The American
Religious Experience





For Free Methodists in north-central West Virginia, the Black Hills campground is a sacred place.  Nestled on Negro Mountain, along Rt. 119 between Morgantown and Grafton, the campground hosts three annual gatherings for the denomination: children’s camp, youth camp, and family camp.  These events are the spiritual pinnacle of the year, and participants worship with both greater enthusiasm and less restraint than in their home churches.  Falling on their knees at the altar before the large “Holiness Unto the Lord” sign, participants confess sins, receive healing, find salvation, and enter into entire sanctification.


"... many denominations perceived their Appalachian churches as missions rather than as burgeoning faith communities and treated their Appalachian members as uneducated converts rather than spiritual as siblings.

When I began this research project, my purpose was to link the history and culture of the Black Hills Free Methodist camp with Appalachian Mountain religion by demonstrating how this sect avoided the attitude of condescension toward Appalachian culture felt by many denominations in the region.  Yet, as I gathered source material, I also realized that a significant shift in the focus of the Free Methodist movement in north-central West Virginia took place in the late 1930s and early 1940s when the Black Hills camp was founded.  This shift, from roving annual camp meetings focused on evangelization and sanctification, to a stationary camp that preserved these two theological principles but was no longer entrenched in various communities, marked the virtual end of the movement’s diffusion in the state.

As a result of this discovered shift, I will have two focuses in this article.  First, I will seek to present a specific case study in which the Free Methodist Church succeeded in spreading throughout the northern portion of West Virginia by emulating, rather than disregarding, the local religious culture.  I will demonstrate this by defining and comparing Appalachian Mountain religion, as described in depth by Deborah McCauley, to both the early Free Methodist movement and source material from early participants at the Black Hills camp.  I will also describe my personal observations of the four cultural indicators of salvation, sanctification, simplicity and intensity which link local Free Methodism and Appalachian religion. 

The second focus of this article will be to illustrate how the early growth of the Free Methodist movement was brought to a standstill due to three factors: 1) contextual economic factors in West Virginia resulting in a reduction of new labor, 2) the demise of evangelical “pentecostal bands” of laity, and 3) the domestication of the camp’s primary method of diffusion¾the roving camp meeting.  This essay is written from the perspective of a geographer who spent four years as a participant-observer in the West Virginia conference of the Free Methodist Church.

Tabernacle
Free Methodist tabernacle, circa 1950

In her thorough study of Appalachian Mountain religion, Deborah McCauley clearly illustrated the tension between mountain religion and certain denominations, especially the Methodist Episcopal Church. She describes worship practices, belief systems, and religious traditions of mountain religion as having an “emphasis upon the autonomy of the individual and communal concern for individual’s needs and circumstances.”  In addition to this focus on individuals, the Appalachian Mountain religious experience is characterized by a “radical autonomy of church life; strong qualities of community building from the grass roots; leadership models based not on charisma or assertiveness but on deference and not putting oneself forward; rejection of competitiveness and achievement, as well as rejection of individual and institutional merit invested in models of hierarchy and power; a refusal to be drawn into ambitions formulated as political goals and social agendas at the national and global level.”[1]

With these characteristics in mind, it is no wonder denominations approaching Appalachia from outside the region struggled as they failed to achieve assimilation.  The result among denominational leaders was, and often continues to be, antipathy toward the region’s values and worldview coupled with a fear of “being in any way identified with a religious tradition that had been scorned and rejected by the nation’s dominant religious culture.”[2]  The Methodist “clergy’s long love affair with education shifted the focus of religious experience from the camp meeting to the classroom, eroding the importance of revivalism, particularly for the middle class.”[3]  Hence, many denominations perceived their Appalachian churches as missions rather than as burgeoning faith communities and treated their Appalachian members as uneducated converts rather than as spiritual siblings.  This attitude created a spirit of callousness toward mountain religion rather than a celebration of its uniqueness as well its role as “the most important and most prominent stabilizing force in the socio-cultural life of the region.”[4]

McCauley’s assertion that “mountain religion has always been portrayed by the nation’s dominant culture as simply marking time in the lives of mountain people until they are finally lifted out of their isolation and poverty”[5] finds an exception in the early Free Methodist penetration of West Virginia.  This exception is rooted in the history of the denomination and the processes by which it came to the state.  

