"There's just this great sense of history," said Betty Lake, of Thomson.
She has attended the White Oak United Methodist Camp Meeting all her life, she said last week as she ushered her grandson around the campground between Thomson and Harlem.
Jack Lake, 3, of Cumming, Ga., was more interested in the playground sand than in the campground history.
Meanwhile, his grandmother traced a family story that interlaces with the campground's story. "Our roots go deep here," she said of the campground, which has been host to the camp since 1872.
"Actually, my parents met here," she said of Marshall and Lois (Milford) Howard, both now deceased. "This was the social occasion of the year for the farming community."
As she watched Jack abandon the playground and head to the family cottage, she calculated Jack's relationship to the family members she described.
"We've got lots of generations here," she said. "And sometimes we get confused whether it's 'great' or 'great-great.' "
She said the continued success of the camp meetings requires work. "We're so blessed," she said, because District Superintendent the Rev. Gary Dean has worked hard on behalf of the White Oak meetings.
On a warm Wednesday evening in June, Lake joined dozens of other Harlem and Thomson and nearby families in celebrating the summer session at the campground.
Gladys Rodgers, of Dearing, said she has been attending the summer services under the tabernacle for 51 years. "I came over as a new bride from Dearing," she said. Rodgers said she and husband Billy Rodgers used to bring the children to camp at White Oak. "We were always Methodist," she said.
Marjorie Luckey, 92, of Harlem, said she has been attending White Oak for 60 years. She said the camp has done more than just survive. "I think it's improved," she said. Luckey said she returns each year for the fellowship, the preaching and the music.
Betty (Weathers) Tucker of Harlem remembers visits from another time. "Some of our kinfolk used to own a cabin years ago," she said. "We lived over close to Marshall Church. We'd come over here in a wagon pulled by a mule. We were kids and we enjoyed it. We looked forward to it."
The tradition continued last week, as more young people took part in the evening service, or even participated.
Blake Allen, 17 months, enjoyed his first camp meeting dinner in the arms of his mother, Valerie Allen, with dad Kevin Allen alongside.
Blake is a third-generation visitor to White Oak.
Mariah Wall, 13, of Thomson performed a solo of How Can I Keep From Singing? She is the youngest daughter of Mike and Sharon Wall of Thomson.
Dean, as superintendent of the Augusta District of the United Methodist Church, does not have an individual home church. He oversees 79 pastors who tend to 86 churches. "Some of them serve what we call a circuit," he explained during dinner.
In his comments and prayer during the evening service, Dean said, "With God's help, White Oak is gonna be here for another hundred or two hundred years."
"We have been truly blessed, not that we deserve it," he said. "But by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ."
The six-day summer session ended Friday.
The fall camp meeting is Oct. 14-16. For details, call (706) 556-6746.
Dean led 11 a.m. services each day. The Rev. Tony Crosby of First United Methodist Church in Alma, Ga., was song leader morning and evening.
Rufus Hixon of Appling played the organ, and Mary Edith Kirkland played the piano.
Evening preachers were the Rev. Keith Cox of Burns Memorial UMC, the Rev. Janet McCoy of Devereux Circuit, the Rev. Derrick Rhodes of Kelly Chapel UMC, the Rev. James Hanna of Warrenton First UMC, the Rev. Elizabeth Ackerman of Marvin UMC, and the Rev. Phil Armstrong of Transformation UMC.
Wall, the vice chairman of the White Oak board, said storm fronts helped to dampen the heat each evening. "We had a very good week," he said.