Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Camp Meetings & the U. B. Church

So far, we have no photos from Orlando camp meetings, so we've collected images of similar places and similar times. Click on the images to enlarge them.

To the right: Early 1800s Methodist camp-meeting preacher Lorenzo Dow. See comment 1
Center left: a photograph of Ruggles Camp, KY annual camp meeting in 1910. 1
Bottom right: This recent water color of an 1805 event is titled Camp Meeting: Trumpets at Sunrise.2

Even before the Orlando United Brethern Church and the Mt. Zion Methodist Protestant Church were established there were camp meetings. David Parmer shows us how camp meetings were used to build the congregations and how they led to the establishment of the U. B. Church in Orlando.

by David Parmer
Many of the early church meetings were revivalist in nature and were efforts to introduce the citizenry to religious precepts and inculcate the minds of Orlando residents of the necessity for organized church teachings. The early religious meetings in Orlando were referred to as “camp meetings.” Since there were no church buildings, traveling ministers organized “tent or open air” meetings to accommodate the large number of attendees. In addition to spreading religious zeal, these meetings were also social gatherings for the people in the area. Some writers who chronicled early religious camp meetings in the United States often remarked on the large number of illegitimate births which occurred nine or so months after the meetings, proving perhaps that people are not only religious in nature but also human. No research was undertaken to determine whether that happened in Orlando.

There seems to have always been an affiliation between the Methodist and United Brethren Churches in Orlando.

In 1871, Pastor R. Wood conducted a revival meeting in the Oil Creek area. Of course, there was no town at that time in the Orlando area, the inhabitants living in scattered farms in the Oil Creek, Clover Fork and Three Lick areas. Two years later, Pastor R. Wood conducted another camp meeting in the Oil Creek area. This camp meeting lasted nine days.

In 1882, Reverend H. R. Hess visited the Oil Creek area for a union camp meeting and appeared to have been relatively successful in his efforts. Most of those who were converted (forty four) chose to join the Methodist Protestant church.

In 1910, Pastor V. F. Williams conducted a union revival in the now booming railroad town of Orlando. Of the twenty four souls who were converted, half of them chose to become United Brethrens. Pastor Williams again returned to Orlando in 1912 and 1913 for a revival and converted approximately thirty seven citizens.

In 1917, Reverends F. G. Radabaugh and L. L. Westfall joined forces to serve the Orlando area with religious fervor and inspired the Orlando United Brethren to commence the building of a church building in 1918 which almost became ready for occupancy in 1919.

Reverend L. L. Westfall was the first United Brethren minister to serve Orlando parishioners in the new church building which opened in 1919. The building was to be dedicated by Dr. William E. Schell, but was not, since the church was a little short of being ready because of a delay in installing windows and pews. Along with Dr. Schell, former pastor V. F. Williams made an appearance, along with Reverend W. A. Lydick and Reverend F. G. Radabaugh to preach to the nearly three hundred congregants who attended.

Finally in 1920, the Orlando United Brethren Church was dedicated. At this time Pastor L. L. Westfall was in his fifth year of service to the United Brethrens of Orlando. Attending the dedication was Reverend W. A. Lydick of Frenchton, Bishop W. M. Weekley, Reverend J. F. Pritchard, and Pastor Cutright. At this time the Trustees of the United Brethren Church in Orlando were W. T. Riffle, Joseph F. Skinner, and Wade Blake, son of C. V. Blake who died earlier in the year. C. V. Blake was been an active, devoted proponent of the United Brethren faith in Orlando.

Thus began a formalized United Brethren Church in the important railroad center of Orlando. This church served as an important part of the religious and social life of Orlando for nearly fifty years thereafter.

1. "Ruggles Camp, site of the annual camp meeting sponsored by the United Methodist Church, 1908. Local teenagers commonly quipped, "More souls were made than saved" and "the buggies' creaking sounded like crickets." Contributed by Jean Clark Smoot to the Ohio River Portrait Project, Kentucky Historical Society Collections.

2. Francis Asbury was the founder of American Methodism. Eric Jennings painted a series of watercolors based on text in Francis Asbury's journal. Trumpets at Sunrise, seen to the right here, is from that series:
"In 1805, Asbury received a report about the success of evangelical camp meetings. 'At sunrise the trumpets gave the signal for morning prayer,' and for preaching at 8am, 3pm, and 8pm. The camp contained 189 tents and covered wagons, the preaching stand had a sounding board roof, the congregation arriving in 1,000 carriages was 7,000 increasing to about 10,000. Some 200 conversions were recorded by nightfall when, with 37 preachers on the stand, the trumpets signalled farewell."

comment 1:
David Parmer
One of the earliest revivalists was a Methodist circuit preacher named Lorenzo Dow (pictured to the right). Dow was born in Connecticut in 1777 and died in 1834. Dow traveled all over the United States including the backwoods of Virginia in what is now West Virginia preaching a fiery evangelism, challenging the wicked ways of the frontier and converting many to his cause. He made use of the open air meetings or camp meetings and hundreds and thousands would come to hear him preach the Word.

Genealogists often run into the name “Lorenzo Dow” as the given names of males born in the early 1800s. Many years ago I was asked by a distant relative for information on Lorenzo Dow Heater who was born in the Orlando area in the early 1800s. I was struck by the name and doing a little research found that many children born in what is now central West Virginia were named “Lorenzo Dow”. This is a testament of the influence the revivalist camp meeting preacher had on those who heard him preach.

A fictional version of Lorenzo Dow was Elmer Gantry, a character in a book of the same name by Sinclair Lewis. Although Lorenzo Dow was not particularly noted for being a womanizing evangelist, and despite his appearance, which was sometimes ragged and unkempt, his power as a religious orator produced an ardor bordering on heated passion in some of his adherents at his camp meetings. Critics of Dow pointed to camp meeting sexuality which seemed to go hand in hand with his brand of evangelism.

comment 2: Donna Gloff
Two comments by the Rev. David Sutton, in his History of Braxton County and Central West Virginia, (published in 1919) offer additional insights.

About the "spiritualism" (what we call "spirituality" today) of the 1800s: “The M. E. Church was once a great spiritual power in this county, but it has so changed its manner of worship that formalism has taken the place, at least to some extent, of spiritualism and this has all occurred in an incredibly short space of time, possibly thirty years or less.” - pg 232.

About denominations working together, like the Methodists and United Brethern did by holding joint camp meetings: "It was about the year 1808 when the first ministers found their way into what is now Braxton County. These were a Baptist minister by the name Mathew Mattox and one of the name Jamison representing Methodism. They preached once a month at private houses, that of Col. John Haymond being a regular appointment or both." -pg 229

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