Campmeeting History Videos
That Old-Time Religion
Since 1843, the faithful have flocked to the Lake Creek Methodist Church's camp meeting held under a giant tent near the church five miles south of Smithton, MO. While there are other camp meetings held in Missouri, this is considered to the oldest such gathering west of the Mississippi River. The 2013 Lake Creek Camp Meeting is scheduled for July 28-Aug. 4, 2013.
-Rural Missouri Magazine
Mission Cast #185
When at the Lake Creek United Methodist Church they say, "We've always had campmeeting," they are not kidding. Since 1834 the Lake Creek Campmeeting has been reaching out to their community to provide Bible School for their children and stirring preaching and Bible study for their youth and adults. -Max Marble
As Lake Creek Campmeeting approaches its 175th anniversary, it is a perfect time to look at its past, the past of Lake Creek Church, and the history of campmeetings in general. The beginning of the campmeeting movement was started by Presbyterians, though it soon became a Methodist institution. The early development of campmeetings can be traced through Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury’s Journal. He was enthusiastic as he heard results of the work. He stated: “God has given us hundreds in 1800, why not thousands in 1801, yea, why not a million if we had faith?” The bishop referred to the revivals as field fighting or as fishing with a large net. On December 12, 1805 he lists a whole series of campmeetings at which many hundreds professed conversion. In 1806, he notes a campmeeting at Long-Calm in Maryland, held in October, at which five hundred and eighty were converted. In 1806, the preachers of Delaware reported 150 days and nights in the woods and 5,368 converted. In August 1808, at Deer Creek in Ohio he notes there were 23 traveling and local preachers present at a great campmeeting where there were 125 tents and wagons and over 2,000 people. By the time of Asbury’s death in 1816 there were at least 600 Methodist campmeetings held in various parts of the country. With the interest of the Methodists came also uniform rules and organization. As early as 1809, Asbury began to urge the permanence of campmeeting locations. This led to the building of tabernacles and cabins on the grounds. Campmeeting, however, was never recognized as an official Methodist institution.
The first German campmeeting in America was organized in 1839 in Mill Creek Valley near Cincinnati, Ohio. The Germans in the area took to the campmeeting with enthusiasm. It was to them an outing with a religious purpose. Lake Creek was one of the first German campmeetings organized, yet within 40 years over 35 were in existence. Today Lake Creek exists as the oldest campmeeting west of the Mississippi River. Some of the early German immigrants in the Lake Creek area had been somewhat organized by a German Methodist Lay Preacher by the name of Francis Walkenhorst who settled in the area in 1839. After he left the area, the families petitioned for a minister to be sent to Lake Creek. In 1843, Sebastian Barth was sent to form the Osage Mission. A generally accepted method of organizing a society in those days was to hold a campmeeting and gather new converts and supporters together. We presume that the first campmeeting was held in the fall of that year, and by the end of the year Barth had organized 15 preaching points that took three weeks to complete.
Although there had been revival type meetings before the development of the campmeeting, there were new and striking elements that added both to the appeal and to the excitement. People of all ages were brought together, both male and female, and they were together day and night. The joy of coming together with a large number of people was a great adventure to these frontier people. The earlier gatherings had been for men only. Following the Cane Ridge all day and all night type meeting, the women were welcome on equal terms with the men. Women were separated from the men in services by a rail, a board, or sometimes a fence, but they were not separated in religious experience. They were even allowed to testify about their experiences. The new social setting brought the feeling of the city to the rural environment, and it became the social gathering of the year.
Northern Methodist B.W. Gorham produced a Campmeeting Manual in 1854. Although camp sites could be in several possible shapes (horseshoe shaped, circular, or rectangular) certain elements were always present. There was always an elevated preacher’s stand and just in front and sometimes to the sides was the area called the mourners’ bench. The longer campmeetings needed to be held when the rural farmers could attend. An ideal time was between planting and harvest, during August when the weather was warm and dry. This time was also ideal for preachers because that was the month before statistics were reported.
