Historic Methodist Camp is ‘God’s Square Mile’
It could be one of Methodism’s best-kept secrets. A retreat site along the Jersey Shore has a past and present that inspires many.
The backstory is that after the Civil War, there was still unrest in the U.S., and Methodist leader William Osborn had a dream of establishing a permanent camp meeting, a place where visitors focused on spiritual growth and holiness. Organizers scouted seaside locations and in 1869, chose Ocean Grove, New Jersey, an idyllic setting that came to be called “God’s Square Mile.” At its peak, 660 tents stood on the grounds. That number is closer to 118 now, but the meeting’s mission remains robust: to revive people so they go back to their home churches with new excitement for the Lord.
Watch as locals give you an exclusive tour of this unique piece of church history. And see this
behind-the-scenes story of the centerpiece of Ocean Grove, the Great Auditorium.
(Locator: Ocean Grove, NJ)
(Voice of J.P. Gradone, Executive Director, Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association) “It’s a place of respite.”
(Voice of Steven Downing, Tent Resident, Ocean Grove) “When you come in the gates of Main Street, your mind goes to a different place.”
(Voice of Anna Nichols, Longtime Tent Resident, Ocean Grove) “It’s somewhat of an oasis. The world is out there, and I’m not so crazy about the world. But you can come to Ocean Grove and feel as though you’re at home.”
(Anna gives tour of tent) “I’ve been in this tent for 85 years. This is where we sleep. A lot of people sleep in the cabin but I think that’s blasphemy.”
(Steven gives tour of his tent) “It’s roughly 250 square feet, where we do most of our living and relaxing. The back section is the cabin where we have a kitchen and full bath.”
(Voice of Dale Whilden, President, Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association) “Ocean Grove is a place that every United Methodist should visit. You could get a weeks’-long history lesson in Methodism by coming to Ocean Grove. There’s streets named after famous Methodists. If you look into the music of Ocean Grove and the Methodist hymnal, there’s a number of well-known hymns that have been written in Ocean Grove: ‘Great is thy Faithfulness,’ ‘When We All Get to Heaven.’ And you might remember that second verse (sings) ‘while we walk the Pilgrim Pathway…’ Well the Pilgrim Pathway is actually the name of the street that goes right by the Great Auditorium.”
(Voice of Dale Whilden, President, Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association) “This committed group of clergy and laity wanted this to be a camp meeting, and a place where the Lord could be worshipped. And to combine the spiritual with recreation and relaxation and develop the whole person. That’s why we don’t have commercial establishments on our boardwalk. It’s just pure beach and ocean.”
David Best, Intern, Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association: “People want to have their kids grow up in a good environment. The programs we do here at Ocean Grove can help them raise their kids to love Jesus and have fun at the same time.”
David Best, Intern, Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association: “I’ve heard several kids say that where they come from they don’t have a church they can really go to. This is the only place that has a spiritual aspect to it. It’s not a summer vacation to them, it’s a spiritual feeding time.”
Dale Whilden, President of Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association: “One of the purposes of Ocean Grove isn’t just to encourage people to live the Christian life, but the whole dream of the Camp Meeting era was to get people revived so they could go back to their home churches with a new enthusiasm and new excitement for the Lord.”
Steve Downing: “Ocean Grove still ingrains the Sabbath not only just on Sundays, but really it gives you that feeling every day, as part of the community.”
Anna Nichols: “I felt very comfortable. I know the music; I like the preaching. It’s a comfort zone for me. I think everybody should have a religious comfort zone. We have the other world to go to when the summer’s over and we need that armor to get through the winter in the secular world. I feel like I’ve got good armor and I’m not afraid.”
In the middle of Ocean Grove stands the Great Auditorium, which holds 7,000 people and hosts worship services, and also performances by artists like Johnny Mathis or Kenny Loggins. The auditorium was built in 90 days, in 1894, in honor of the 25th anniversary of Ocean Grove. Learn more about it in this video.
This story was posted in August, 2014.
Media contact is Fran Walsh, at 615-742-5458.