Turning Out The Lights At Epworth Camp

epworth journey camp 2016

About three months ago now, I helped lead worship for the final Epworth Camp Service in Louisville, IL.  It was the end of an era. The spirit was upbeat, people were grateful and thankful and there is a vision for something new, which I think it always helpful.

Reflecting back to the last time I left an actual camp at Epworth – it was at the close of Holiness Camp in mid July of 2015. The final service of the final camp of the season ended about 8:30 on Sunday evening, we packed up the sound, loaded the Harvest trailer and then talked to a few people for a bit.  Then, I walked back in to the dining hall all by myself, shut off the lights, walked out, got in the van and drove off.  That was it.  I still remember the interesting sense of finishing.

After a quick calculation, including summer camps and other weekend events, it looks like I’ve spent about 380 nights at Epworth Camp in Louisville, IL. This number is topped only by Beulah Camp, which I have attend since I was an infant. When a person has been somewhere for more than a year, (if you stacked all those nights end to end), it does begin to feel like home in some way.

Epworth opened up in 1947 as a dream of a pastor in the area who wanted a camp in close geographical proximity.  Times have changed and people do drive farther for things these days – so the geographical issue may not be as a big of deal as it once was. But for 68 years, this dream has been alive – to reach students, in that part of the world for Christ.

My first summer was 1992.  That would mean, I’ve been connected there for 23 years – 35% of the camp’s total history!  My mom was also a camper there when she was a teenager. That’s pretty amazing history.

Most all the Harvest people over the last 20 years have passed by Epworth Camp in one way or another. There were some Harvest team members, who after serving went on to serve in ministry at Epworth – on the core teams or as speakers and leaders.

Here are some of the highlighted Harvest / Epworth memories:

1. It was one of the first Sr. High Camps to invite me to lead music for the week – just me and the guitar.

2. It was one of the first week-long camps for which Harvest led worship (even before Harvest was named Harvest).

3. I remember playing the guitar for hour and twenty minutes one evening during a altar call time at Epworth.  The fall after that summer evening worship service, I recorded Altar, an instrumental prayer album. I have always gotten comments about this music.

4. Of all the camps Harvest has served, there have been more ER trips at Epworth than any other – thankfully all relatively minor.

5.  Camping has always been a very hands-on opportunity for many folks – including me.  God used Epworth in lots of faith journeys!  Here is just one of the many videos from Harvest at Epworth.

Praise the Lord for using Epworth Camp in the lives of so many students and leaders!

Deborah Riddle is one of the leaders for the new Epworth Journey Camp – a traveling style event that will be held in Greenville, IL. You can contact for Epworth and if you’re interested in finding out more you can visit the website or the Epworth Journey Facebook. 

Looking forward to and praying for new ministry opportunities in July!

12 thoughts on “Turning Out The Lights At Epworth Camp”

  1. I went to Epworth with my grandma grandpa Devor Rolland Devor. They had. All of us grandkids with them it was so much fun. I will never forget all the songs and stories and all the late night’s talking about how much fun we had that day. I miss camp, I miss my grandpa and I will never forget all the memories we made there.


  3. I was on Core Staff at Epworth for 6 year while on staff at 1st UMC in Olney. Worked with Brad Henson and Leroy Allison to put together the senior high camp and loved spending that week with the young people each summer. I was there the first year you came to lead music. Great memories of seeing the Lord work in the hearts of many young men and women.

  4. I went to Epworth camp as a teenager and got saved. I came back later as a young adult and served as a camp dorm leader and teacher. Back again as the camp nurse where Tim Price was the song leader. I believe Tim’s first year. Lots of good memories. Seen young people get saved, healed and delivered. Glad to see Epworth continuing on!

  5. My history with Epworth dates from infancy as I grew up in Louisville. My dad, Royal Erwin, was the treasurer for the Holiness Camp Assoc. which owned the tabernacle and surrounding grounds. Southern Illinois Conference owned the back part of the property from the dining hall on up the hill including the 2-story “cabins” and the large house at the east end of the property. The Louisville church would dismiss local worship and attend Holiness Camp during the two weeks it was in session. This was followed with two weeks of “youth camp”, one for junior high and one for senior high.
    The ringing of the large bell always told people around town when breakfast was served, morning worship, time for lunch, (2 o’clock worship for Holiness Camp), evening meal time, and 7 o’clock worship. This went on for three weeks in the summer for years and years.
    I worked as part of the music staff for several years for Holiness Camp, and for Sr. High camp by playing a spinet Hammond organ on loan from a music dealer in Effingham in the mid 1960’s – early 1970’s. In the 1950-1965 era there were such large crowds for Holiness Camp and Epworth that wooden folding chairs had to be brought from storage and put outside the tabernacle on both sides, and large canvas meeting tents were set up around the grounds for Bible study and other classes during Epworth.
    Our society has changed, and so has our hunger for things of God.

