Welcome to life at the annual Marietta Campmeeting.
Generations of area families have made an annual pilgrimage to the historic Marietta Campground on Roswell Road in east Cobb County, attending nightly worship services and enjoying fellowship with family and friends during much of the day.
The old-style, outdoor religious revival is a throwback to simpler days when farmers took a break from their fields to give thanks and prayers for a bountiful season.
This year marks the 175th anniversary of the Marietta Campmeeting, which kicked off with a Friday night service and a community-wide picnic on Saturday, which featured games, music, historical demonstrations and a health fair. From now until July 22, there will be services twice a day.
Though without flat-screen TVs, Strunk and other young people at the campmeeting said they don’t much mind taking a break from technology and doing what their ancestors probably did 175 years ago: spending time with family, swapping stories with friends and attending services.
“You have to make your own fun out here,” said Strunk, surrounded by young relatives and friends in swings on his family’s cabin porch.
On the outer edges of the 40-acre campground site are 23 wooden cabins, which form the foundation of social life during the revival, as their occupants regularly visit one another. Some families pass theirs down to succeeding generations. The oldest ones were built in the 19th century. Some have sawdust floors. Others are without indoor plumbing.
During the other 355 days of the year, a caretaker and his wife, who live on the property, tend the grounds and safeguard the cabins, also known as tents.
They’re called tents because before they were constructed from surrounding timber, early revival attendees who arrived via horse and wagon from distant communities would pitch canvas tents to sleep in during the annual campmeeting, said outgoing Marietta Campmeeting President Cheryl Lassiter.
Lassiter, a Marietta native, married into the campmeeting tradition nearly 40 years ago at the centrally located wooden arbor, where services are conducted. It was built in 1838. One of her three sons was also married there and a grandchild has been baptized at the campmeeting.
Presidents and other officers of the nonprofit Marietta Campmeeting Inc. are elected to a two-year term by dues-paying tentholders at the conclusion of the campmeeting. However, Lassiter has served three terms, taking on the responsibility of organizing events for the 175th anniversary.
“I’ve created a volunteer position into a big giant task,” Lassiter said.
“The reason why we were working on all these events was to create community awareness for the 175th. It used to be that everybody who lived out in this area knew what campmeeting was, when it was and planned to be here. Now, people have come and gone.”
When the Marietta Campmeeting began in 1837, Cobb was still practically rugged Cherokee territory. Churches were few in between towns. Campmeetings offered early settlers, spread across the wilderness, a central gathering place for all to travel to for worship, and a location for traveling preachers to find them.
However, times have changed and many members of longtime families have moved on.
Today, Marietta Campground is sandwiched between two grocery stores, within walking distance of a Dunkin’ Donuts and across the street from East Cobb United Methodist Church, which has historic ties to the campmeeting.
Though originally Methodist-affiliated, Marietta Campmeeting services are non-denominational Christian and open to all. They still attract about 2,000 people over the 10 days who attend the daily services in between busy schedules.
Standing outdoors with her older sister, Ann Miltiades of Marietta, Nancy Abbott, 63, of Rockmart, said she feels closer to God when she worships outdoors under the airy arbor
“I’ve been attending all my life, and I just grew up on the campground,” said 74-year-old Emma Lou Simpson of Woodstock. “It’s just a week of wonderful communication, renewing friendships and coming under the arbor for the services that are more relaxed than church meetings.”
In 2005, Paul and Lori Markley of east Cobb, decided to purchase a tent of their own from an aging tentholder, after attending services for the first time with friends.
“It was great and old-fashioned,” Lori recalled of her first campmeeting experience. “It reminded me of growing up and going to my grandparents’ farm; no phone or TV, and the kids are out having a great time.”
“You can just let your kids go,” said Paul, 51. “There’s no where else like that. We wouldn’t even do that at our home in our neighborhood.”
Relaxing on the porch with Strunk and other young people, 21-year-old Georgia Tech student Trey Gantt said he has never been bored at the campmeeting, where he has lots of friends and relatives. Each year, he looks forward to the food and singing. In the future, Marietta Campmeeting traditions will fall to his generation.
“We’ve got to take care of this place somehow, when everyone else is older,” Gantt said.
Marietta Campmeeting services are twice daily at 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. through July 22. Children’s church is from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through July 22. At 7:30 p.m. Monday, actor Brad Sherrill will present a special theatrical performance in retelling the Gospel of John. A public tour of tents is set for 2 p.m. July 21.
A complete campmeeting schedule is available at www.mariettacampmeeting.org.
Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal - Old fashioned fun Area families continue tradition gather at Marietta Campmeeting