Before either the Free Methodist Church or the state of West Virginia was established, significant changes were occurring within many of the major denominations in the Appalachian regionThroughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as modernist sentiments became increasingly entrenched in the American South, denominational leaders reacted against plain-folk camp meeting religion, which became an embarrassment even to groups like the Methodists and Baptists, whose movements had their origin in ministry to individuals at the margins of society.  According to McCauley, “By 1825 the Methodist denomination on a national level had divorced itself totally from the expressive and spontaneous features normative to plain-folk camp-meeting religion that characterized much of mountain religious life.”[6]  The Free Methodist Church was born in a reaction to the changes happening in the Methodist Episcopal Church of western New York, an area often referred to as the “Burned-Over District.”[7]

The history of the Free Methodist Church is saturated with camp meetings.  B.T. Roberts, the founder of the movement, was entirely sanctified at a camp meeting where Phoebe Palmer, the “grandmother of Free Methodism”[8] and the “Priscilla who taught many an Apollos ‘the way of God more perfectly,’”[9] preached that “one could be endued with power from on high if he laid his all on the altar, trusted God to make him holy and then bore witness that God had kept his word.”[10]  In 1857 Roberts wrote an article in The Northern Independent denouncing leaders of the Methodist Episcopal Church for their “worldliness and doctrinal laxity.”[11]  He asserted that the New School Methodists, “build stock churches, and furnish them to accommodate a select congregation; and with organs, melodeons, violins, and professional singers, to execute difficult pieces of music for a fashionable audience.”[12]  He also argued that New School Ministers, “treat with disgust all professions of deep Christian experience.”[13]  Roberts was tried and convicted of unchristian conduct and, following the publication of libelous pamphlets, was expelled from ministry.  By 1860, the denomination, in an attempt to keep the border conferences of Kentucky, Maryland, West Virginia, and Missouri, rejected a final appeal by Roberts and numerous other “sanctified abolitionist” clergy and laymen, and the Free Methodist Church was born.  Not surprisingly, the birthplace often attributed to the schism was a camp meeting held outside of the Methodist Episcopal conference in 1859.

My argument that the early Free Methodist movement in West Virginia fit comfortably into the Appalachian religious mindset can also be demonstrated through an analysis of the name of the denomination.  According to denominational sources, the church chose to be known as “Free” Methodist for numerous reasons, one of which was their desire to see the gospel spread to all people, not just the elite or those who could afford to purchase a pew in a church.  Another reason early adherents titled their denomination as they did reflected their desire to be “free from ecclesiastical domination,” a principle that is also deeply rooted in the Appalachian mountain tradition.[14]   A third variation on the “free” theme involves freedom of the Spirit in worship, a fundamental component of the Appalachian worship experience.

In addition to the history of the denomination, cultural indicators also point to significant links between West Virginia Free Methodism and Appalachian Mountain religionOne must consider the synthesis of Free Methodism with Appalachian Mountain people in West Virginia by examining the four ubiquitous themes that I personally observed, and which consistently resurfaced in my primary sources and interviews: salvation, sanctification, simplicity, and intensity. 

On the theme of salvation, according to Catherine Albanese, “Mountain people believed they were on earth to make a decision¾for this world or for the next one, for sin and personal ease or for their immortal souls and God.  So the center of the mountain form of extraordinary religion was the crisis moment of conversion, when for believers, an intimate and enduring attachment to the person of Jesus Christ was begun.”[15]  Similarly, in the late nineteenth century, Free Methodists spread the message of justification through faith in Christ in lay-led “pentecostal bands”.  One of their evangelistic methods, the tent meeting, was extremely effective and resulted in the early growth of the movement in the state.  Following the first church plants through evangelistic revivals and tent meetings, the various fellowships would converge in new communities for their annual camp meetings.  “Many would come out of curiosity, and some to be entertained as the saints praised God, but the Holy Spirit had a way of touching their hearts.  The large number, gathered from the various churches, was able to accomplish what couldn’t be done singly.”[16]  In the 1980s Ralph Page, a senior member of the Free Methodist community, wrote about the conversion experience of his father, a native West Virginian, at a Free Methodist camp meeting: “Waitman Morgan asked a young man by the name of Lloyd Page, who was working for him in the hayfield, to go with him to see the sights and have some fun.  The place was the Free Methodist Camp Meeting being held near Rt. 73 near Morgantown.  As they came on the campground, a tall man by the name of E.E. Shelhamer met them and said, ‘Praise the Lord, gentlemen, glad to have you here.’  The fun was over for dad, as his sins rolled by on the screen of his mind.”[17]

