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Campmeeting

It’s that time of year again—time for me to head into the flat, hot cotton fields of West Tennessee for my annual family reunion. If you’ve heard me talk about this before, you know that my family reunion is…a little unusual. It’s a remnant of the old Methodist camp meeting tradition. Members of the Taylor clan, who moved into Haywood County from the Carolinas, started gathering in 1826 for worship, food, singing, prayer and fellowship.

One hundred eighty-six years later, we are over 500 strong. We come from as far away as Spain, California and Canada for this annual tradition. We worship twice a day (sometimes three times). We eat a lot. We sing heartily. We stay up late into the night talking. We baptize the babies and memorialize loved ones who have died. We share stories and laughter. We irritate each other and forgive each other. And we immerse ourselves in the Word of God.

Each year we invite a guest preacher to come and worship with us. That preacher is expected to preach 13 times in one week. Growing up, I always assumed that the preachers just loved coming to Campmeeting and that it must have been a great “vacation” for them. Now I know better. But in spite of the hard work it must be for any preacher, it is an incredible experience and a place unlike any other. In fact, there are some preachers who have returned again and again over the years, because they feel the holiness of the place and a part of the family.

One of the preachers who has come many times over the decades is Dr. Ellsworth Kalas. Apparently, it was my father who first heard Dr. Kalas preach at a revival in the early 1960s and invited him to come to Campmeeting. He has been our preacher every four years since then. Having heard Dr. Kalas during every season of my life, I can say that he is the most influential preacher of my life. He helped me to fall in love with Scripture. His booming voice and wise presence captured my imagination even as a small child, and he opened the wonder and the fun and the power of the Bible to me.

Some of you may have heard him preach before. You may have used some of his Sunday School resources in which he takes parables or the Beatitudes or the Christmas story and looks at them “from the backside.” Or you may have take Christian Believer, for which he was the primary author. He has a way of seeing new things in Scripture and making you feel like every sermon is going to reveal some new message from God.

Dr. Kalas will be preaching at Campmeeting again this year. He will only be there for the weekend because he is now in his mid-eighties and probably does not wish to preach 13 times in one week. (I will only be there through Monday as well, since I’m due at Jurisdictional Conference on Tuesday morning.) But as my family and I drive west toward Brownsville this Friday, I will be giving thanks for another chance to hear Ellsworth Kalas. I can’t wait to see what Bible stories he chooses. I can’t wait to learn something new from him. I can’t wait to be in his wise, gracious and kind presence. And I thank God for all he means to me and to the Taylors of Tabernacle. I’ll take good notes and share with you what I learn.