Monroe resident Betty Deese is approaching nearly three decades of attendance at Tucker’s Grove Camp Meeting, one of Lincoln County’s annual revival-based gatherings.
“It’s like a big family reunion,” she said. “You see families gather and eat together and worship together.”
Deese sat outside her tent Wednesday afternoon with one of her camp meeting friends as the pair chatted and watched the rain drizzle around them.
Without Lincoln County roots, she was not familiar with camp meetings growing up, until a work friend introduced her to Tucker’s Grove in the early 1990s.
The rustic, laid-back scenery and family atmosphere immediately captivated her.
“I just fell in love,” Deese said. “It’s the stuff you see in movies — that’s what drew me in.”
Since her first year, she hasn’t been able to stay away, inviting her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to join her in the religious event.
Deese said she most enjoys meeting and listening to the unique stories of the scores of people who attend — people “from all walks of life.”
“Everybody’s got a story to tell,” she said.
One of 11 siblings and mother to six children, Deese is all too familiar with cooking, one her favorite hobbies, oftentimes cooking large meals for the other campers to share in, she said.
In addition to family time, which often has children and adults alike fellowshipping around the grounds until the 1 a.m. curfew, Tucker’s Grove Camp Meeting focuses on spiritual growth, with area preachers giving daily sermons throughout the week-and-a-half-long faith and family celebration.
One year, a nephew of Martin Luther King Jr. spoke under the campground’s historical arbor, located at the property’s center, Deese said.
Unlike his fellow camp meeting attendee Deese, Percell Thompson, a Denver resident and member of St. James United Methodist Church, grew up around the annual Iron Station event.
While most people return home during the day, only visiting the campsite for evening worship services, times were much different when he was a child.
“I remember catching the school bus here,” he said. “We didn’t go back home. We stayed the whole time.”
He and a cousin, whom he said is now deceased, used to make and serve candy apples for campers throughout the week. Thompson said his cousin was a vendor who frequented various area camp meetings with his cart, also making cotton candy and other sweet treats for the public to enjoy.
“He was a long-time veteran of this,” Thompson said.
While a majority of camp meeting tents consist of dark-colored wood, the Lincoln County native resides in one of the campground’s few brightly-colored housing units, which over the years, has been destroyed by frequent fires.
Despite the repetitive loss, he and his family always rebuilt, never knowing who or what caused the blazes.
While he couldn’t pinpoint just one part of the camp meeting he liked, Thompson noted his anticipation each year of catching up with old friends and family, particularly relatives who travel to the campground from Washington, D.C., and New York.
“You might see (vehicle) tags from all over the place,” he said.
Thompson also brings his mother back-and-forth to the daily services.
Tucker’s Grove Camp Meeting will host 7:15 p.m. services today and Saturday. Services will be 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Sunday, also known as “Big Sunday,” the camp meeting’s final day.
For more information, call Lewis McClain at (704) 913-6450.