Free Methodist group worshipping in 1984
Free Methodist camp tabernacle worship in 1984

Page went on to describe his own salvation experience under the pastoral leadership of his converted father, who in 1923 led a camp meeting behind his house in a grove along Morgantown Ave. in Fairmont.  “The sound of praying saints could be heard almost any hour of the day or night.  Their prayers produced an atmosphere charged with spiritual power.  Conviction came quickly to sinners, backsliders and those living beneath their privileges as believers.  Altars lined with praying sinners and saints made an indelible impression on me and in 1925 I gave my heart and life to God at the altar of the Fairmont church.”[18]

According to McCauley, “the significant and most recurring theme in mountain preaching is that of a broken heart, tenderness of heart, a heart not hardened to the Spirit and the Word of God.  Mountain people teach through their churches that the image of God in each person lives in the heart, that the Word of God lodges itself in the heart, and the heart is meant to guide the head, not the other way around.”[19]

A second common theme among my sources was sanctification, more commonly described as heart “holiness.”  According to Charles MacDonald, the son of the founder of the Black Hills camp, “Holiness is a fellowship with God, a connection made in heaven.”[20]  This description of holiness rooted in a relationship with Christ is, according to McCauley, uncharacteristic of that of the larger holiness denominations outside of Appalachia, which use the term to refer to “denominational institutionalism defined by codified creeds, doctrines, and polity, whose institutional life is bureaucratic and therefore quantifiable by statistics.”[21]  MacDonald, who eventually left the Free Methodist Church for an independent mountain congregation, does not link the word to institutionalism.  His definition adheres more to that of McCauley’s, in which “holiness taught that it was important to feel God, and it viewed the outward and ecstatic actions that characterized its worship as manifestations of the divine presence.  It offered to mountain people a religious system that fitted Southern Appalachian temperament, in which mind, emotions, and body were all involved.”[22]


"Early West Virginia Free Methodists were “plain-folk” in the tradition of those reached by the original frontier camp meetings."

As in other holiness denominations, in the Free Methodist movement, sanctification was a foundational principle.  Early Free Methodists believed they were made holy so as not to commit sin and that sanctification was an inward work through which the Spirit transformed their thoughts and inward motives.  Hence, holiness in the Free Methodist Church in Appalachia, though denominational in nature, reflected its context in a “strong emotional piety and emphasis on the Holy Spirit.”[23]  Dewilla Lemmon described her crisis experience of sanctification in 1980: “God led me into the Free Methodist Church when in 1935 I was sanctified in a revival preached by Brother Albert Faust from Pittsburgh.  Melrose Uphold, a neighbor, and Sister Eva Young, a local Free Methodist preacher, arranged for a meeting in a vacant building near my home.  This came as an answer to prayer for me because I had been privately seeking holiness, not really knowing what it was, only that for many months I had craved a pure, perfect condition of heart with God, notwithstanding the knowledge that I had been born again.” One of Lemmon’s fellow worshipers, “Sister Uphold”, explained to her that the experience she sought was “sanctification”.  “So I went to the altar and prayed for it.  I also made various restitutions.  Brother Faust quoted the Scripture: ‘The Lord whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple.’  And Jesus did just that for me on the night of September 22, 1935 after Brother Faust had delivered his sermon and while Sister Young walked up and down behind me at the altar quoting in a strong voice: ‘This is the will of God, even your sanctification.’”[24]

