By Kaleb Eisele & Fernanda RInza
Every summer there are two words you often hear in Adventist spaces: Camp Meeting. For many who were raised in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, camp meeting is a tradition that extends far beyond the generations of our parents and grandparents. It’s something we may take for granted or assume the people around us know about, but for many people the idea of camp meeting is something new.
Although camp meeting has been held in Oregon annually (with a few exceptions) since 1878, it isn’t necessarily something you learn much about when you join a local Adventist church. There isn’t a class that teaches you about it, and it’s not part of our theology. So when, suddenly, several people in your church start talking about “going to camp meeting” or if you show up to find your church is closed and everyone has left for Gladstone, Oregon, it’s easy to see how it might be confusing!
Camp meeting means a lot to Matt Ballard, the facility operations manager who spends many long hours working with his team to prepare Gladstone Park to host the event. But he also has a deep heart for anyone who may be feeling left out of it all or didn’t grow up experiencing it.
“Camp meeting is a big deal to me,” he shared. “Not just because it’s such a major part of my job, but because of the impact it’s had on me personally over the years. It’s this sense of belonging to something bigger than myself or even my local church – a bigger community, a bigger mission, something that matters. It’s important. Miracles happen here. Camp meeting even happening each year is a miracle – getting the billion parts needed to make it happen all coordinated, staffed, and working together! Think about the children’s programming and activities, the music and classes and seminars, presenters, support staff, campsites, food, facilities, media and A/V needs, and the setup for the auditorium and various divisions. It’s big, and it all has to work together! Camp meeting takes hundreds of people working together to accomplish it each year, and in my opinion, that’s nothing short of a miracle!”
If you’ve never gone to camp meeting, the easiest way to think about the event is as an enormous family reunion – a gathering of people from over 100 local churches in the Oregon Conference that features social events, workshops and seminars, onsite camping, community service projects, and worship with people who are usually hundreds of miles apart from each other!
“People come to camp meeting for a lot of different reasons,” said Matt. “For many, it’s an opportunity to grow closer to God, to learn, and to feel His presence moving in a large body of people. For some it’s more social, a chance to connect with friends and family that they haven’t seen since camp meeting last year. Sometimes a person has had a connection to Adventists in the past––a family member or good friend, maybe––or attended one of our Adventist schools but has never found a local church family that they feel they fit in with. Camp meeting is their opportunity to feel like they belong. For some, it’s tradition, something their family has always participated in for generations. For others it’s important because of all of the children’s programs. Some parents and grandparents come because of their kids. Some people come because of their good memories, good times, and good food like pronto pups or cold treats at the Snack Shack. There’s history here.
The saying, ‘We have nothing to fear for the future lest we forget how God has led us in the past,’ is very relevant to me. In these times we’re living in there are a lot of questions, a lot of fear, and a lot of uncertainty. Remembering how God has led and gotten us through so much over the years is a real encouragement. Peace of mind, trust, and connection are things everyone needs. The stability and familiarity of this place having been here for so many years, knowing that your parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents have walked this campus during their own camp meeting times is comforting to many.”
Unfortunately, one of the traps we can fall into during camp meeting season is to focus so much on ourselves that we don’t spend enough time thinking about our neighbors just across the street. “Our community knows we’re here,” said Matt. “We have an impact on them. When we come to camp meeting we affect traffic, stores, and restaurants. I wish that we were more intentional about inviting them in, and more inclusive in how we think about camp meeting. A lot of people locally attend Follow the Star around Christmas time and love the program and the warm reception that they find there. It would be nice if they felt the same about camp meeting and all it has to offer. Local businesses that I frequent often ask me, ‘Isn’t your big meeting happening pretty soon?’ and I always respond, ‘Yep! Please come join us!’ I tell them all about some of the things happening that they may be interested in. Seeds get planted here. People meet Jesus here because someone invited them to camp meeting. So, bring your family, you friends, and your acquaintances for whatever reason. Come and stay for the week, make day trips, or just come for Sabbath – just come to camp meeting!”
If you want to learn more about the history of camp meeting in the Oregon Conference, check out our article “Camp Meeting Then and Now!” If you want to learn more about this year’s camp meeting, you will find daily schedules, camping information, speakers, cafeteria menu, and more at www.OregonAdventist.org/campmeeting.