I grew up attending Pentecostal camp-meetings from the mid to late 70’s. Six nights out of seven that’s where you could find us. If you’ve never been to a camp meeting it is usually a large tent pitched upon a large plot of dirt in an urban setting. Wood chips are strewn across the ground and folding chairs set over the top of them. The meetings would begin around 6pm and could possibly go till 10 or 11 in the evening. The meetings themselves had a particular flow, but were not highly organized to allow for the flow of the Spirit. And the folks that attended were middle to low class. A good mix of the races were represented (Hispanic, black, and white). The classic songs of the day were “O How I Love Jesus,” “Old Time Religion,” and “Soon and Very Soon.” Drums and tambourines kept time and the organ would flow as an undercurrent to all that transpired.
Our preacher’s name was Brother J.D. Hurt, a raspy-voiced, domineering figure who had a big heart for the lost. He would preach extemporaneously, as the Spirit moved him. He would take an offering, talk about a text from the prophet Joel, break into song, and flow into another discourse peppered with affirmations from the saints. A weeping sound would emerge from a deep corner of the room and a reverent hush would fall upon the gathering. Then a sharp and undetectable language would cut through the summer air. A moment would pass before another would decipher its message. “Thank you, Lord’s” and “Hallelujahs” would interject the meeting. Brother Hurt, who sounded a lot like Wolfman Jack, would continue to preach and then like a shot out of no where Bro. Hurt would throw back his head and shout, “My God!” Songs would break forth and a fever pitch would descend. Healing lines formed, dancers moved for the aisles, bodies were ‘slain’ hither and yon, and demons driven far from the premises. It was hardcore church in a hardcore neighborhood. Nothing placid about it.
In 1979 my mother and I moved to Washington state. Although we attended an AG church, it was a fairly composed and sedate lot. Of all my Pentecostal years, never have I had church like these Camp Meeting days in Bloomington California. I often wonder why I was inundated with such raw and unmittigated church in the formative years of my life. But, I wouldn’t change it for anything. I think it stamped me for life. Yes, it spooked me at times, but never, NEVER have I doubted the existence of God and His involvement with His people. And never have I doubted that this God is to be experienced. These meetings remain the best example to me of what it looks like to tabernacle with the LORD. These were ‘wilderness’ years for my mother and I and this was our tabernacle of meeting. We saw the glory of God; a fearful and wonderful thing to behold. Today, I’m in seminary and as I parse the Greek and Hebrew and learn how to handle the Scriptures more wisely I don’t for a second lose sight of these unforgetable days. Although, I would not align myself perfectly with the theology and methodology of the Camp Meetings, the memories still sit warmly (and strangely) in my heart.