A third theme among West Virginia Free Methodists is simplicity, as described by Gladys Stanley: “Fifty years ago when I walked into the Free Methodist Church for the first time in my life, I thought I had never seen a group of people who were so friendly and so sincere with a shine on their faces, which I could not describe and not explain.  They were dressed so beautifully plain; the only thing I think could describe them was angelic.  I said to myself, these people are my people and their God will be my God.”[25]

West Virginia Free Methodists considered themselves not of this world.  According to Charles MacDonald, they “were not here to make a show of themselves or call attention to themselves¾they were here to call attention to Jesus.”[26]  This simplicity influenced their music, which they sang in their services without the ostentation of instrumental accompaniment.  It also involved a commitment, shared among Free Methodists nationwide, to modesty of dress and speech.  They did not wear jewelry, including wedding rings or earrings, and the modesty of their dress was consistent with the modesty of their demeanor.  “Sometimes those dear ladies were not able to buy dress goods.  When they got their cow feed in the feed sacks they made them into dress goods.  I remember as a boy they would come to the camp and wear them as dresses.  They were nice.  Everyone knew it was feed sack but it was very neat and well pressed.”  For Macdonald, this freedom from a need to root self-esteem with material goods was the greatest asset of this movement.  “These were the things that endeared you to the people because they were never ashamed of what they didn’t have.  They had what they had because they loved God.  They preached for the love of God, they loved people because they loved Jesus.   Simplicity extended to their giving¾if they didn’t have anything else they would give themselves and put themselves into their work.”[27]  Early West Virginia Free Methodists were “plain-folk” in the tradition of those reached by the original frontier camp meetings. 

The fourth common theme among the early Free Methodists and Appalachian Mountain Religion is intensity. I originally labeled this theme “emotionalism”, however, as I used this word in interviews respondents took exception with it, one suggesting that I use the term “intensity”.  MacDonald says, “There were intense emotions, intense joy, sometimes an awe that might literally take away their consciousness; I have seen a few times where the ‘slain of the joy were many.’”  For example, as a boy in the 1940s, he witnessed an older camper, Marie Eddy, “with a child in her arms that was eight or nine months and I saw her get blessed and she got up and began to, well, I’d say squeal, and she was kicking sawdust and running around with a baby in her arms and the baby was loving it the whole time.  I did not see a lady running around squealing, I saw the presence of God and in my heart I said ‘I have got to have what she has.’”  For MacDonald, this was not simply an emotional response.  “The word emotion is not enough¾it wasn’t even just the joy I wanted¾it was the one who gave us the joy.  It was a demonstration of joy, and we used that word ‘demonstration.’ They were demonstrating what God was doing for them. This is just primitive Methodism that I saw as a boy growing up.  It wasn’t just religious froth; they got to the core: sin. They had a deep personal daily walk with God.”[28]  While describing his childhood experiences, he got excited and exclaimed, “I feel the presence coming on me now!” 

Marie Eddy herself described an experience she remembered as a child:  “The altar lined on Friday night around 10:30, Eva Young lay flat under the power of God.  People prayed, testified and most everyone stayed.  As she came out from under the power of God and witnessed the things God was doing – hearts melted, tears flowed and twenty-three more people came and prayed through after 3:00 in the morning.  Some of us rejoiced and prayed all night.”[29] 

