One of the oldest camp meetings in North Georgia begins Monday at the historic Antioch Campground on Antioch Campground Road in west Hall County.
Antioch United Methodist Church on Antioch Church Road in the Sardis area itself is celebrating its 200th anniversary, and the camp meeting is believed to have begun as early as 1819 on the same site where services continue this week. A history of the church cites an 1826 deed that transferred the property from Henry Newton to Josiah Prickett. Prickett then transferred the property to the Antioch Campground trustees.
For decades a trumpeter would blow his horn to call worshipers to prayers in the “tents” or cabins before breakfast, then signal the start of services at various hours of the day. At sunset, men would gather at a distance from a quadrangle on one side of the encampment, the women on the other, and they all would worship under the stars.
Members would build fires at night, and candles lighted services under the arbor. Hymns would be sung without musical accompaniment.
As many as four existing tents might be 100 years old, according to Bo Wheeler, chairman of the camp meeting trustees. Other cabins have been renovated, a second bath house has been added and space provided for canvas tents or trailers.
About 100 to 150 worshipers normally attend services, Wheeler said. Services begin at 8 p.m. Monday, and at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. starting Tuesday. The Rev. Randy Strickland and the Rev. Robin Lindsey will preach. Among traditions are each tent providing homemade ice cream served after the Wednesday night service, a hayride and s’mores Thursday night and watermelon Friday night.
Gloria Davidson, 76, has been attending Antioch camp meeting since she was a baby, missing only one year when she had a baby. She remembers having to haul water from a spring, straw floors in the tents and worshiping by lamplight. The tents, or cabins, now have flooring and most modern conveniences.
The original tent her family stayed in during camp meeting was built in 1890, but was replaced with a more modern structure in later years.
She remembers the trumpet sounding the call to worship up until just a few years ago. Nowadays, a bell announces time for worshipers to gather. “We still have the trumpet,” Mrs. Davidson said, “but nobody knows how to blow it.”
Theme for the 200th anniversary of Antioch Church is “200 years spreading the gospel from horseback to Facebook.”
Antioch United Methodist Church’s history begins between 1812 and 1815. Its first building was in what is known as “The Fork,” where the Chestatee and Chattahoochee rivers converge. The original name probably was King’s Chapel, named for its founder Robert King, a prominent Methodist preacher. He was King’s Chapel’s pastor until he died in 1837 and is buried in Antioch Cemetery.
E.M. Johnson, who was the founding force behind Gainesville’s First United Methodist Church, was Robert King’s son-in-law. In his memoirs, Johnson wrote that King’s Chapel moved across the river in 1820 to a log building, and the church renamed itself Antioch. That building was used till 1846 when a larger church was built. That church had separate front doors for men and women. It served the congregation for 120 years until the present building was completed in 1968.
Additions since include the Truslow Hall named in honor of its architect and builder, Marion Truslow.
One of Antioch’s proudest ministries is “Georgia Aid Program” or GAP organized in 1980. It involves youth and adults from Antioch and other churches reaching out to help needy and elderly residents all over the county with painting, repairs, yard work and other projects.
It will be the first Antioch camp meeting for the Rev. Michelle Rawdin, who was recently appointed minister, succeeding the Rev. Diego Orsini. She fills a pulpit preached from by a long line of distinguished pastors who have served the church.
The Sardis area has undergone dramatic changes in recent years with Lake Lanier attracting new residents, businesses and schools. The church and camp meeting continue to be strong. As Mrs. Davidson said, “One thing that hasn’t changed is we have the same spirit. When I think of Heaven, I think of camp meeting because I think heaven is going to be like camp meeting.”
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays.