Saturday, May 3, 2014

Back at camp: the continuing revival at Malaga

So... I left the house this morning thinking I was on a somewhat religious journey, but I ran into something I didn't expect.

I was on my own. Ivan was out on a separate birding adventure, so I chose to do some exploring in parts somewhat lesser known. Ever since my trip to Upper Deerfield Township to learn about Seabrook Farms, I've been curious about other agricultural developments in the area, particularly a group of settlements of Jewish farmers in Salem and Gloucester Counties. Their names - Norma, Brotmanville, Rosenhayn, Alliance - are still on the map more than 100 years after their founding, but they're not as easily located via road trip, as I found out today.

Thing is, when you wander around the southern reaches of the state, particularly in those more rural counties, a wrong turn becomes another adventure all together. Looking for what may be the world's smallest synagogue, I got all turned around and ended up on Route 47 in Malaga.

Just as interesting as a tiny shul, I discovered a colony of small houses set on narrow streets that could only be one thing: a Methodist camp meeting ground. Yup, I'd found Malaga Camp, since 1869 the location of the West Jersey Grove Association. The exteriors of the homes are a bit less colorful than what we'd seen at Mount Tabor, and the narrow streets are in a grid rather than the spoke-and-wheel arrangement at Pitman Grove, but the central tabernacle made it clear that this is a place where people come to worship.

Like the other two camps, Malaga started as a summertime revival tent community. Unlike Mount Tabor and Pitman Grove, however, it's retained its original purpose as a place of reverence by strictly managing the composition of its population.

Those who purchase cottages in the camp are required to meet three requirements, as set forth in the membership process: they must give testimony of their personal salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ, be an active member of a church for at least two years, and have been actively involved in the life and work of the camp meeting for at least one year. References are requested and checked, and applicants must undergo an interview with a committee of members. When approved, an applicant can purchase a cottage, leasing the property below from the camp association. 

Only about half of the 140 houses are kept as year-round residences, allowing the camp association to maintain the small-town feel by avoiding overcrowding. Bylaws forbid property owners from renting to non-members, but a guest house on the property is available for visitors, families and retreat groups. As I was driving around the community, I constantly had to stop at four-way intersections at the end of short blocks, so I wasn't surprised to learn that many people use golf carts to get around during summer months.

After a little bit of exploring by car, I felt I needed to let Malaga back to its peace for a spring Saturday. I'd seen one person -- another motorist who approached an intersection the same time I did -- and she'd kindly waved me forward ahead of her. Having found these tiny houses on a small tract on the side of the road, and maybe gotten a little heavenly nudge in the right direction, I headed off to find that little shul.


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