Though experiences like being ‘slain in the Spirit’ were common in Appalachia, they were not encouraged by the denomination.  Free Methodist revivalism was geographically rooted in the Burned Over District where it adhered to a more rational and sedate worship style promoted by urban evangelists like Charles Finney and Phoebe Palmer.  Nonetheless, non-rational experiences, that centered on grace and the Holy Spirit, clearly were accepted and emulated among the Free Methodists of West Virginia.  This is especially ironic, as McCauley attributes these characteristics to the Calvinism present long before Finney produced his New Measures.   Regardless, early leaders such as B.T. Roberts set a precedent of moderation rather than rigid suppression of such events, stating that, “We do not fear any of the manifestations of the Spirit of God.  But let the emotions you manifest be an effect produced by the Divine Spirit.  We may shout until shouting becomes a habit. . . . What we want is not noisy meetings, not still meetings¾but the Spirit of the living God at all our worshipping assemblies.”[30]  Hence, the Appalachians worshipping in the Free Methodist communities were not restrained but were permitted to worship God in a manner consistent with their Appalachian Mountain heritage, with the exception of speaking in tongues.  The following description by Catherine Albanese, of activities at the altar of mountain holiness churches, could have been written following a visit to the Black Hills camp today, despite recent denominational attempts to suppress such “demonstrations,” as ‘being slain in the spirit:’  “People spoke and witnessed; they prayed together and laid hands on one another for healing; they walked to the altar where, often when the preacher stretched out his hand to touch them, they felt they were “slain” by the Holy Ghost and fell in a trance-like state at his feet.”[31]

Image of John Macdonald
John Macdonald

For all of the above reasons Free Methodism in West Virginia had the potential for phenomenal growth.  Yet, Melvin Dieter, in his essay on the Wesleyan / Holiness churches of Appalachia, describes the growth of the “Holiness denominations, agencies, and associations throughout Appalachia after 1900” as “unspectacular.”[32]  It would appear from the present number of congregations that this description is accurate for the Free Methodists of north-central West Virginia.  However, a brief outline of the early growth of the movement reveals an impressive diffusion through the landscape.

Free Methodism entered north-central West Virginia in the 1890s through the work of “pentecostal bands” comprising laywomen and men who would initiate tent meetings and revivals in various cities.  These groups often operated outside of the established channels of denominational authority, a trend that resulted in their eventual schism with the denomination.  This lay movement was tremendously successful as simple people, often educated only in the Bible, shared their message in the ways described above without an organizational, political, or social agenda.  For the first decade of the movement ordained clergy only entered the region to perform revivals or speak at tent meetings.  Hence, two more fundamental components of Appalachian Mountain Religion were present in this movement.  These activities also occurred during a time when many Christians were frustrated with the changes transpiring in their own denominations and were quick to change their allegiances.  “Religious experience as the heart of plain-folk camp-meeting religion had lost completely its central place in the Baptist and Methodist traditions.”[33]

By 1905, the date of the first official annual camp meeting in Fairmont, twelve cities had already been affected.  After this time the churches of the region met together once a year for their annual roving camp meeting, the spirit of which is evident in this portion of a poem by John Wesley MacDonald, father of one of my respondents:

“Go and draw toward Mount Tabor,
Where, with patient faith and labor,
Came the Fairmont District sacramental host.
Came by auto, train, and horseback,
Came from city, farm and wood tract,
By the leading of the blessed Holy Ghost.


At the altar burdened spirits,
Bought through Jesus’ glorious merits,
And received the Father’s promise through His name.
There were Pentecostal fillings,
There were exorcisms and healings,
Of the deaf, the dumb, the blind, the sick and lame.
 

And the glorious invitation,
To the feast of full salvation,
Was proclaimed through streets and by-ways of the town.
So there many were who heard it,
Who, perhaps, had not preferred it,
But the street preachers, as you know, are hard to down.
 

Precious brethren from a distance,
Came to render their assistance,
And their memory, as ointment is poured forth.
Come again to our next meeting,
You will find a hearty greeting,
For we surely do appreciate your worth.”[34]

For the next thirty years the movement grew rapidly, beginning works in thirty-six additional locations in north-central West Virginia through tent meetings, annual camps in cities without a Free Methodist Church, evangelistic Sunday school classes, and revivals in abandoned buildings or churches.  Had this growth trend continued, the Free Methodists might easily have become a large denomination in the state.  However, as is clear by the very unimpressive number of nine remaining churches in the region, this  growth was not sustained.


"'There are too many preachers who, instead of devoting themselves to earnest, faithful, pastoral work, and to the feeding of the flock of God, want to be running hither and thither as evangelists.'"

