I want to start by saying “Thank you!” for the warm and generous welcome my family and I have received as we’ve joined the West End family. We have met so many kind and wonderful people over the past two weeks, and we are finding ways to get connected and join in the vital ministry that is happening here.
If you were in worship on July 16, you may have noticed that my family and I were absent. I want to tell you about where we’ve been, because it’s a place that is an integral part of my life and my story. We spent the week of July 14-21 in Brownsville, TN, at the Taylors of Tabernacle Kinfolks Campmeeting. Every year, we gather with about six hundred of our closest relatives for a week of spiritual revival. It all started back in 1826, after my ancestors had been converted to Methodism by Francis Asbury. Five sons of Rev. Howell Taylor began gathering with their families and neighbors for a week of preaching and revival, and we have been gathering ever since.
Throughout the week we have two church services a day (five on Sunday, including a Love Feast and a Memorial Service). Every year we invite a guest preacher, and we’ve had some great ones, like Fred Craddock, Will Willimon, Leaonard Sweet, and Ellsworth Kalas. We sing songs out of the old Cokesbury hymnal, which no one needs to open because we know the songs by heart. Usually, the loudest singers are the children and teenagers.
It’s now been almost two hundred years, and still we come from all over the world to those same sacred grounds. We come for family. We come for food. We come to worship. When I try to explain campmeeting to new people, I always get looks of total incredulity. “Wait. You spend a week living in rustic cabins with six hundred relatives and going to church multiple times a day? And you take vacation time to do this?” Yes. Absolutely. Returning to that holy ground every year reminds me who I am—not just as a descendant of the Rev. Howell Taylor but as a Methodist, as a follower of Christ, as a child of God. It is where I was baptized and where I will be buried. It is a place where my children can run free, only to be seen for mealtimes, church, and bed time. It is a place I can go and be loved, no matter what.
I wanted to tell you about campmeeting because, no doubt, in the years ahead you will hear many stories from this part of my life. And, if you ever find yourself driving through West Tennessee during the third week of July, let me know. There’s always plenty of fried chicken and extra room on the pew!