Sunday’s Dimock Camp-meeting program took a look at its deep Methodist roots as a North Carolina State University administrator portrayed ‘Francis Asbury,’ the first Methodist Episcopal bishop in America.
Gary Moore spoke on ‘Give Me that Old Time Religion: The Camp Meeting,’ and looked at the revivalist religious camps throughout the country aimed at spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a hurting world.
From 1771 until he died in 1816, Asbury put in over a quarter million miles on horseback and carriage, and among his Methodist responsibilities included organizing and preaching at countless camp meetings.
Although never in Dimock, Asbury recorded in his journal in 1807 that he was at a camp-meeting in Smithboro, N.Y., near present-day Nichols, about 30 miles northwest of Dimock, and it was his desire to have about 600 camp meetings a year to inspire locals to take the Christian call on their lives seriously to keep a young American nation on the right path.
A camp-meeting, Moore explained, was one the ways Asbury and other circuit riding preachers helped frame religious activity in vast rural sections of the country - which had few churches at the time.
“We must attend to camp-meetings; they make our harvest time,” Asbury was quoted as saying. He also referred to camp-meetings as “a battle ax and weapon of war,” and “this is fishing with a large net.”
The Dimock Camp-meeting grounds where he spoke were cleared in 1875, and frankly located there because of a good fresh spring of water and its proximity to a recently built railroad station, about a quarter mile away.
The station was one of many stops on the old Montrose Railway which then had just opened and connected Tunkhannock to Montrose.
Methodists within the old Wyoming Conference had decided to literally build a ‘permanent’ camp-meeting site in each of the six geographical districts of the conference, and the Dimock grounds were the purview of the old Wyalusing District Camp Meeting Association.
A camp-meeting ground of the old Wyoming District - also established in the 1870s - exists today but without religious services not far from Frances Slocum State Park.
And down near Shickshinny, the Patterson Grove Camp-Meeting is marking its 150th anniversary this summer.
As for Dimock, today, the railroad spikes are gone as the Montrose rail line closed around 1960, but if you travel Route 29, just turn west at the blinker light at the Dimock Post Office, and follow the road about a half mile and then make your first left to a conclave that is a real step back in time.
Although for more than seven decades, Dimock camp-meeting meant a 7-10 day experience to immerse one’s self in the Christian faith as practiced by the Methodists, in recent years the faithful have preserved the Christian experience by offering Sunday night services during the summer.
In its heyday, newspaper accounts have as many as 10,000 people attending Dimock during the week, but the advent of the automobile and particularly involvement in World War II, meant a different path for camp-meetings.
Ten years ago, the Dimock site was declared a National Historic Landmark of the United Methodist Church because it had preserved a sense of call by continuing to spread the gospel in the face of other distractions in American culture.
Although Dimock was initially conceived as a Methodist camp, through the years it has evolved into a multi-denominational organization.
“As people of different denominations bought cottages through the years, things changed,” explained Kenneth Summers, who owns a cabin at the camp. “So now you have Roman Catholic to Church of God, which is quite a spread.”
One cabin which has remained in Methodist hands for many years is owned by Malcolm ‘Mac’ Hulslander and his wife Peg.
“My parents bought the cottage in 1939,” Hulslander explained. “I basically grew up here. My father (Paul Hulslander) was a Methodist minister.”
Hulslander explained that he and his brother spend their summers at the camp grounds.
“Dad would join us when he was on vacation,” he said. “The times that were easiest was when (in the late 1940s) he was a pastor in Tunkhannock which was closest to the camp,” about 15 miles away
Camps like the one at Dimock proved very popular in rural areas. Moore explained that meetings were held outdoors, lasting up to 10 days. Ministers tended to be Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian, holding marathon sessions to accommodate large crowds. People would come by wagon from distances up to 50 miles away and camp out on the grounds.
Initially, Moore continued, people would camp out in tents. As time went out, people built more permanent structures which became the cottages and cabins such as those which have survived at Dimock.
At one time Summers explained, Dimock boasted more than 100 cabins on the property. But time has taken its toll on many of those buildings - today only 23 are left.
“I think my cabin was built in the early 1900s,” he said.
Inside, Summers’ cottage shows its rural roots. The walls and beams are bare wood, like a barn, giving it a distinctive rustic look. Although the cottage has a shower facility and other conveniences, these were only added after he took possession of the property.
“I’ve been here since 1977. I’m the new boy on the block,” Summers said with a laugh.
In the days before today’s modern entertainment and communications, revival camp meetings were very popular events - providing people the opportunity not only to hear sermons and renew their faith, but also to socialize and enjoy other activities.
Today, Dimock Campmeeting Ground is still a place of worship, with people of various denominations gathering at large rustic chapel on Sundays from July 1 through Sept. 2.
“We want to give people a chance to meet others and hopefully learn about the gospel,” Summers explained.
“We want to see them develop a closer relationship with the Lord,” Hulslander added.