  6. Memories of the Early Days at Epworth Camp, By Rev. Walter A. Smith (written in the 1990s)

    As a background to these remarks let me speak briefly about the camp meeting (ed. note: a camp meeting is a religious revival held for several days usually held in a rural setting.) I have heard that under the direction of local Methodist pastor in Louisville, Illinois, a group of men got together and formed the Clay County Holiness Association. I think that this occurred either in the late 1920s or the 1930s. They began holding a summer camp meeting using a large tent to house the services.

    The Holiness Association grew in popularity and support through the years. It was in an era when there were a number of thriving camp meetings in southern Illinois. In addition to Eldorado, there were Tilden, Bonnie and Jacob’s Camp just to name a few. At the close of World War II when material and manpower became available, the Clay County Holiness Association bought a piece of property on the northern edge of Louisville and built a sizeable tabernacle. As I recall, they also built a small book store and office, plus two small “workers” cabins.

    It was about this time that the camp was at its peak. Some of the Board of Directors, wanting to increase its mission and service, went to the Methodist District Superintendent, Dr. Earl C. Phillips and asked him to establish a Summer Youth Institute using the Camp facilities free of charge.

    Dr. Phillips had been a former Dean of the Eldorado Institute, so he saw the possibilities of such a project in the Olney District. He sought the support of several pastors in his district and the project was begun. A small but enthusiastic group met for a summer camp. I think that was either 1947 or 1948.

    In 1948, I was appointed to the Olney First Methodist Church. A few months later, Dr. Phillips came to me soliciting my help in leading and promoting his youth project. I remember that he wanted to pattern it after the Eldorado Institute which was such a huge success in the southern part of the Conference.

    Our Olney Church had a large two-story cabin at Eldorado, and our youth had been encouraged to attend the Eldorado Camp by my predecessor, Dr. H.E. Burge. Naturally, I hesitated to change what appeared to be a successful and popular program.

    However, it soon became evident that the new camp in Louisville could accomplish the same mission and that we in the Olney Church were needed to assure its success. So, I encouraged our church to sell its Eldorado cabin and build a new one at Louisville.

    In the meantime, a plot of ground, about seven acres, became available for purchase adjoining the Holiness Camp grounds on the east. It had been the estate of one of Louisville’s more affluent citizens, who had since died and his ancestors had neglected it. There was a large two-story house on the acreage which was in poor repair. This old house was used as a girl’s dormitory for several years. Dr. Phillips seized the opportunity and raised the necessary funds to buy the property for the Olney District. He wanted the Camp to have a decided Methodist flavor so he named it the Epworth Methodist Youth Institute of the Olney District.

    Having sold our Eldorado property, the Olney Church built the first institute cabin on the new property. Flora Methodist Church followed us promptly, as did Clay City and several others. The Camp grew at a rapid pace.

    At about this same time Dr. Phillips urged me to take his place in leadership as Dean of the Institute. So, I guess that I was the first official Dean of Epworth Youth Institute. Our immediate concern was a dining hall where safe nutritious meals could be prepared and served. We had been using a large tent as a make-shift dining room.

    Dr. Phillips raised the funds in a very short time and we spent some $10,000 building and furnishing the new dining space. We built it on Methodist owned property, of course. About this time we heard of a small Church college in Springfield, Missouri that was closing and selling its properties. We learned that it had a good supply of stainless steel serving trays, stainless tableware, as well as a good supply of pots and pans. So, early one spring morning Rev. Gerald Gulley, who was the Louisville pastor, and I took my car and went to Springfield. We found the church College and loaded my car to the roof with our kitchen supplies.

    At about this same time, we asked some of our farmers to come with their plows and tractors and level off a spot large enough for a softball diamond. The new facilities made Epworth Institute more popular than ever, so it grew quickly to near capacity.

    We were now ready to carry out our programs of classes in churchmanship in the morning, recreation in the afternoon and most important of all, strong evangelistic service each evening.

    In 1952, I became District Superintendent of the Olney District. I continued to promote the Epworth Institute in all our churches. In those days I visited each charge three or four times per year and was able to know a great number of our laity, including the youth. I continued as Dean for another year or so then turned the leadership over to others. I am not sure, but I believe that Rev. Max Martin, the pastor at Flora, became my successor.

    My interest in Epworth continued throughout my term as District Superintendent and onward, but after leaving the district in 1958, I gradually lost contact and have little recollection of the later history of Epworth Camp. I do know that over the years many young people found a deep Christian experience there and some responded to the call to preach through the services of Epworth Youth Institute.

    Note: I found this among my father’s papers. He died in 1998. John M. Smith, Carbondale, IL

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