Youths explore the natural springs, used for baptisms, at Salem Camp Meeting 2012.
Throughout its history, every bishop in the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church has preached from the pulpit at Salem Camp Meeting -- a tradition that will not be broken on his watch, said Sam Ramsey, chairman of the board of trustees for the historic annual week of worship in Covington.
Bishop Mike Watson of the North Georgia Conference will preach Sunday morning at this year's Salem Camp Meeting week, which begins the evening of Friday, July 12, with supper at the Salem Hotel. Camp meeting continues through July 19, with days and nights filled with preaching, music, fellowship, food and special activities. Watson is preaching "the big Sunday service," Ramsey said, adding that he is happy the bishop will be part of the event this year.
"The last couple of years he's had a conflict, so he told me, 'Sam, I'm coming this year,'" Ramsey said. "I said, 'We can't break the line of bishops preaching.' He's a great preacher.
Watson leads a conference that has more than 359,000 members, 900 churches and 1,400 clergy.
Born into an active United Methodist family in Dothan, Ala., he received his bachelor's degree from the University of Alabama, a master's degree from Emory's Candler School of Theology and a doctor of ministry degree from Vanderbilt University.
Watson served as pastor of churches throughout the Alabama and West-Florida Conference. From 1990 to 2000, he served as pastor of Dauphin Way UMC in Mobile, Ala., where he was also chairman of the Mobile County School Board. He was elected to the episcopacy by the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference in 2000 and served as bishop of the South Georgia Area from 2000-2008.
The bishop currently serves as chairman of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of the UMC. He is also the chairman of the Committee on Evangelism of the World Methodist Council, president of World Methodist Evangelism and serves on a number of other boards.
Married to the former Margaret Lee, Watson has two children, Ben Watson and Elizabeth Watson Riddle. He is also the grandfather of four.
Also preaching during the week will be Dr. William R. "Bill" Bouknight, a Greenville, S.C., native who is former chairman of the board of directors of the Confessing Movement within the UMC. He now serves part-time as associate director of the Confessing Movement.
Born into a minister's family, Bouknight grew up in Methodist parsonages across South Carolina. His undergraduate and most of his seminary education were received at Duke University with his master of divinity degree completed at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He completed the Sacred Theology Masters at Yale Divinity School.
Bouknight has served five churches in South Carolina, including 12 years as senior minister of Trenholm Road UMC in Columbia. He was appointed senior minister of Christ UMC in Memphis, Tenn., in 1994, where thousands joined the church under his leadership.
"He's one of the top Methodist preachers in the country," Ramsey said. "He went to Christ Church in Memphis, Tenn., when it was already a big church and added 4,000 -- one-third of those were by profession of faith. He's going to be great."
Bouknight retired in 2007, after serving 41 years in full-time ministry. He is a recipient of the Harry Denman Evangelism Award and was named the Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church in 2002.
He has been married to Gloria Pardee Bouknight for 42 years. They are the parents of two sons, Brad and Aaron.
Sharing preaching duties for the week with Bouknight will be the Rev. John Dees, senior pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Madison, Ala., where he has served for more than 10 years. He is also chaplain of the Bob Jones High School football team. Dees has been a pastor for two decades and served churches in Huntsville, Ala., and Farmville, Ala.
Dees holds a master degree in religious education from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Prior to that he attended Auburn University on a football scholarship. He earned a bachelor's degree in secondary education from Auburn. He and his wife Kelli are the parents of Jason Dees, the former pastor of the First Baptist Church of Covington. Mrs. Dees is a former missionary to Spain who now teaches English as a second language.
Salem Camp Meeting was founded in 1828 and is one of the oldest existing camp meetings in the nation. Families and friends return each year to stay for the week and take part in worship, fellowship and activities for all ages. The campground has camper hookups and a hotel with private baths and home-style cooking.
"We're going to have a real powerful group in the pulpit," Ramsey said.
Tom Roberts will again serve as song leader and Becky Ramsey and Alice Walker will again be the musicians for the week. The identical twin sisters will release a new album during this year's camp meeting. Titled "We're Standing On Holy Ground," the album will be for sale and Mr. Ramsey said the proceeds will go to the Salem Campground.
This will be Mr. Ramsey's 74th Salem Camp Meeting -- 75th, he said, if you count the year his mother attended camp meeting the August before he was born in December. He is passionate about the annual event and has served the organization for several decades.
"One of the things that has made me work so hard on Salem is I have seen the results," Ramsey said. "There are 17 people I know of who have gone into full-time Christian ministry because of Salem Campground and that's just in the last 20 years. Not many big churches can claim that."
A full schedule of events for this year's camp meeting can be found at www.salemcampmeeting.org. Salem Campground is located at 3940 Salem Road in Covington.