On Sunday 24th May a tradition that has for many years fallen by the wayside in St.Ives is to be revived.
Camp meetings were introduced in the early 1800's and were all day, open-air gatherings for Christian preaching and group prayer evangelical revival meetings, usually followed by a love feast. 'Primitive Methodism' germinated in the Camp Meetings from 1807 onwards and its separate organisational form came about as a direct result of the Wesleyan circuit authorities' reaction to these Meetings. The first camp meeting drew a crowd of around 4000.
Primitive Methodism was a grassroots, mainly working class movement which began in north Staffordshire and quickly spread across the country, and overseas to America, Australia and Africa. It fired the hearts and minds of agricultural labourers, miners, potters, mill workers, fishermen, dressmakers and domestic servants, inspiring a passion for justice which led many to become leaders of the early trade unions. Many women became gifted preachers, and were paid to go out as travelling or itinerant ministers from 1813, which was very radical at the time.
The Fore Street Methodist Church in Fore Street, St.Ives bears the Primitive Methodist slogan across its facade today. This facade has changed little over the years but inside the church modern comfortable seating has replaced many of the hard wooden upright benches, although the upstairs 'gallery' still retains these original pews. TV screens now display hymn words and a modern audio system with recording facility enhances the sound quality of speakers and musicians. The pipe organ has been retained and complemented by a baby grand piano, with guitars and drums providing an alternative musical worship style. A website and Twitter site using the acronym FSMC now shares up to date news of this growing fellowship and its work and witness within the local community and further afield.
Up until the early sixties the church held an annual camp meeting on the Island, members and visitors alike processing up from the chapel with a piano on a barrow, singing hymns and choruses as they walked. The 'Meadow', 'Double Hedge' and back of the Island was used for net drying (although not on a Sunday), so the clean grass on the front of the Island where the local ladies dried their washing on a Monday was the preferred site for the meeting.
In the 60's chapel attendance in St.Ives was still very popular, as was the open air services led by the Salvation Army on the slipway where hundreds would gather to sing favourite hymns and listen to the gospel on a Sunday evening. It is not clear why the camp Meetings in St.Ives ceased, although the increasing numbers of cars and background noise generated by other sources may have played a part in this.
On Sunday 24th the chapel will be reviving the 'Camp Meeting' tradition on the Island at 4pm (weather permitting). Everyone is welcome to join in and participate in this time of worship and praise, there will be singing by the FSMC Gospel Choir and folk are invited to bring a blanket and picnic on the grass.
It is hoped that the weather will be fine for this special celebration but if inclement then the inside of the comfortable 'Primitive' chapel will be the venue.
'Band Tea' the colloquial term for St.Ives' Sunday School Treats and March of Witness has always been held on Whitsun Bank Holiday Monday to commemorate the season of Pentecost in the Christian calendar. This year that falls on 25th May and FSMC will again celebrate that occasion. This has been a tradition and testimony celebrated for many years and all are welcome to join, meeting at Bunkers Hill (opposite the chapel at 2.15pm.).