Family Tradition: Taylors of Tabernacle Kinfolk Camp Meeting in Brownsville

May 21, 2013

By Jessica Mozo

Taylor of Tabernacle

You might say the annual Taylors of Tabernacle Kinfolk Camp Meeting is the mother of all family reunions. Every July, roughly 700 descendants of the Taylor family converge at Tabernacle United Methodist Church near Brownsville for a weeklong reunion and spiritual revival filled with laughter, tears, hugs and lots of good old-fashioned, face-to-face conversation.

“Some families go years without seeing each other, but we make a point to see each other at least once every year,” says Mac Thornton, a descendant of family patriarch Howell Taylor. “It’s in our genes. People keep coming back because they always have. It’s been passed down from generation to generation, and it’s pretty high on the priority list of things to do.”

Rev. Howell Taylor (1754-1845) moved his family from Virginia to Tennessee in 1817. The Taylors established roots in Haywood County in 1826, setting up the original family homestead and Methodist church.

Like clockwork, hundreds of Taylor’s descendants have gravitated back to their ancestral homeland near Brownsville every year since. They camp in rustic cabins at the 11-acre Tabernacle Family Campground and attend three church services daily to hear well-known evangelists speak.

Richard and Lara Taylor at Taylors of Tabernacle

“The revival part of the reunion is so powerful and has been really instrumental in the lives of people who camp,” says Susan Thornton, Taylor family historian and a Nashville general contractor. “If we were just a bunch of people wearing matching family reunion T-shirts and playing horseshoes, we’d never have lasted this long. The reunion keeps the revival going, and vice versa.”

Mac Thornton likens attending Camp Meeting to getting your batteries recharged.

“You go away refreshed. It gives you a whole new perspective on life,” he explains. “There’s still a feeling of freedom. Kids can play barefoot in the dirt. It’s a holiday for them. I still have great memories of playing with my cousins every year at Camp Meeting. Everybody there has an interesting life, and you can just walk from cabin to cabin and visit with people.”

A Bible rests on a lecturn at the Taylor family camp

Many family members plan their yearly vacations around the Camp Meeting. Sarah Thornton Jenks, Mac Thornton’s niece, says finding an employer who would give her that week off every July was a prerequisite for accepting her job.

“It’s hard to articulate how important Camp Meeting is to us,” says Jenks, who lives in Memphis. “It renews our spirits. It’s about growing up with a sense of purpose and belonging, and people knowing who you are.”

Jenks has attended Camp Meeting since birth, and now attends with her husband, Jeffrey, and their children, 12-year-old Madison and 9-year-old William.

“If you ask my children, they’d rather go to Camp Meeting than Disney World,” she says.

One highlight of the week is the Sunday morning “Love Feast.”

“Everybody comes to church, and they can say whatever they want. People talk about what God is doing in their lives and just unload their burdens,” Mac Thornton says. “It’s very moving.”

Taylor family members walk throught the cemetery

A christening service is also held Sunday to baptize or dedicate any babies born that year. A memorial service follows, in remembrance of family members who died since the last Camp Meeting.

Between church services, there are games (softball, pingpong and “Who Sir, Me Sir” are favorites), a Heritage Walk through the family cemetery and lots of Southern comfort food. The campground is divided into 36 camps, each with its own open-air kitchen. Camps have anywhere from 10 to 50 family members. Each kitchen serves three meals a day, and many family units hire cooks for the week. Some of the cooks are descendants of previous cooks who worked at the Camp Meeting 100 years ago.

“They’ve become our family,” Jenks says. “They’ve helped raise our children, and we’ve seen their children grow up too.”

Tomatoes sit on the windowsill of a cabin at the Taylor Family reunion in Brownsville

A typical breakfast might include scrambled eggs, sausage, homemade biscuits, hash, cheese grits, fruit and coffee. Dinner might be fried chicken, cornbread, mashed potatoes and gravy, okra, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, and peach cobbler.

“The food is farm-to-table,” Susan Thornton says. “The corn, tomatoes and okra are right out of local gardens. The meal is part of the convivial merriment of the place.”

Family members fly in for Camp Meeting from as far away as Ireland and Spain.

“You don’t want to miss a year, because you miss a lot. That’s like missing two years of a child’s or teenager’s growth,” Susan Thornton says. “The older people care about the young people. There’s so much of wanting to know who people are – wanting to be involved and engaged in their lives.”

Taylors of Tabernacle

Despite being the oldest continuous family camp meeting in the world, she insists the Taylor family isn’t all that different than other families.

“Everybody has the same number of ancestors. We just happen to know a lot more of ours,” she says.

Mac Thornton puts it in simpler terms.

“We have just stuck together,” he says.

Calling All Taylors of Tabernacle

The 2013 Taylors of Tabernacle Kinfolk Camp Meeting happens July 12-18. Only Taylor family descendants and their guests are permitted to camp overnight, but church services are open to the public.

