This Week in Texas Methodist History March 27
What’s the difference between Revival, Camp Meeting, and Protracted Meeting?
“Fort Worth getting pious. Twenty-five converts as a result of a Methodist protracted meeting were baptized there last Sunday. Now let Dallas beat the record if she can, says the Waco Examiner. . .” March 30, 1892
As we examine the documents of Texas Methodist history, we notice the terms “revival,” “camp meeting,” and “protracted meeting.” Although there the three terms mean something very similar, there were actually some differences between them.
At the risk of over simplification of phenomena that lasted well over 150 years in Texas and varied in style from place to place, we will try to distinguish them.
First, we must acknowledge that our ancestors considered revivals, camp meetings, and protracted meetings absolutely essential to the life of the church. They would consider our practice of weekly Sunday worship services plus special Holy Week and Advent services as strange indeed. Their religious life was marked by intense periods of activity once or twice per year rather than weekly services. Remember that most Methodists belonged to churches that were “preaching points” on a circuit which the circuit rider visited only periodically.
The earliest recorded religious meetings in Texas (1834, 1835) were camp meetings, but were just called “meetings.” The participants camped in pleasant settings because there were no church buildings. Sometimes the organizers would have prepared a simple structure called a “brush arbor,” and split logs to serve as benches. The meetings usually began on a Friday and concluded with Sunday evening services. Through the 1840s and 1850s the most common meeting occasion was the quarterly visit of the presiding elder who would usually arrive in time for a Friday evening service, hold conference on Saturday, and then have three worship services on Sunday. The presiding elder would then leave on Monday; hopefully having collected his “quarterage” (what we now call apportionment). By the following Friday he would have arrived at the next circuit.
During this same era, in the more populated North, the “protracted meeting” was taking shape. The purpose of the protracted meeting was not to revive the spiritual life of the existing congregation—that was a revival. The purpose was expressly to convert sinners and save them from an eternity of hell.
The first known reference to the phrase “protracted meeting” was D. Griffiths, Two Years Residence in the New Settlements of Ohio (1835). The practice seems to have originated in New England and the “burned over district” of Upper New York state. The area opened to settlement by the construction of the Erie Canal experienced such an outpouring of religious fervor that it became known as the Burned Over District—meaning both that it had been touched by the Holy Spirit and that the bonfires associated with night time meetings made the area glow with the flames.
A standard protracted meeting was at least eight days, encompassing two Sundays, but as the institution evolved, they became longer and longer---some even lasted two months. After all, as the Evangelical Harp (1845) stated “Preaching on the Sabbath day will never convert the world. The Apostles disputed daily in the Temple. “
David Ayres, prominent Texas Methodist layman, had lived in Ithaca, New York prior to his removal to Texas and had experienced the meetings there.
We have no record of “protracted meetings” in Texas until after the Civil War.
By the time the institution got to Texas, it had been partially tamed. Most churches on a circuit in the 1890s did have a protracted meeting yearly, but it usually lasted only a week. Usually it was conducted by the preacher in charge of the circuit, assisted by local preachers in the area. This distinguished it from revivals and camp meetings during the same era—they usually had visiting evangelists who provided most of the preaching. (to be continued next week).