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Shingleroof meeting rich in history, meaning

By Clay Wilson

According to Gene Morris Jr., Shingleroof Campmeeting is like the legendary Scottish city of Brigadoon.

But whereas the subject of the Lerner and Lowe musical only rises from the Highland mists once every 100 years, Shingleroof springs to life each summer.

Morris, the author of "True Southerners: A Pictorial History of Henry County," said the fact that it only happens once a year makes the Shingleroof Campmeeting's long history all the more impressive.

"To have something that comes alive like Brigadoon – that allows us for one week a year to step back to those simpler times, to me that's remarkable," he said.

In 1999, at the request of U.S. Congressman Mac Collins, Morris compiled a history of the campground for the Library of Congress' Local Legacies Collection.

He went on to put his research on Shingleroof into "True Southerners." And because he felt it has played such a significant role in the county's history, Morris included a section on it in all but one of the book's chapters – each of which details a distinct era.

"It's had strong cultural and social aspect since the very beginning, and it continues to," he said.

According to "True Southerners," the history of Shingleroof Campmeeting dates back to at least 1831, possibly earlier. Associated with the religious fervor of the Second Great Awakening, campmeetings sprang up all along the Southern frontier – of which Henry County was a part in the early 1800s.

Established by Methodist trustees in 1831, Shingleroof was one of five religious campgrounds in the county in the 1800s. Morris quotes a 1930 Macon Telegraph article saying Shingleroof's name came from the fact that the "tabernacle" on the grounds was changed from a brush arbor to a shingle-roofed structure "before any other campground in the county was so dignified."

According to Morris, Shingleroof was the only one of the campgrounds to survive. The annual campmeeting still draws hundreds of area citizens each year.

Morris credits the longevity of the phenomenon to its "Divine design" – associating it with the Jewish "Feast of Tabernacles" instituted by God in the Old Testament.

"It's apparently something that's very compatible with human nature," he said, this concept of coming together in a natural setting for a time of fellowship and spiritual renewal.

The Rev. Mack Riley, pastor of McDonough First United Methodist Church and host pastor of Shingleroof Campmeeting, also touched on both the human and divine aspects of the event.

This will be Riley's third year of involvement with the campmeeting. He said it is a time for people to come together "to revive our spirits, not only in a spiritual way, but also in a human way.

"I think part of (the campmeeting's continuing appeal) is that it sort of hearkens people back to an earlier time when people fellowshipped," he said. "We live in a depersonalized, almost dehumanized world – I think there's a hunger there for (fellowship) and it still draws people."