The Tabernacle at Fountain Campground is a smoldering place where the humid heat can't compete with fire and brimstone.
Funeral home fans wave in the pews. Handkerchiefs wipe foreheads.
And in the pulpit, Rev. Phil Bray scorches through his sermon, espousing that the church of today is in need of merriment.
"This should be a day of jubilation - not tribulation," the Fort Creek Baptist Church pastor shouts from the pulpit. "This should be a day of grace."
For more than 200 years, Fountain Campground has served as a religious retreat for thousands of people with strong religious beliefs. Through the years, they have come from varied backgrounds and have attended old-fashion tabernacle preaching services to rekindle their personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Nestled underneath towering oak and pine trees that provide shady areas from the scorching sun of this time of the year, the faithful came again last week - calling Fountain Campground their home for a week.
It's something that has been going on for more than two centuries with families mainly from Warren and McDuffie counties. Others came from the nearBy counties of Wilkes, Lincoln, Hancock, Jefferson and Glascock
"I've been getting a blessing here for years and years," said Louise Adams of Cedar Rock, who has been attending camp meetings for the past 40 years. "It's the kind of place you want to be at this time of the year. It's a very special place."
A history of worship
People are said to have been coming to Fountain Campground as early as the late 1700s - even though history has the founding of the camp meetings being established in 1822. That would make Fountain Campground 185 years old. In the early days, people traveled for many, many miles By horse-drawn wagons to Fountain Campground. The wagons carried entire families - some numbering as high as eight family members. The wagons were packed with enough food and other supplies to last for an entire week.
At one time, five generations of the Mildred Russell Family, who hail from McDuffie County, attended the annual camp meetings at Fountain Campground, which is located in the Cadley area of Warren County, just a short distance from the Wilkes County line.
"I've been coming here for 91 years, and my Mama came for 97 years," said Mrs. Russell, as she relaxed in a chair last Thursday near one of her grandchildren, Lisa Newsome and Mrs. Newsome's mother-in-law, Patricia Newsome, both of whom reside in Thomson. "It's always been a nice place to come and be with family."
She first came with her three brothers and her parents, the late Gip and Varina Adams.
And when Mrs. Russell, then just 17, married Shine Russell, the couple continued to take the first week of August off every year to attend meetings and camp for the week at Fountain Campground. The same was true when they started their own family, Mrs. Russell said.
"I like being with all my family and seeing all the children playing around us," said Mrs. Russell, who along with her late husband operated Russell's Bait and Tackle for a number of years in McDuffie County.
Patricia Newsome said part of the atmosphere of Fountain Campground is seeing children play.
"Unlike years ago, children don't seem to play outside as much as they used to," she said. "Here, they can run around and have lots of fun as children in a good, safe environment."
Some of the other fun events at Fountain Campground for little children, as well as teenagers included going for an afternoon swim in the river to cool off from near triple-digit temperatures that lingered all of last week.
For 19-year-old Melisa Newsome, a sophomore from Thomson at the University of Georgia, it's a week that allows her to spend time with family and friends.
"I like going to the river, the creek and the bridge," Miss Newsome said. "I like to just hang out at other times and play cards."
Fountain for families
Last week marked the fourth year in a row that McDuffie County Sheriff's Department Deputy Sgt. Mike Hobbs has taken a vacation to stay at Fountain Campground with his wife, Judy, and their four children. Mrs. Hobbs, who works as a secretary with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in Thomson, wasn't able to take off for vacation, but joined her family each evening at meal time and to fellowship with other Christians in the tabernacle services.
"We've camped up here for the last three years," Mr. Hobbs said. "It's a real nice place to come. The kids love it."
There's also the opportunity to attend worship services three times a day.
"You couldn't go anywhere else and have three times a day to worship," Mr. Hobbs said.
In the morning, there is a time of worship for children and then an adult Bible study class in the afternoon. And each night, there is a worship service with a guest preacher underneath the historical tabernacle, which is filled with pews so old and worn that they are slick to the touch. It's a reminder of years past and an idea of how many people have attended camp meetings there.
"If you don't get a spiritual experience while you're here, you probably won't get one anywhere," said Sheilah Johnson, who has been attending the campmeetings with her husband, Ronnie, for years.
Getting away from it all
It's a place of rest and relaxation for many of the camp goers, and camp week is a time to reflect on the past as much as today. Perhaps most importantly though, it's a time when families can get away from the grinding, everyday hustle and bustle of their normal lives and draw closer to God and all the beautiful things He has created.
That's how Rev. David Sisler of Macedonia United Methodist Church in Warren County describes the week-long bonding with the Lord.
Between 40 and 50 percent of his congregation attend the camp meetings and have for years.
"This is a very important part of our ministry at Macedonia United Methodist Church," said Rev. Sisler, who has been affiliated with the campground for the past six years. He serves as the host preacher.
"We have a great time one week out of the year here at Fountain Campground," Rev. Sisler said. "We don't get any newspapers, listen to radios or watch any television"
For Dale Wiley, author of a newly published book, entitled, There is a Fountain - Voices and Stories of an Old-Time Southern Camp Meeting, it is a special time of the year - unlike any he has ever known.
"I can't think of any place I'd rather be this time of the year, but here," said Mr. Wiley during an interview at his tent - overlooking the tabernacle. "Fountain is one of the real touchstones. I think of this place as magnificent, because it's just from a different world."
Mr. Wiley, who lives in Crane, Mo., has been attending the camp meetings on and off in Warren County since he was a little boy.
This year, he brought his wife, Becca, and their three children.
"Every camp meeting brings out a special spiritual message," said Mrs. Wiley. "For me, it's a time of spiritual refueling. I try to live everyday seeking God's will."