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Evangelist's saving spirit lives on through camp meeting

Robert Sheffey's 200th birthday is on July 4, 2020.

TRIGG, Va. -- There was supposed to be a party today to celebrate Robert Sheffey’s 200th birthday.

There was going to be fireworks, hot dogs, and somebody was going to dress up like the eccentric circuit-riding preacher known to dismount his horse to save insects and turtles on the road.

COVID-19 snuffed out today's birthday party and July 4th celebration, just as it forced the cancellation of Robert Sheffey Memorial Campmeeting, scheduled to kick off July 10.

“I guess I’ll just shoot some fireworks off here at the house,” said the Rev. Jim Goddard.

Goddard is probably more disappointed than anybody that people won’t be coming this year to hear some good preaching and gospel music at the camp meeting. The Rev. Charles Maynard was scheduled to speak, and youth of Giles County were excited about two days of camping out, games and activities. Total attendance last year was 325.
Old-time gospel music at Sheffey Campmeeting
 

Yet Goddard is not all that glum, because a ministry with children that began through the camp meeting is reaching 75 families right now.

Goddard is also more than halfway through a $65,000 fundraising goal to replace the 40-year-old, tin-roof “tabernacle” (shelter) where future camp meetings will commence after the pandemic leaves town.

“Christianity has endured disappointments in the past,” said Goddard, chair of the camp meeting board. His response is to ask, “Lord, where are you moving so I can be part of it in a very real and radical way?”
Preparing for a new tabernacle
 

Robert Sheffey Memorial Campmeeting is named for the Methodist evangelist respected for his power in prayer and love of creation. “He was a naturalist and environmentalist even before those words were in our vocabulary,” Goddard said.

Sheffey died in 1902 at age 82. He is buried near the camp meeting site at Wesley’s Chapel United Methodist Church Cemetery on Sheffey Memorial Road in Pearisburg.

His tombstone reads, “The poor were sorry when he died.”

Sheffey camp meeting is a descendent of the Wabash Campmeeting which started in 1884. Hundreds of families camped out for two weeks or more to socialize and participate in such revivals of the day.

“Every church in Giles County, of every denomination, traces its Christian history back to the Wabash Campmeeting,” says Goddard. He’s currently appointed as co-pastor to the 14-church Wabash Circuit in Holston’s New River District.

The shed at Wabash Campground was destroyed by fire in the early 1900s. Forty-two years ago, Sheffey Campmeeting was started.

Attendance at the Sheffey Campmeeting, which always starts on the first Friday after Independence Day, dropped to about 25 until the event experienced its own revival about four years ago, Goddard said.

A two-day “youth emphasis” was added to the six-day gathering, which provided teens from two counties an event resembling a “mini Resurrection,” said Goddard, referring to Holston’s winter youth rally.
Youth activities at Sheffey Campmeeting


Throughout the camp meeting, participants were invited to sign up their children for “Camp in the Community” which would happen onsite the following week.

Camp in the Community is Holston’s weeklong summer day camp for children in poverty. Last summer, 65 children that were connected through Sheffey Campmeeting participated in Camp in the Community’s games, crafts, meals, and Bible study.

“It touched my heart,” Goddard said. “Most of these children were emotionally, psychologically, and physically unable to go to residential camp.”

Some 45 United Methodist churches are participants in one way or another with Sheffey Campmeeting, Goddard says. Now that the pandemic has meddled with their summer plans, the youth will have to wait another year for their mini-Resurrection to happen again in July 2021.

Worshippers will have to wait another year to hear Maynard preach and the gospel bands play, hopefully in a newly constructed tabernacle shed.

However, the children of Sheffey Campmeeting will not have to wait until next summer. Right now, Camp in the Community is providing weekly boxes of camp-activities-at-home along with art and game supplies and even food boxes to doorsteps all over Holston Conference.

The Giles County missional hub signed up for 75 weekly kits for the Sheffey Campmeeting kids. Parents and grandparents are learning about Camp in the Community by word of mouth. The kits are so popular they’re running out of kits, says the Rev. Pam Sutherland.

“We’re reaching people who don’t necessarily go to church,” said Sutherland, Wabash Circuit co-pastor.

“This is what Methodism is all about,” said Goddard.







For more information:
Sheffey Campmeeting Facebook page
SheffeyCampmeeting.com


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Holston Conference includes 853 United Methodist congregations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia.