“To look up and think how a small group of men in our church could do that kind of work, and it has stood almost 100 years,” Windom said.
In 1914, the beams and supports were sawed at Garrett Sawmill northwest of Bowdon, then brought by wagon and horse to the Burwell Road church where members built the arbor that became the site for the annual Shiloh United Methodist Church Camp Meeting.
It has been maintained over the years. A concrete floor in the 1940s replaced the dirt and wheat straw. A new roof was added in 1994, but was made to look like the original when church members mopped plywood with turpentine and tar.
“We added ceiling fans in the last couple of years, but we try and keep it in the tradition of the original look,” Windom said.
It is under the arbor that people for generations have gathered for Shiloh’s annual camp meeting. Surrounded by water oaks, the arbor can seat 500.
“It is a unique structure,” said Windom, who chairs the camp meeting committee that includes the church’s pastor, Dr. Shirley Wright. “It is just an awing experience to worship there and look up at the height of that structure and realize that it was all done by hand, without modern equipment.”
Though used for weddings, concerts and funerals, the arbor is the centerpiece for the church’s annual camp meeting. The 146th meeting will begin Tuesday.
Two services — one at 10:30 a.m. and one of 7:30 p.m. — are scheduled each day Tuesday through Sunday. The Rev. Jim Hollis, a North Georgia Conference evangelist, will be the speaker. Hollis is involved with an evangelism training program that can be used in churches. He has an organization that works with local churches to help them reach out to evangelize and bring people into the church.
An estimated 250 people will attend each evening service, and the youth camp has 100 enrolled, with a waiting list.
“They come from our church, from surrounding areas, people who have a heritage with our church,” Windom said. “They are connected with people in our church, are friends with people in our church. They come from different faiths.”
A Shiloh United Methodist team will prepare more than 1,500 meals in the church kitchen during the week. Those who would like a meal should make reservations by calling 770-258-2255.
Music scheduled for each evening service will be led by Terry Lowry of the Carroll Symphony Orchestra and performed by Bullsboro, First Christian Church Choir, Jerry Rogers, Bethany Christian Church Quartet, Forgiven Quartet and Bowdon First United Methodist Church Choir. Shiloh’s own choir will sing Sunday morning.
The youth camp, for fourth grade through high school attend the two daily worship services and have Bible studies, in addition to music and recreational activities. The students stay overnight in the boys and girls dorms on the church grounds.
“Obviously, God sees this as an important part of His work here in this area,” Windom said. “He enables the people of Shiloh to continue to have a vision for this outreach. Without that, to fulfill God’s plan, it would not continue.
“It’s a very important part of our heritage, of the surrounding communities, to have this type of revival experience. It’s done in a different atmosphere than at church. It’s done outside where you can not only hear preaching, but it also gives you that experience of being outside and surrounded by God’s nature and beauty. It’s just a wonderful experience to be able to be in a worship service like that.”
The meeting is steeped in tradition, and tradition is treasure to the camp planners and those who attend. But there have been some departures from long-held practices, such as moving the meeting from August, when it lasted almost two weeks, to the one week in June.
Windom attributes that to changes in school calendars and earlier starts to the school year.
“We had to change,” she said. “We have to adapt to society’s schedules. Those of us who’ve been here would love for it to be longer and continue with the traditions, but we also are aware of the changes of society. It was not easy to break with tradition, but it is exciting that we can do that and still be a strong ministry.”