Respectful visitors are welcome to visit the family cemetery and campground at their own risk. Neither cars nor pets are allowed on the campground. Lodging and meals for visitors are available in Brownsville, about 6 miles from the church and campground.

For more information, visit taylorsoftabernacle.com.

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Comments

  1. Betty Cole says:

    A wonderful article and appropriate photos. Kudos to those who did them.

  2. Diane Sanford says:

    Mary Taylor Ware was my grandmother. She and her family lived in Stanton, TN until her nephew, “Buddy” Bruhn, son of Susan Taylor Bruhn, was moved to an assisted living residence in Collierville, TN. several years ago. The family home and land was sold at that time. I have been to something similar to Taylors of Tabernacle in Stanton. It definitely was a gathering of the old family and generations of the new. Grandmother and many of her family are buried in the Stanton cemetery. I do know my mother, Will Gracey Ware Seacat, spoke of going to Tabernacle when she was a little girl. What wonderful stories. If I were to come to any of the meetings, how would I go about doing this?

    Sincerely,
    Diane Seacat Sanford

    • Jessy Yancey says:

      Hi Diane,

      Please visit http://www.taylorsoftabernacle.com and click on “Planning a trip to Camp Meeting?” on the righthand side. That document has some details that should probably answer your questions, and it also provides contact information for people wishing to visit the Camp Meeting. Hope this helps, and thanks for reading Tennessee Home & Farm!

      Jessy Yancey, editor

    • Nick Thornton Crafton says:

      Diane,
      The ‘other’ campground near Stanton is a younger ‘spin-off’ but is over 110 years in itself called ‘Joyner’s Campground’. My father, Joe Reeves Crafton and his sister, Averil Coppedge Crafton Taylor grew up in Stanton attending Joyner’s and married into Tabernacle Kinsfolk. Several young couples today attend BOTH with their whole family, (lucky children).

      I remember Mr. ‘Buddy’ Bruhn and my family would love to host you and yours for a meal (or two) at Taylor’s of Tabernacle.

      • Nick Thornton Crafton says:

        OOPS!
        In the previous post I misstated my aunt’s name. She was born Leila Averil Crafton in 1906, and Married Uncle Edmond Wilder Taylor in 1927.

        I should have checked ‘the book’ of genealogy that SHE STARTED. I went home for lunch and now have an extra copy of volume III at my office desk!

        -nick

  3. Carolyn Thornton says:

    Thanks for a well written article about our beautiful tradition of Kinfolks Campmeeting. I married into the family in 1967 and it has been a blessing to me and our children. My husband, Cole Thornton and our two children, Cole Jr and Cydnie, and now their children, our four grandsons, Cole III, Ben, Jack, and Sam, are all a part of this great family gathering — as well as 500+ of our closest cousins!

  4. Meriwether Willie says:

    I was two weeks old when I attended my first Tabernacle Camp Meeting.It was always the most important week of my life as a child and still feels that way now 63 years later. I was privileged to live across the road from the campgrounds during my childhood years and cried for days after it was over and all of my cousins had gone home.It is where I renew my faith and feel my soul restored. I could not imagine a life without Camp Meeting in it!!!! It truly is an amazing place and I feel so blessed to be a part of our family. We love to share our experience with our friends and we don’t know a stranger!!! Thank you for a great article!!! Our ancestors truly left us a legacy of love that has abounded through the generations and shows no signs of diminishing one iota!!!!

  5. Jackie Taylor Johnson says:

    I attend Joyner’s Campground in Somerville (the one that was referred to as being close to Stanton) that is very much like Tabernacle, just a little smaller. My dad is Rhea “Skip” Taylor, the great great (I think) grandson of Rev. Robert Venable Taylor who liked Tablernacle so much he wanted to start one closer to his home in Somerville. This is such a great article and I recommend that if you are interested in something like this to plan a visit! Being born into it, it’s one of those things you just have to experience. It’s not something that can be easily explained. Campground is typically the last week in July. Email me if you’d like information on visiting! jrtjohnson@gmail.com

  6. roxanna jones says:

    Years ago I was on staff at Cokesbury UMC in Knoxville. Our layleader at the time was Macon Thornton. He would always tell me during the summer about “getting ready for campmeeting.” Then one year he and his wife invited the minister, his wife and me to attend. I sang for one of the worship services, we had great fun watching the children’s activities and enjoying terrific food. Don’t remember the name of the place but I am wondering if this is the campmeeting – it was in middle Tennessee. look forward to hearing from someone – what a MARVELOUS heritage your family has!

    • Jessy Yancey says:

      Hi Roxanna,

      I believe this is the place, as Mac Thornton is quoted in the article, though it’s not in Middle Tennessee. Thanks for sharing your experience at Camp Meeting!

      Jessy Yancey
      editor
      Tennessee Home & Farm