The reasons for the decline of the movement are multi-faceted.  Contextually, economic forces in West Virginia changed in the 1950s, and the steady stream of migration ran dry.  The first Free Methodist church in the state came with the timber industry to Davis and quickly relocated with the clear-cutters to Hendricks.  Subsequently, diffusion followed the exploitation of north central coalfields.  As this stream of labor tapered off so did new families looking for places to worship.  Secondly, internal philosophical changes brought a quick transformation in vision throughout the denomination and the demise of the pentecostal bands that originally brought the denomination to the state.  B.T. Roberts, founder of the denomination, left his last general conference in 1890 disgusted with the attempt by new leaders to “regulate the aggressive evangelism of the pentecostal bands.”[35]  In 1894, the year of the establishment of the first church in West Virginia, the committee on the “state of the work of the denomination” reported, “There are too many preachers who, instead of devoting themselves to earnest, faithful, pastoral work, and to the feeding of the flock of God, want to be running hither and thither as evangelists.” [36]  Thirdly, the roving camp meeting was domesticated.  Through the 1920s and 1930s the bands were in many ways replaced by the annual migratory camp meeting which helped Free Methodists become rooted in entirely new or recently reached communities.  In his 1997 thesis on historical geography at Ohio University, William McBrayer demonstrated that the meaning of “community” among the broader camp meeting movement went through five distinct phases. 

Though the Free Methodist camp movement in West Virginia has anachronistic characteristics of previous stages, it is certainly rooted in the fifth stage, comprising a reaction against the institutionalized upper middle class resort camp meetings of the Methodist Episcopal Church.[37]  Though the early life of the camp reflects an emphasis toward evangelism, the influences of the broader holiness movement eventually reached the hills of West Virginia.  In the late 1930s local leaders began discussing the benefits of a permanent site for the camp, and consequently the 1939 camp meeting on Route 73 near Morgantown was the last of these transitory events.  The present Black Hills camp was established in 1940 and is a product of the sacrifice of many of the early leaders who enabled the movement to grow.  It provided a location where facilities such as a tabernacle, dining hall, restrooms, and permanent lodging made the camp a more pleasurable and manageable place to retreat from the world and focus on personal holiness.  However, the contextual change significantly effected the geographical diffusion of the denomination in the state.  Prior to 1940, “bed burnings” marked the end of camp, as participants literally set aflame straw from their temporary bedding and left the communities by horse and wagon.  They went to new areas as strangers and left a flame in their wake.  By the late 1940s this situation was remarkably different.  Neighbors left the strangers next door to “take the way” to a setting almost solely composed of other Free Methodists.  “Come time to go to camp we set our face as a flint against the curious and somewhat disapproving neighbors as we loaded up the trucks with beds and boxes and climbed in among them, all the while chanting under our breath, ‘I’m going through, I’m going through… I’ll take the way with the Lord’s despised few.’”[38]

Of course, no answer to the complex questions concerning the decline of an organization can be stated so briefly.  The causes are in actuality multi-faceted and involve transformations in the denomination, the broader religious climate, and society as a whole.  Throughout the period discussed in this paper the Free Methodist Church was in a constant state of flux.  As described above, many of these changes were initiated during the initial penetration of the state, and their effects took some time to impact the local movement.  The 1930s were an especially tumultuous period for the denomination, as in 1939 church leaders agreed to permit the use of instrumental music, a move which some former West Virginia Free Methodists still point to as the decisive and injurious turning point of the denomination

Eva Young
Holiness Preacher Eva Young

The broader religious climate of the 1930s was also challenging for groups competing with Pentecostals.  By this time most of the Christians who were disillusioned with their own denominations had already departed for greener pastures.  Ironically, many members of Wesleyan / Holiness denominations departed to form “A strong leadership base for the eventual expansion of the new Pentecostal churches, which subsequently enjoyed unusual success in the South, particularly in Appalachia.”[39]  The Free Methodist Church was particularly antagonistic toward the teaching that “held that the Baptism of the Spirit resulted not in perfect holiness, but rather (in a phrase reflecting Keswick influence) ‘enduement for service.’”[40]  Leslie Marsden, in his work which became the textbook for Free Methodism, quotes H. A. Baldwin, the Free Methodist Pentecostal band leader who helped start communities in Elkins, Philippi, Fairmont, Clarksburg, Hendricks, Monongah, Dellslow, and Morgantown before leaving the state to return to Pennsylvania in 1906, the year of the Asuza Street Revival. [41]  He states: “The ill feeling among recently estranged kin were as intense as toward the liberals whose errors were more patent.  As H.A. Baldwin, a Free Methodist pastor, put in 1911, ‘Keswickism was one of the most dangerous enemies of the Christian experience.”[42]  This Keswick tradition, which “stressed supernatural grace when it spoke of the ‘filling of the Spirit,’ ‘Christ dwelling in you,’ and ‘let go and let God,’” [43] lies much closer to the Appalachian focus than does the traditional Free Methodist version, providing an advantage to the Pentecostal movement in the state.

