130th Bloys Campmeeting

Rev. Bloys speaking to attendees at the John Z. Means’ ranch in West Texas in 1889. (photos courtesy of Carolyn Nored Miller)

By Rev. Matthew C. Miles

The bell out at Skillman grove will ring with a little more jubilance if maybe a little less joy this Friday, August 3 at 8:00 PM as the 130th gathering of Bloys Campmeeting gets underway without it’s oldest member. Vivian Grubb, who stood for her 101st campmeeting at “Old- Timers” night last year, passed away on June 2. Vivian was a granddaughter of the founding pastor and she passed away just three weeks shy of 101st birthday.

Bloys Campmeeting began on October 10, 1890 at the suggestion of Exa Gay Means who was married to prominent rancher, John Means. It was she who first proposed to Rev. William B. Bloys that the ranchers, their families and their hands could use an opportunity to worship together where they were. Distances at the time were measured in hoof prints rather than tire tracks and there was a plethora of more hostile people in the area. It was difficult for ranchers and their families to make their way into town. Rev. Bloys took worship, sacraments and prayers to the ranching families back then and was often away from his home pulpit at First Presbyterian Church for weeks at a time. Upon one of those visits, Mrs. Means encouraged Rev. Bloys to plan a gathering of the local ranchers.

Thus began a tradition. Forty-seven worshippers came together under a make-shift brush arbor at Skillman grove, thus known after the stagecoach driver who often stopped among the Live Oak trees to rest himself and his horses. The families camped among those trees and worshipped several times per day. All the meat that was to be eaten was either hunted or herded to the event until the invention of refrigeration. Meals were prepared in Dutch Ovens over campfires. Before it was all said and done that first year, plans were underway for another event the following year. The brush arbor was rebuilt or repaired each year for the first 11 and something indescribable, joyous, and, most would say, “Holy” was born.

Rev. William Bloys riding in a buggy pulled by two mules.

Bloys Cowboy Camp Meeting in 1918 at Skillman’s Grove.

Rev. Bloys greets attendees in the early 1900s.

The brush arbor leaked when it rained and it’s construction required considerable work on the part of the men each year so a tent was purchased for the 12th campmeeting. That tent lasted until 1909 when it became clear that it was too small for the ever growing number of worshipers in attendance. A larger, circus-style tent was purchased that year and the first permanent structure was built of adobe to store the tent. Stories abound as to the hilarity which ensued each year as the men erected the big top under the supervision of Rev. Bloys. In 1912, the first tin Tabernacle was built. After several expansions, the tabernacle will now seat more than 2,000 people.

The preaching staff will sound quite familiar to those who have attended campmeeting before. Rev. Howard Griffin, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Amarillo, will be leading the Bible study at 9:00 AM each morning. The Rev.s Brian Feille, Carl Rohlfs, and Randel Everett will represent the Disciples of Christ, United Methodists, and Baptists respectively. Feille is retired from Brite Divinity School at TCU, does supply preaching and is dean of the school of commissioned ministers for the Disciples of Christ. Carl Rohlfs is now retire as District Superintendent in the San Antonio area. Randel Everett is president of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. These three will offer sermons at worship services on a rotating basis at 11:00 AM, 3:00 PM and 8:00 PM each day.  Our Superintendent, Rev. Matt Miles, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Fort Davis, will be returning for the 12th year in that position. As Rev. Bloys is quoted at that very first meeting, “Every Denomination is going to be welcome here. There will be no line drawn because of different religious beliefs but everyone is welcome to come and worship with us.” That spirit holds true today among the Bloys Campmeeting Association and their leadership.

The music staff will remain the same as well. Amy Stewart will return as the music director and song leader, although she will arrive a little late due to a funeral obligation. Amy’s father, Doug

Pummill will fill in for her until she can arrive. Her extremely talented sister, Sallie Polack, will play piano. The organist will be Stephen Thompson from Oklahoma City for his third year. The first choir rehearsal will be at 7:00 PM on Friday. Subsequent rehearsals will be at 7:00 PM on Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday with a quick warm up on Sunday morning at 10:20. Everyone with a desire to sing with the choir is invited to do so.

Activities for children of all ages are available. From college and high school students all the way down to pre-schoolers, there is a place, a teacher, and an abundance of learning, love, and laughter to be shared.

Meals are taken in one of six cook sheds built around the Tabernacle. At those cook sheds and on every porch on the grounds there will be conversation and fellowship shared by the many who return each year for this glorious reunion with dear old friends and family. New friendships are formed each year as new folks are embraced during the week together.

Attendees are asked to remember that each of those cook sheds as well as the Bloys Campmeeting Association rely upon their generous donations.

The articles of incorporation remind attendees of Rev. Bloys’s purpose: “This Association is formed for the purpose of the worship of Almighty God, and instruction in the Christian Religion by preaching the gospel of Christ and employing such other means of Scriptural improvement as may be consistent with and according to the Word of God as found in the Old and New Testament Scriptures.” As we approach 130 years, this purpose remains the honor and the goal of everyone involved.

Campmeeting begins with worship at 8:00 PM on Friday, August 3 and will conclude with 8:00 PM worship on Wednesday, August 8. The memorial service will be at 3:00 PM on Saturday. The first “Oldtimers Night” in a century without Vivian Grubb will be at 8:00 PM Saturday. The youth Service and youth Talent Show will be Monday night.. If you have never been, you are in for treat. The Bloys Campmeeting Association welcomes all in celebrating this sacred tradition. Come and join in at Skillman Grove, 17 miles southwest of Fort Davis on Highway 166. You can’t miss the place! All are invited to all events for worship, food, and fellowship.