Saturday, October 17, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 18

Centenary Camp Meeting Begins in Washington County, October 24, 1839

“Centenary” was once a favorite Methodist word. There are churches named Centenary. The denominational college in Shreveport, Louisiana, is Centenary. There are many examples of centenary campaigns for causes such as missions, church extension, and so on. The word seems to have lost its place to “centennial” in recent years.

Perhaps the three most important centenary celebrations were held in 1839, 1884, and 1919. The 1839 celebrations honored the memory of the organization of the first Methodist societies in England in 1739. In 1884 Methodists remembered the creation of the Methodist Episcopal Church at the Christmas Conference in Baltimore. The 1919 celebration was in honor of the organization of the Methodist Mission Society and the first official Methodist missionary enterprise. It was to Wyandot Indians in Ohio in 1819.

Although Texas was still a remote area of the Mississippi Conference in 1839, Texas Methodists gave special emphasis to the Centenary in their fall camp meetings that year. One such was held in Washington County about eight miles south of Independence. Homer Thrall reports that over one hundred conversions occurred there. This camp meeting lasted six days.

How did the preachers maintain the interest of the campers for six days? One answer, of course, was by employing as many preachers as could be found. Another was the use of theatrical effects. The most dramatic of such effects was reported to have been used by John Haynie, famous for his work in Travis and Bastrop Counties. It is reported that Haynie, who was already a mature man when he came to Texas, would dismiss the campers to their tents. At midnight, after the campers had retired, he would blow a trumpet, light torches, and appear in the pulpit with a white robe, long white beard, and preach a sermon. “No, this wasn’t Judgment Day, but it might have been. Would you have been ready? Etc.” After a few camp meetings, the performance lost its surprise effect.

D. N. V. Sullivan preached so poetically at the Centenary Camp Meeting in Washington County, that a record of his sermon has been preserved. Sullivan was winding up the meeting. One of the business items was announcing the schedule of future camp meetings. Let’s pick up the story from Homer Thrall.

. . .. . .the time of the next big camp meeting could not definitely be fixed. It would be held on the bank of a river near a large spring whose waters were as clear as crystal. It would be a beautiful campground shaded with trees bending with fruit. None of the campers would suffer from sickness. All would be happy, as they would leave sorrow and sighing behind them, and God would wipe the tears from their eyes. They would need no light, for God would illuminate the scene. And, as to death, those who pitched their tents on the bank of the river would die no more. The wreaths they wore would be fadeless. The songs they sung would roll on ceaselessly throughout eternity. The fine poetic taste of Mr. Sullivan enabled him to make such a talk with inimitable pathos. As the people caught his meaning, a tide of emotion rose in every bosom, and by the time he had his congregation assembling around the big spring, one universal shout was heard over the encampment.


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