Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/640

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622
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

EVOLUTION OF THE CAMP-MEETING.
By JOSEPH PARRISH, M. D.

HALF a century ago, camp-meetings were chiefly the outgrowth of Methodist zeal and enthusiasm. They were a sort of religious holiday, when good men and women who were loyal to their convictions, and earnest to disseminate the truth as they understood and believed it, came from far and near, in sparsely settled regions of country, to kindle afresh in the hearts of each other the fervor and inspiration of their peculiar dogmas and methods.

Ox-teams and hay-wagons, the old-fashioned chaise and chair, the side-saddle and cart, were among the means employed to reach the place of meeting. Many also went on foot, making a long and weary pilgrimage. Congregations joined each other, employed their own means of transportation, carrying their own society tent and commissariat; and thus thousands came together with but one single object in view, which was, in the language of their distinguished founder, "to spread holiness throughout these lands." Their greatest preachers were called to join and help them; and, with characteristic fidelity, and sacrifice of personal ease, ecclesiastics of highest renown joined in the simplest and rudest methods of tent-life, and labored with power and efficiency to bring the thoughtless and wandering to a better and a higher life.

The preaching was simple, direct, and powerful, and the result was, large accessions to the church. A camp-meeting was a sort of religious harvest-home, an ingathering of fruit from seed that had been sown during the year, in local churches, as well as from the direct influence of the special services. In addition to this, old fellowships were renewed and fraternal interests and greetings were revived, and, at its close, thousands of the faithful scattered to their homes again, with renewed assurances that camp-meeting work was a blessing to themselves and to others. Such was the old-time line of thought and expression. But now, times have changed. Population has increased rapidly, facilities for travel have multiplied, the desert and wilderness have been penetrated by railroads, and the adventurous frontiersman is not without numerous companionships.

Towns and churches have grown up, as the migrating crowds have moved on in one continuous caravan, until the mountains, and the Pacific slope beyond them, are already occupied; and we find prosperous settlements of miners, farmers, and adventurers of all kinds and grades, dwelling in the midst of each other. The fathers in the olden time would have looked to the West, with its moving multitudes, and planted their tents to capture them; but modern Methodism plants the churches as the people settle, and, to preserve the