Lake Creek Campmeeting Sites
Campmeeting sites were normally chosen near water or creeks for the site had to provide drinking water for people and horses, dry ground, shade, and timber for tent poles and firewood. The first site chosen for Lake Creek Campmeeting was in section 13 of Lake Creek Township just South of Lake Creek. A one-half acre site was purchased from Cord Miller by John Kahrs, Hermann Mahnken, Gerhardt Ringen, Louis Kahrs, and Christian Rages for the purpose of building a Methodist Episcopal Church. The first church of logs was built in 1844. In 1851 this site was expanded to an acre and a half by a new indenture with Cord Miller. The Campmeeting grounds were located just south of where the Lake Creek Cemetery now sits. In 1850, the circuit was divided and the northwestern portion became the Lexington Mission and the southeastern portion continued as the Versailles Mission and was sometimes listed as the Florence Circuit or Lake Creek Circuit. The parsonage was always at Lake Creek.
The second Lake Creek Church building was built in 1856 on land purchased from Gerhard and Adelheid Ringen. It was about a mile northwest of the cemetery and campmeeting site and was near the old Ringen school. Thirty acres were purchased for the campmeeting grounds and church building, however, the campmeeting grounds were never moved to this location. The church and parsonage were built and served for 28 years.
In 1878 the newspaper reports “The German Methodists are holding an old-fashioned campmeeting on the banks of the classic stream known as Lake Creek. It is estimated that 1,500 persons were in attendance Sunday. A more orderly meeting was never held. They reach the sinners through their stomachs, allowing none to go away hungry.”
May 23, 1883, a meeting was held and it was decided to buy 20 acres of land from Emma H. Jackson on which the new church should be built. This is the present location. The trustees signing the new deed were Herman Mahnken, John Gieschen, and Peter Kahrs. The building of the new church was started immediately under the direction of Rev. John Hausam. It was dedicated in 1884. The old church and parsonage and the 30 acres of land were sold and the sum of $485 was realized from the sale. For several years the campmeetings were continued at the old location near the cemetery and the original church. Finally in 1891, the old cabins were torn apart, moved, and rebuilt at the new site. New cabins were also built on the present location, two miles north of the old grounds. Some speculate that the move was finally brought about by population patterns, but there is also a story about a typhoid scare.
A gently sloping area east of the church was chosen as a natural auditorium. The site for the tent tabernacle was laid out and cabins were built on the east, north, and west sides of the tabernacle ground. A visiting preacher’s cabin was built on the center of the south side behind the pulpit area and 100 feet southwest of it was built the Smithton Preacher's Cabin. A permanent wood frame was built for the large tent tabernacle where three large poles supported the center. When the campgrounds were relocated and the position of the new tent decided on, an event happened that we still see today. At the south end of the tent, the group planted 13 oak trees. They were to represent Jesus and the 12 Disciples. The tree representing Judas was separated from the others on the southeast corner. The center tree, the Jesus tree, was planted so that one day the tent rope could be anchored on it. It stands this way today, symbolizing Jesus as the center foundation for the campmeeting.
Campmeeting Worship Schedules and Services
At the turn of the century, a campmeeting goer could attend up to six worship services per day. The first service usually began at 6:00 a.m. and started with the ringing of a bell. It was usually a song and prayer service. Since six to eight preachers were on hand every day there was always plenty of leadership. Before noon at least two more services were held including some Bible classes for children and young people. Following the noon meal there were two more services held in the afternoon. A break for the evening meal was held and then participants were ready for the evening services. A song service usually began the evening followed by the main preaching service. Invitations were always given and many converts were witnessed. In a newspaper article from about 1903-5 we see more about the conditions at the Campmeeting. “The annual meeting at the Lake Creek Campgrounds which opened Friday morning closed at the night service on Tuesday. Some of those who tented on the grounds came home Tuesday night after the services, while others remained until Wednesday morning. The extreme heat and dust and the scarcity of stock water deterred some camping on the grounds, but most of the tents (cabins) were occupied and the little city in the woods throbbed with life. The crowd on Sunday was not as large as usual. A fine rain refreshed everything on Sunday about noon and another good rain came on Monday making conditions pleasant. About the same time spiritual refreshments came and penitents crowded the altars. It would be interesting to know how many have accepted Christ as their Savior and surrendered themselves to his leading in the 60 or more campmeetings that have been held on these consecrated grounds. Camping on these grounds and attending services is certainly health giving to body, mind, and soul.” The services were large in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Crowds would sometimes number over 1,000 people.
