UNIOPOLIS — This summer, Mt. Lookout Holiness Camp will hold its 117th camp meeting, but it might be its last.
The campground board was told by the Environmental Protection Agency two years ago that the septic system needed to be updated or they would no longer be allowed to use anything that used plumbing at the camp. The Rev. Eric Allen, pastor of Trinity Wesleyan Church, said he filed for an extension in March 2014, but that the extension only lasts for 18 months. He is currently filing for another extension which would give them another year in which to get the upgraded system installed.
Grace Woolley, long time member of Trinity Wesleyan Church, said the cost of the upgrade is around $40,000. A member of the church left about half of that amount in his will, and Woolley said they will be sending out letters to all the alumni of the camp. However, as the deadline draws closer, the board is unsure if it will reach its goal.
If the goal is not met, Allen said they will probably have to sell the campgrounds. Even though they could continue to hold the revival services by using portable toilets, Allen said they cannot sustain the campgrounds.
In 1898, membership to the campgrounds was $1. Today it is only $5, and with only 30 paying members, it is not nearly enough to keep up the grounds. At one time, there were over 30 churches involved with the campgrounds that also contributed to the costs of its upkeep.
If the money can be raised and the septic system upgraded, Allen said that they plan to rent out the grounds for things like weddings, reunions and other events to help with the upkeep costs.
Trinity Wesleyan Church, along with New Hampshire Church of the Nazarene and Lima First Church of the Nazarene, are involved in running the yearly camp meetings. It was Trinity Wesleyan Church that originally came up with the idea of having a camp meeting nearby that would be open, not just to their church, but other churches in the area.
The first revival meeting at the campground was held Aug. 11 to 21, 1898. Local farmers Hugh and Phoebe Lusk allowed the group to meet in a grove of trees in a tent on their land which was located between Waynesfield and Uniopolis on Wrestle Creek Road. The first year was such a success that it was decided to continue the camp meetings every year, and the Lusks deeded over the land for the campgrounds. Lusk, who was a talented carpenter, also helped to build the permanent tabernacle on the 11-acre tract of land.
“That building itself is very historical,” said Woolley. “It was fitted together with wooden pegs to make an elaborate architectural design. There are no nails that were used to construct it.”
Early on, sawdust covered the floors. People would park their buggies in the lower pasture and walk up for the services. As time went on, the sawdust was replaced with straw and then permanent flooring.
Dormitories were built to house families and evangelists who came to stay for the nightly meetings that lasted from Sunday to Sunday. As members of other churches began to attend, the tabernacle was often filled to overflowing. Services were lively, with attendees frequently offering up “amen” and the occasional “hallelujah.”
Over the years, programs have come and gone. Some buildings have been torn down with new ones taking their place, but the campground has always been a place for spiritual growth.
“Setting aside the mechanics,” said Pat Rigel, member of Lima First Church of the Nazarene, “there is a deep spiritual history. People who are now pastors came to Christ there. One young lady who was a camper is now a song evangelist. Our own children and grandchildren have been campers there.”
Certainly, during its 117 years of annual camp meetings, the tabernacle walls have borne witness to many spiritual experiences, including healings and salvations.
Allen added that the camp meeting has become a time of retreat, and while most adults do not stay at the camp overnight, it has become a time to get away.
“A big part of the spiritual aspect is that it is way off from everything,” said Allen. “It is a family tradition for many people.”
Jim Rigel, husband of Pat Rigel, said that the interdenominational camp meetings brought unity between churches, as well.
“It was a time to lay aside any differences,” he said, “and just worship together. There is no way to replace that.”
This year’s camp meeting will be held Aug. 23 to 30 and feature evangelist Ken Purdue. However, only time will tell if this will be the last camp meeting held at Mt. Lookout Holiness Camp or if the camp will be relegated to the pages of history.