Redwood Camp Meeting-Observations
by Ken Miller
Before I left for Redwood Camp Meeting, I asked a twenty-two-year-old former student of mine what to expect. He said, “I’ve grown up going to other camp meetings and Redwood, and all things considered, I’d rather be at Redwood.”
And so, with that review, I entered the splendor of the redwoods. The first person I met was Harry Salvini, camp director. He had that look that all conference employees have when the pressure is on, a confident, deer-in-headlights face, knowing it will soon be hit by the car! But he was cheerful, exclaiming in a triumphant tone, “Lost the refrigerator last night, but after transferring all the frozen food, we got it going again, praise the Lord!” I would notice a recurring temperament with all the volunteers: Lovingly indefatigable.
I would see Harry’s attitude in every person I met. Like Bob and Sue Calkins, Redwood campers for forty years that now make the trek from Ooltewah, Tennessee. A Redwood highlight this year was watching their grandson get baptized in the Eel River. The Sanchez family travels from Sonora, California to enjoy a special connection with God among the massive forest.
Redwood Camp Meeting has been going since 1952 and at its current location since 1976. As I walked into the labyrinth of redwood trees at the camp, it was as if somebody had pulled the shades on a bright summer afternoon. This cooler, dimmer world was very relaxing, and I was met at every turn by smiling faces, family campsites, friendly salutations, and the distinct aroma of vege-burgers and corn dogs. “Ahh, camp meeting.”
At a morning devotional held for pastors in the youth area, invited speaker Gary Venden gave an inspiring talk on how “if we abide in Jesus every day; He will affect the outcomes we often make our burdens.” I drop by the Division II children’s corral. It was decorated to the standard of any cradle roll or kindergarten class; of course, without walls, and furry trees as a ceiling. John and Alison Cloke from Manteca have been part of a teaching team since 1984. Unfortunately, 2022 will be their last year in charge of Division I, trusting the next generation will come and fill their shoes.
Redwood Camp meeting for many is akin to a family reunion, meeting up like clockwork each year. As I roamed the camp, I spoke to several people who met their future spouses decades before, maybe climbing trees or swimming in the river. Watching the kids run to and fro, climb trees, and play hide and seek. “How many future nuptials might I be seeing on this day?” Scene after scene took me back to my happy childhood.
Like everything else, Redwood has been heavily affected by the COVID-19 years. In 2021, adhering to county occupancy restrictions, campers could attend two limited population sessions. Those I talked to about last year (2021) were cheery at the remembrance. “It wasn’t as big as we’d hoped, but we were here!” Said one person.
Harry Salvini related that 1,065 came through the gates at this year’s camp meeting – more than double from previous years. He exclaimed. “So, we’re on the way back!”
If you can cherish a friend you’ve just met, Redwood Camp Meeting is that “friend” for me. In just three days, I developed a love for the camp usually reserved for my family and a few select friends. I still like other camp meetings, but I’d rather be at Redwood.
The camp is smack dab in the middle of an Eel River flood plain, and a lot of water will make it into the camp every decade or so. There is a measurement pole in the center of camp with depths corresponding with the years it has come into camp. According to Ted Calkins, retired pastor, “One of those flood years helped pay for the one permanent building on campus, the bathrooms!