For the last 172 years, a family gathering takes place every August. It spans generations and brings together immediate family members as well as extended family and friends.
Nestled in Pettis County, five miles south of Smithton, are 18 small wooden cabins that encircle a permanent structure, which is the home to the Lake Creek Camp meeting.
Founded in 1843 by Sebastian Barth and a group of families from the area, the Camp Meeting is actually one year older than the congregation that bears its name.
In the last 172 years there have only been two times the event has not been hosted. Once in 1865 during the Civil War the meeting was canceled because of a fear of snipers.
“There was a worry because there were both Union and Confederate sympathizers in the area,” Gail Demand said. “No one wanted to see anyone harmed or killed because of the War.”
The second time the meeting was canceled was in 1918. This time there were concerns that members and visitors to the meetings may die because of a flu epidemic in the area.
“Many people stayed in the cabins at the time,” Demand said. “It just wasn’t safe risking exposure to all those people and the people who came each day.”
Originally, the camp meetings were all day long and nightly events.
Today, the primary focus is on the nightly sermons, musical presentations, and the Bible school for the children each morning.
“The original camp meeting was actually a few miles away at the site of the Lake Creek Cemetery,” Demand said. “My great-great-great-grandmother was a charter member of the board and she helped to found the camp meetings and the church.
“Camp meeting has been a part of my life forever,” Demand added. “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t coming here.”
As a little boy, Demand said he and his family stayed in one of the cabins that encircle the grounds.
“The cabins were originally on the grounds at the cemetery,” Demand said. “When the camp meeting moved here, they moved the cabins board by board rather than build new ones.”
Demand explained that the cabins were disassembled in 1890 and the boards were individually marked and numbered. The lumber was transported two miles by horse and wagon to the current campgrounds. There the families reconstructed them.
Even today many of the families stay overnight in their cabins during the week-long event.
“It’s a very generational event,” Lake Creek Pastor Jason Veale said. “Multiple generations come together in a common worship service, which is very special and meaningful to them.”
Veale is in his sixth year as pastor at Lake Creek and has served as the pastor at the Smithton United Methodist Church for 11 years.
“I preached at Camp Meeting before I began my work at the church in Smithton,” Veale said. “This year, my son Nick (Veale, from First United Methodist Church in Sedalia) will speak (Thursday) night.”
Not only do the families come together to worship at the event, some begin their married life under the tent.
Such is the case for the Page family.
“I married my husband, Drew Smith, at Camp Meeting four years ago on Aug. 6,” Melissa Page, DVM, said. “Of all of the places I know, this is one of the most important to me besides home.
“It really is a home to me,” Page added. “It is where I grew up. I couldn’t think of any place better to begin my married life than here. This is where I wanted to start our story.”
Page recalled the story of how her parents, Kenny and Kathy Page, started their story at Camp Meeting as well.
One year, her mother, Kathy, lost a bracelet while she was attending a service there.
“My dad, who didn’t really know mom at the time, found it and he asked other people until he discovered who it belonged to.” Page said. “He gave it back to mom and they started to talk and spent time together at the other services that week.”
Soon the two began dating and eventually married.
Although Kenny and Kathy Page did not marry at Camp Meeting, three other members of the Page family have been married at the campgrounds.
This week, four generations of the family were present Sunday evening for the beginning of the services.
“We have one of the cabins on the grounds,” Page said. “Mom and I counted that there were 55 of us on hand Sunday.
“Twenty of them were children, including our daughter (Adelei Page-Smith),” she said. “But that’s how it should be. This is where I grew up and I want my daughter to experience this place as well.”
Page-Smith is attending Vacation Bible School, which is hosted in conjunction with camp meeting every year. She is one of 80 children who are participating this year.
Many families schedule their vacations around the event so they can allow the upcoming generations to take part.
“Every year when I come back, I see people I may only see once a year because they come back too,” Page said. “It is still important to me to come back and be a part of something bigger.
“It’s not just about the messages we hear at the sermons,” Page added. “It’s the family aspect of it that has meaning to us all.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext 1484