Changes in the broader culture also influenced the decline of West Virginia Free Methodism.  Contextually, the nation was ascending out of depression and entering into a world war as the permanent tabernacle was being constructed at the Black Hills camp.  The subsequent national economic growth, with its emphasis on materialism, is the most common reason cited by local Free Methodists for their decline.  “People became self-sufficient and personal pleasure took precedence over outreach.  Sabbath desecration, humanistic secularism, and the mobility of society have taken their toll.”[44]

This article attempted to link the growth of the Free Methodist movement in north-central West Virginia with Appalachian Mountain Religion and the plain-folk camp meeting and to demonstrate how the combination of subsequent attempts by the denomination to control evangelism and the demise of the roving camp meeting greatly influenced the decline of the movement.  The combination of subsequent attempts by the denomination to control evangelism, and the demise of the roving camp meeting, greatly influenced the decline of the movement.  This situation is ironic as it is the very combination of events that led to a decline of growth in the broader Methodist movement a century before when “circuit riders settled into permanent positions” and “the spontaneous camp meeting had gradually evolved into the permanent structures of a denominational campground.”[45]  Had the early West Virginia Free Methodist pioneers paid attention to the cycle of development of their ancestors, they may have been able to avoid the significant losses that have occurred in the region since 1940. 

Despite the negative impact of the Black Hills Camp’s establishment upon denominational growth in West Virginia, it has nevertheless continued to benefit the religious and social lives of countless residents of the region throughout its sixty-three year history.  This community has remained faithful to the purposes for which it was founded and, notwithstanding the fact that it no longer rotates into different communities each year, the message spoken has remained consistent.  Every July, Free Methodists continue to gather for the ten-day family camp where most participants lodge in simple five by ten tin sheds and shower in a rudimentary concrete block facility.  Despite some recent improvements, the focus of the camp remains theologically Christocentric in an environment that by anyone’s standards is bereft of worldly pleasures.  The tabernacle, designed and built by the camp founder John Wesley MacDonald, continues to serve its purpose as a place to encounter the Holy Spirit.  Sinners are still saved, backsliders are sanctified, demons are exorcized, the sick and lame are healed, and “Holiness Unto the Lord” is proclaimed. 



[1] McCauley, Deborah. 1995.  Appalachian Mountain Religion. University of Illinois Press: Chicago.  pg. 251

[2] Ibid. pg. 245

[3] Schwieger, Beth. 2000.  The Gospel Working Up.  Oxford University Press: New York. pg. 7

[4] McCauley, Deborah. 1995.  Appalachian Mountain Religion. University of Illinois Press: Chicago. pg. 247

[5]Ibid.  pg. 9

[6] Ibid. pg. 120

[7] Cross, Whitney. 1950.  The Burned Over District.  Harper & Row: New York.  pg. 354

[8] McKenna, David. 1995.  A Future With a History. Light and Life Press: Indianapolis. pg. 13

[9] Smith, Timothy. 1957. Revivalism & Social Reform.  Harper & Row: New York. pg. 122

[10] McKenna, David. 1995.  A Future With a History. Light and Life Press: Indianapolis. pg. 13

[11] Smith, Timothy. 1957. Revivalism & Social Reform.  Harper & Row: New York.  pg. 130

[12] Marston, Leslie. 1960. From Age to Age: A Living Witness. Light and Life Press: Indianapolis, IN pg. 187

[13] Ibid.

