Adults gathered in rocking chairs and porch swings for after-dinner socializing at White Oak United Methodist Campground on Thursday while children played football in the inner circle or dug for doodlebugs under the camp's central tabernacle.
The choir's gospel floated from the tabernacle as they practiced for the evening's worship service.
A thunderstorm approaches as the United Methodist Church Camp evening service gets underway at the White Oak Campground. Click here for more photos
Photo by Jim Blaylock/Morris News Service
It was the typical routine for the calming time between dinner and the evening service, said Ashley Garner, who has attended the camp's annual eight-day spiritual retreat with her family since she was a small child.
The three cabins, which campers call tents, belonging to Ms. Garner's family housed four generations of her family this year.
"Through the week, more than 70 will come through,'' said Ms. Garner, who is originally from Columbia County but traveled from Woodstock, Ga., to attend the retreat. "It's like a family thing. If you have vacation time, you take it during this week.''
United Methodists have flocked to the camp since it was believed to have formed in 1820. George Smith reportedly preached to between 5,000 and 10,000 people at the campground in 1820 and 1821, according to a reference in The Life and Letters of James Osgood Andrew, written by George Smith in 1882.
The ring of the old bell summoned campers to gather under the tabernacle's roof for the evening worship, which, for the first time during the week, was not held through thunderstorms.
"We have had consistent nights of rain and big crowds, so we are expecting big things tonight,'' said Mike Wall, chairman of the event's board of trustees. "The preacher made a remark that if it continued to rain last night, he was definitely going to preach on Jonah tonight.''
The Rev. Steve Dodson, senior pastor of Trinity on the Hill United Methodist Church in Augusta, did just that Thursday. After being upstaged by the beating rain on the tabernacle's tin roof and having to wait for a break in the waves of rain and thunder to be heard, the Rev. Dodson decided to tell the tale of the Old Testament prophet who endured heavy storms while at sea and being swallowed by a large sea creature while trying to escape God.
"Last night was probably the most fierce rain I have seen in a long time,'' the Rev. Dodson said. "This is the first time I have preached here, and it is exciting.''
The Rev. Dodson was the guest preacher for the weeknight services. He enjoys portraying a colorful character he calls "Pastor Paul'' at speaking engagements, promoting the healing benefits of joy and laughter. Though campers did not meet "Pastor Paul,'' the Rev. Dodson shared some of Paul's humorous stories in his sermon.
The Rev. Dodson got to experience the joy and laughter with campers during a funny storytelling session after dinner.
"This kind of environment brings that out,'' he said. "It's a good healthy environment where families gather together.''