Campmeeting is a unique experience for most Adventists. And while many may have never actually attended a “real campmeeting,” it is something almost all Adventists can identify with.
Yet in the last decade or so, I’ve seen traditional campmeetings slowly starting to disappear. In the Rocky Mountain Conference the big “Western Slope Campmeeting” has ceased to exist primarily due to financial reasons - a trend, unfortunately , that is not likely to turn around anytime soon.
It used to be the last weekend in May that the conference would rent a Christian summer camp and for part of a week Adventists would descend over the property to attend a plethora of meetings from early morning to the late evening, take over the cafeteria with vegetarian meals, set up the ever present ABC booth, buy cases of vegefoods, and be blessed with a level of spiritual and social fellowship that was impossible at almost any other time.
I can remember for the Sabbath church service there were several hundred people attending with standing room only in the big camp auditorium. The extra-long Sabbath sermons didn’t seem to bother us much, as we knew an unbelievable and often serendipitous Sabbath potluck like rarely seen at church, was only minutes away!
In spite of the loss of our conference campmeeting, many people still embrace this tradition.
I recently attended a campmeeting that revived some of those memories. Back in 2000, several individuals in my church decided to start their own alternative campmeeting. One thing they had in common was their love for horseback riding, and so they started “Cowboy Campmeeting.” The first couple of years it was attended mainly by those with horses, but soon other families with a love for the outdoors got involved. And why not? The annual invitation lists activities that include hiking, biking, fishing, trail riding, ATV-ing, singing, making friends and sharing Jesus.
And the best part is the location. The campmeeting is held in one of the most scenic spots (my opinion) in Western Colorado: the Cimarron mountains in the southwest part of the state. The area includes 14’ers (14,000 ft mountains), and while there are none accessible in the immediate vicinity, the mountains close by point to the magnificence of their presence.
This is definitely a more rugged experience than a typical campmeeting. There is no cafeteria, no running water (except the streams nearby), and no auditorium. But there is a big tent that fits 100-plus people that serves as our meeting area. There is always a guest speaker, a guitar-led singing group, and plenty of involvement by the kids. Camping chairs serve as the pews, and the grass is the carpet. If it’s too hot, you open up the side of the big tent, and close it if it starts to rain – as it unfailingly seems to do.
In recent years more and more families have joined the campmeeting with or without horses, to hike, relax, eat, fellowship, and experience Creation’s grandeur up close. Some travel as far as six hours away to be there. Walking through the camp one sees everything from tents, to trailers, fifth wheelers, and a motor home or two.
It also attracts some surprising people: Dr. John Wagner, the president of Union college attended this year and set up a little table in the back of the tent with a scattering of free pens and a bucket of logoed chapsticks. While there he gave a short talk on Union College, but I think he mainly enjoyed the beauty of the surroundings, like the rest of us.
In past years union and conference administrators have shared the pulpit on Sabbath, from presidents, treasurers, ministerial and youth leaders, to local pastors.
Meetings are a big part of the experience, but there are not as many as at traditional campmeetings. Typically there are just morning and evening meetings, even on Sabbath. That’s because everyone is out riding horses, 4-wheeling in the high country, or just sitting in the shade of the aspens and pines relaxing with friends. And if I may add, some the best potlucks I’ve experienced - a veritable table in the wilderness - have been enjoyed there. And whoever made the black bean brownies last year, you had me fooled!
Even without a cafeteria, ABC book sellers, or the luxury of running water, campmeetings can still be an integral part of our Adventist experience. They may not be on the scale of former campmeetings, but as long as there are Adventists we will find a reason to meet, share, encourage one another, pray together, and enjoy the magnificent outdoors in praise of our Creator.