[14] Marston, Leslie. 1960. From Age to Age: A Living Witness. Light and Life Press: Indianapolis, IN  pg. 264

[15] Albanese, Catherine. 1992.  America: Religions and Religion. Wadsworth Publishing: Belmont, CA.  pg. 332

[16] Canon, C. H. Cowsert, E. W. Page, R. L. 1983. History of the Pittsburgh Conference of the Free Methodist Church. Pittsburgh Conference: Pittsburgh, PA. pg. 149

[17] Page, Ralph.  “Camp Memories” journal exercise recorded by Pauline Shahan..  July 6, 1980

[18] Ibid.

[19]McCauley, Deborah. 1995.  Appalachian Mountain Religion. University of Illinois Press: Chicago .  pg. 11

[20] MacDonald, Charles.  Interview by Michael Ferber.  Tape Recording at the home of the interviewee.  April 23, 2002.

[21] McCauley, Deborah.  “Mountain Holiness.”  In Leonard, Bill.  Christianity in Appalachia.  University of Tennessee Press: Knoxville.  pg. 108

[22] Albanese, Catherine. 1992.  America: Religions and Religion. Wadsworth Publishing: Belmont, CA.  pg. 338

[23] McCauley, Deborah. 1995.  Appalachian Mountain Religion. University of Illinois Press: Chicago. pg. 261

[24] Lemmon, Dewilla.  “Camp Memories” journal exercise recorded by Pauline Shahan..  July 6, 1980

[25] Stanley, Gladys. “Camp Memories” journal exercise recorded by Pauline Shahan..  July 6, 1980

[26] MacDonald, Charles.  Interview by Michael Ferber.  Tape Recording at the home of the interviewee.  April 23, 2002.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Eddy, Marie. “Camp Memories” journal exercise recorded by Pauline Shahan..  July 6, 1980

[30] Marston, Leslie. 1960. From Age to Age: A Living Witness. Light and Life Press: Indianapolis, IN  pg. 332

[31] Albanese, Catherine. 1992.  America: Religions and Religion. Wadsworth Publishing: Belmont, CA. pg. 344

[32] Dieter, Melvin.  “Wesleyan / Holiness Churches” In Leonard, Bill.  Christianity in Appalachia.  University of Tennessee Press: Knoxville. pg. 239

[33]McCauley, Deborah. 1995.  Appalachian Mountain Religion. University of Illinois Press: Chicago..  pg. 118

[34] MacDonald, John Wesley.  “Fairmont District Camp Meeting.”  Year Unknown

[35] McKenna, David. 1995.  A Future With a History. Light and Life Press: Indianapolis. pg. 36

[36] Marston, Leslie. 1960. From Age to Age: A Living Witness. Light and Life Press: Indianapolis, IN pg. 436

[37] McBrayer, William. 1997.  The American Revival Camp Meeting: A Historical Geography of Religious Community Formation and its Evolution From Camp to Institution  Thesis: Ohio University

[38] Lemmon, Dewilla. “Camp Memories” journal exercise recorded by Pauline Shahan. July 6, 1980

[39] Dieter, Melvin.  “Wesleyan / Holiness Churches” In Leonard, Bill.  Christianity in Appalachia.  University of Tennessee Press: Knoxville. pg. 236

[40] Marsden, George. 1980.  Fundamentalism and American Culture. Oxford University Press: New York. Pg. 94

[41] Baldwin, Clara.  Mother Baldwin’s Ninety Years.  Pgs. 85 - 107

[42]  Marsden, George. 1980.  Fundamentalism and American Culture. Oxford University Press: New York.  pg. 95

[43] Ibid. pg. 100

[44]  Canon, C. H. Cowsert, E. W. Page, R. L. 1983. History of the Pittsburgh Conference of the Free Methodist Church. Pittsburgh Conference: Pittsburgh, PA  pg. 27

[45] Szasz, Ferenc. 1955.  In Johnson, Charles.  The Frontier Camp Meeting: Religions Harvest Time. pg. xvi

Mr. Ferber is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Geology and Geography at West Virginia University

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