Until 1900, all services were in German and all written records of the church were in German. The second and third generation residents were mostly bilingual and we begin to see use of English at the campmeetings. In advertisements in the Sedalia Democrat for 1903 and 1904 it was stated that all services would be in German except for one English service. With the advent of World War I, the use of German became very unpopular and all services at Lake Creek were conducted in English.
Lighting for the evening services was simply campfires at first, then fire stands were built on mounds of earth at the corners of the tent. Later oil lamps were hung from brackets mounted on the trees, then acetylene lamps were used which were replaced by a Delco Battery system, and finally in 1949 the Rural Electric Cooperative put in power lines. Refrigeration was also a problem. A hole was dug for ice and filled with sawdust as insulation. Ice was cut from ponds or creeks in the winter and stored under sawdust until the summer meeting time.
According to the article included in the 1906 Souvenir of the West Deutschen Konferenz, the Lake Creek Campmeeting had about 40 cabins with 50 to 75 families staying each night during the meetings. In 1914, only three families owned a car in the Lake Creek area. Before the coming of the automobile, the men would often ride a horse home and do chores during the day and return to be with the family at night. The advent of cars meant that people could come and go more often from the campmeeting. Once a family got a car, they might only come for an evening meeting and not for the entire day. This began to change the attendance habits of participants and gradually the number of worship serviced offered each day changed. At the turn of the century up to six services were held per day. By the 1940s, five services were held each day, and by the 1950s, it was down to four per day. Today the evening service is the only daily service with Vacation Bible School classes held each weekday morning.
The schedule for the weekdays in 1952 was as follows:
Awakening Bell – 6 a.m.
Call to Prayer – 6:30 a.m.
Breakfast Hour – 7 a.m.
Minister’s Retreat – 8 a.m.
First General Service and Young People Hour – 10:30 a.m.
Dinner Hour – noon
Second General Service and Children’s Hour – 2:30 p.m.
Third General Service – 4 p.m.
Supper – 5:30 p.m.
Experience Meeting – 7:30 p.m.
Song and Musical Festival – 8 p.m.
All Out Evangelistic Preaching – 8:30 p.m.
Starlight Praise Service – 9:45 p.m.
By 1954, the morning services were phased out but a 2:00 p.m. preaching service was held every afternoon. During the 1960s, the afternoon services were held only Wednesday through Saturday. The evening services continued to be the big event. By 1974, only the evening service was held on weekdays and Vacation Church School was held every weekday morning. In 1981, only evening services were held in addition to the regular Sunday Morning worship. The year of 1984 began the practice of a variety of speakers during campmeeting. That was the year that Rev. Caldwell came to campmeeting on horseback dressed as John Wesley. In 1986, the practice of Dinner on the Grounds was reestablished and Bible School during weekday mornings recreated a village as it might have been in the time of Jesus.
New Construction on the Campgrounds
In 1974, the Campmeeting Board had a new building constructed housing two modern restrooms and four shower stalls. This was a great help to those who stayed nights during the week. The old four and five seater outhouses were no longer used, however, remnants of them may still be seen in the woods. In 1992, a new shelter house building was constructed and greatly improved the facilities at the grounds, and in 2014, a permanent tabernacle was put up. During 2017-19, the Campmeeting Board worked to update the bathrooms to make them ADA compliant and family friendly. Two family bathrooms were added and the four shower stalls were remodeled into two larger stalls and one storage area. Also during 2019, the Campmeeting Board built an addition to the shelter house containing a kitchen area to be used during vacation bible school and added two camping spots with electrical hookups and water.
Most of the cabins are at least 100 years old and lack such modern items as paint, glazing, screening, and plumbing. However, the large tabernacle stands in the center. The campgrounds have come to life in August since 1843 and gospel preaching is still heard today. There were two years when services could not be held. In 1863 campers gathered but services could not be held due to snipers; and in 1901 when a severe drought stopped the session.
Words about Campmeeting
“People like to come together because they are kin, the reverse is also true. People are kin because they have camped together over these many years. Children can play together and families who share the same values can relax together. It is this changeless feel of the Lake Creek Campmeeting that is important. A stable environment where one can still center their thoughts on their relationship with God."
