carry across the grounds, the ceiling fans in the tabernacle will spin and the smells of fried chicken will permeate the air in the tents. Prayers will be said often and the Bible and God’s word will be studied as the sermons are preached.

The Methodists will be happy for you to join them anytime beginning on July 15 in Camp Meeting worship, fellowship and that good old time religion.

This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: