Title: Campers arrive for Church of God convention
This past Thursday, numerous campers and a few tents had sprouted in the fields adjacent to the Anderson University campus. By Friday, about 60 of the more than 300 campsites were already full, with new arrivals coming every few minutes. An estimated 20,000 people are expected to flock to Anderson through June 20 for the 115th North American Church of God Convention. While some will stay in the dorms and others will frequent local hotels, many attendees will camp.
"It's one of the traditions we have," said Pete Neidert as he sat in the shade of his camper's awning.
He and his wife, Helen, traveled from North Canton, Ohio, for the convention.
They have been coming for the last 20 years for the "good song service, good preaching and testimony of what the Lord's done for people," Pete Neidert said.
The campgrounds are also a good place for old friends to catch up.
Bert and Bill Hunter and Dennis and Etta Mae attended Anderson University together 40 years ago.
Now, the Maes live in Pennsylvania and the Hunters live in Louisiana, but each year they renew their friendship at the convention.
"We really enjoy the services," Bill Hunter said. Both couples said Anderson University was where they met their spouses. The Hunters grew up in Minnesota and Alabama, while the Maes grew up in Pennsylvania and Baltimore.
"We found each other here," Dennis Mae said with a smile for his wife.
However, Bill Hunter's pilgrimage's to the Church of God convention began long before he was a college student at AU.
"I'm 62 and I probably was out here when I was 5; no, I was out here as a baby," he said. It's a tradition they have passed on to their children, as well.
Most of the people camping for the week opted for the comfort of a motor home or trailer. The Church of God offers full electric, water and sewer hookup for many of the campsites. However, there were a few tents pitched in the corners of the camping area.
"We've been through tornados, storms and tent rippings," Michigan resident Kathleen Friend said. Her friend, Arlene Inman, normally lives in a senior facility, but for the past 11 years, she's braved a tent to attend the Church of God convention.
"We've both had some health problems, but I think coming down here and camping out helps out," Inman said.
Next door, Bessie and Donald Olson from New York, said building a new parsonage stood between them and a snazzy motor home.
So, Thursday afternoon they were debating who had to scrub down the tarp they were going to use to shade their tent.
Later in the week, six of their eight children and their families will be joining them. Their children are coming from as far away as Texas and Alaska.
"It's like a family reunion," Donald Olson said. Bessie said she's been making the trip for more than 50 years.
"I think it was '42, during the war, when I came out here the first time and I rode on a train with all the soldiers," she said.
While others, like Marion Battles from Vincennes, did not have to travel quite so far, they were still looking forward to the opportunity for fellowship and worship.
"We especially are looking forward to meeting friends in the live tent and the preaching services," Battles said.
This year's theme, "Beyond Belief ... The Kingdom Now," stresses the message that God is a part of people's lives each day. Services will address topics such as, "Jesus Taught It," "The Disciples Caught It," and "The Church Continues It."
---Amy Cahill is a reporter for the Anderson Herald-Bulletin.