Rev. Henry Edward Rompel was the minister at Lake Creek 1900 to 1901 and in 1943 sent his regrets to the 100th anniversary gathering with the words: “Give my greetings and blessings to all, may you have a real spiritual up-lift as you think of the cloud of witnesses still here and the many who have gone. Someday we too shall be with them as the people of God. They shall come from the North and South, from the East and West, to sit down in the Kingdom of God together. That will be a real campmeeting time. Glory to God.” Those who have served and loved Lake Creek Campmeeting over the years are truly a great cloud of witnesses for us. They blessed us with their presence, their time and their talents, and poured themselves into a Christian program which transmitted values of God’s love to their families.
On Keeping up with Modern Times
Report of Special Committee on recommendations for Lake Creek Campmeeting, August 12, 1938.
The 93rd Campmeeting closed on Sunday night after an eight day session. More than a dozen ministers were present during the campmeeting and had part in the program. Rev. Rompel of Ottawa, Illinois preached each evening. He has traveled extensively and was a most interesting and inspirational speaker. Plans were made for ground and camp improvement and the committee report is given below. The present site for the campgrounds was established 47 years ago (1891) having been moved from a place south of the present site. The posts and supports for the tent were erected then and many of them are in bad condition and will not support the tent another year.
It is hoped that a more permanent tabernacle may be erected in the near future and it was decided to erect the frame work before another year. The past year it was necessary to dig a well for use during the campmeetings. The old well used for many years caved in following last year’s campmeeting. Funds to take care of all current expenses and to pay for the drilling of the well were provided for during the session.
We rejoice in the 93 years of the Lake Creek Campmeeting. These have been years rich in Christian Fellowship and spiritual influences. Our Fathers built better than they knew and these many years attest to their faith and love of God. Times have changed, but the Gospel Truths still remain and today we rejoice in the rich blessings we are enjoying at this camp.
We anticipate the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the Lake Creek Campmeeting. Time brings decay and change and to meet the needs of these modern times, we must improve the properties and continue to enlarge. The committee desires therefore to make some recommendations which we believe will add much to the material comforts of all and assure the perpetuity of the campmeeting.
We want to most heartily record our approval of the action of cottage owners and board members in their meeting on Friday in their recommendation of the improvement of the tabernacle with a new and substantial framework and other improvements.
We suggest some needed repairs of the seats and the construction of some new seats.
Each cabin owner is urged to repair and make more attractive and livable the cottages.
The care of the trees and the planting of young shade trees to take the place of those which have been removed is urged for this fall and next spring.
We solicit our friends to erect new and attractive cottages and to secure a larger number of campers during the time of the annual campmeeting.
We suggest a larger advertisement of the annual meeting and greater effort of increase attendance.
We recommend the appointment of a committee on cottages and grounds to secure better care of the properties and the encouragement of people to erect new cottages. To assist in their work, we suggest that the cottage owners and friends as far as possible contribute 50 cents or more per annum as a clean up fund.
We request each cottage provide an enclosed garbage can and that arrangements be made to gather daily the garbage, thus adding to the sanitation.
We recommend that the program committee have an early meeting and make advanced plans for the annual meeting.
We pledge our financial support that all obligations may be met and improvements made and properly financed.
We most earnestly solicit the sympathy and good will of the people of this entire section of the state and your help that this old campmeeting may continue more largely to contribute to the social and religious life of the people.
We pledge anew our support to the officers and workers of the association and to each other for greater interest and devotion to this campmeeting that is laboring together and with God we may see the coming day more glorious than in the past. In unity there is strength and an enthusiastic devotion will bring the desires of our hearts. This is God’s work, may we so labor that He may crown it with success.
Signed by the committee,
E. I. LaRue
The Campmeeting Board is still trying to meet the needs of these modern times by improving on the current facilities. Work has taken place on the bathrooms, a kitchen was added to the shelter house, and two camping spots have been added. As the committee said in 1938, "We most earnestly solicit the sympathy and good will of the people of this entire section of the state and your help that this old campmeeting may continue more largely to contribute to the social and religious life of the people." This sentiment still holds true today, and the Lake Creek Campmeeting Board is appreciative of all help given in support of Campmeeting.
Information for the History of Lake Creek Campmeeting taken from:
Seaton, Richard A. and Dorothy A. Bass. Hallelujah in the Forest. Tapestry Press, Ltd; Acton, MA; 1993.
Culp Sr., Mrs. Paul and Rev. Philip J. Bowline. A Brief History of Lake Creek United Methodist Church & Campmeeting and German Methodism on the Early Frontier. May 16, 1976.