Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Tin Cup

Seven decades ago we attended camp meeting.  Every year.

Camp meeting was held on the camp grounds.  The campgrounds had facilities for lodging.  It had a dining hall with kitchen.  And most importantly, it had a tabernacle.  A tabernacle is a huge roof supported by posts such that the effect is an outdoor meeting place, but roofed in to keep out the sun and the rain.  But not the birds and insects.  In fact the birds rather liked to nest in the rafters, and the mosquitoes rather liked the people, both of which made for some interesting occurrences during service from time to time.

The tabernacle had a gravel floor, but it was tiered such that everyone, more or less, had a good view of the platform which was elevated in the front of the auditorium.  Just before one got to the platform, there was a tier which was covered with wood shavings, sawdust, if you will, with the mourner's bench between this level and the platform.  This was called the altar, as in the song, "Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid?"

Evangelistic preachers would come to hold the meeting.  The workers usually consisted of two preachers who alternated platform duties, and special singers, usually a young man and his wife who were talented in music.  Sometimes they were not so young, and had their whole family with them.

Now the routine went like this.  The bell-ringer traipsed over the entire grounds, missing none of the lodging places, ringing the rising bell promptly at six in the morning.  This gave people time to rise, say a few prayers, and be at the breakfast line by seven.  Stuff happened between breakfast and the first service at ten o'clock, but for us kids it was mostly a time to do stuff without the interference of adult supervision.  Though to be sure, the grounds were patrolled and mischief was not on the agenda.  Ten o'clock:  church service, the whole nine yards, and usually out by noon, except when the people that responded to the altar call were still trying to pray through.  Then the workers and a few of the faithful had to stay with them, trying to break through to heaven.  The rest of us went to lunch.

Church service again at 2:30.

Then supper in the dining hall at five-thirty.

Then the bell-ringer went about, announcing ring meeting.  Ring meeting was held outdoors, as if the tabernacle were not sufficiently outdoors.  People stood around in a ring on the lawn, sang songs, and gave their testimonies.  There was considerable shouting going on.  "Glory!"  "Hallelujah!"

The evening service began at 7:30.  This one was likely to last until well after bedtime for a normal nine-year old boy, because it was in this service that the devil's grip on people's souls must be broken.  The more people that could be swayed to come to the altar, the better.  Sometimes the "invitation" might require the singing of "Just as I Am,"  and "Almost Persuaded," with the "Sad, sad that bitter wail, almost, but lost" lines sung over and over, the preacher having long since worked himself into a lather, falls exhausted in front of the altar to pray, even as the singing continues.  The fellow-worker and the superintendent then are left to close out the invitation and get the prayer-meeting started for real.

This is the story of the tin cup.  To be continued Tuesday.


Jim said...

Wow, what a vivid picture. Thank you for painting it.

I remember "gospel meetings" during my Church of Christ days, comfortably indoors but requiring nine days (four entire weekend days and five weekday evenings) out of every congregant. Very little lather was frothed, however; we Church-of-Christers were a mighty sedate bunch.

I was baptized in that church. After I was dunked, the congregation sang "Just As I Am" a cappella in four-part harmony. I will never forget it.

Shelly said...

How wonderfully you've set the stage. I look forward with anticipation to reading the next part~

Vee said...

You described the setting and activities exactly as I remember them. I have fond memories of those camp meetings and looked forward to them each year.

vanilla said...

Jim, thank you for sharing your experiences! I would love to hear a congregational rendition of "Just as I Am," a cappella in four-part harmony.

Shelly, oh, dear. I fear I may have over-built, given the direction the story may take.

Vee, at my age, I appreciate validation of my memories. I knew I knew what I was writing about!

Sharkbytes said...

Is Your All on the Altar- now there's a song I haven't heard in a while. We had evangelists come for a week at a time, but the cold north didn't get the tent meeting thing.

vanilla said...

Sharkey, I fear the question is one that many of us who would follow Christ do not want to answer. Yielding oneself-- not in man's nature.

Good song, though, and I can still sing the full refrain.