Salem Camp Meeting: Sawdust trail just a memory, but old-time religion goes on

The Rev. Greg Schick, pastor of contemporary  worship at St. James United Methodist Church in Little Rock, will preach and lead the  service June 15, at the Salem Camp Meeting. Schick uses music as a part of his message every time he is asked to speak. The long-time annual evangelistic  meeting gets  underway Sunday night in the arbor on the Salem United Methodist Church grounds.
Lynda Hollenbeck
Senior Editor

Camp meetings, once a popular form of worship in this country, now are few and far between. But the tradition is more than a memory in Saline County, which is home to the continuing Salem Camp Meeting.

The annual old-time worship experience will open Sunday and continue through June 18 on the grounds of Salem United Methodist Church on Salem Road.
Records show that the Salem Camp Meeting was established in 1838 when conditions were considerably more primitive. Old-timers and descendants of those early worshippers say the lack of plush surroundings did nothing to squelch the religious fervor that was a hallmark of the meeting.

Services today are held in a covered, outdoor arbor whose floors once were covered with sawdust. These, though, reportedly were largely symbolic and representative of early evangelists’ accounts of people “walking the sawdust trail to accept the Lord.”
The phrase “hit the sawdust trail” was coined by one of America’s most famous evangelists, the late Billy Sunday, who used the metaphor throughout his career. He would tell his audiences to “hit the sawdust trail” and give their lives to Jesus.

While the Salem sawdust is gone, as are the three services a day that were part of the early meetings when people came and literally camped onsite for the duration of the meeting, today’s planners say the fervor of the old-time religion will still be alive this year and in the years to come.

“The spirit and enthusiasm are with us still with the many events going on,” said Anne Beyers, president of the Salem Camp Meeting Board.
“We still sing the old hymns and renew our faith through great sermons and singing and the enjoyment of reuniting with old friends of long ago,” she said.

She noted that a different group will present special music to open the services each evening, beginning at 7 o’clock.

Se Monday's Saline Courier for the full story.