The Old Orchard Beach Pavilion in Maine is assuredly one of the unique architectural and missional gems of the USA Eastern Territory. Dedicated in the summer of 1998 in a ceremony that featured former President George HW Bush, and with General Paul and Commissioner Kay Rader as the camp meeting special guests, the rebranded Seaside Pavilion is now hitting 25 years of active use.
What a story.
The 1400 seat state-of-the-art outdoor amphitheater was a major construction project right on the grounds of the revered pine tree original camp meeting grove, used as such for over 100 years. The initiative included complex local zoning board procedures, a major financial investment and a significantly expanded programmatic outreach. The uncovered outdoor grove would no longer simply host 10 days of Salvation Army camp meetings, but now broaden to add a whole new covered pavilion series throughout the summer months.
We can be confident, no other territory in the Salvation Army world has such a Pavilion.
Here is visionary planning and missional strategy of the highest degree, one that went from laser focus to wide screen technicolor. It can be said that the physical structure of the Pavilion has set an indelible mark on the experience of the beloved camp meetings, and more, ever since. Right at a time when US Protestant evangelical camp meetings were generally in overall decline, the USA East reinvested and reinvigorated an important component of the annual rhythm and life of the territory.
It is self-evident that such a venture goes hand in hand with genuine challenges. Winter property deterioration, security concerns, sound and lighting deficiencies, parking and bathroom shortages and falling trees all had to be addressed. The original vision and character of the Pavilion series has also had to evolve over time, several times. The initial simplicity of an 8-week Sunday evening series with featured speakers quickly diversified to embrace mid-week events and an ever undulating experimentation of art forms that included gospel singers, renown speakers, Christian comedy, choral groups, symphony orchestras, military bands and ecumenical gatherings. Even with an acute awareness of the fickle Maine summer weather, several events had to be cancelled due to cold, wind and rain. The Pavilion season can only realistically run from mid-June to mid-August, and in general, the surrounding public responds more enthusiastically to musical and artistic guests, and in smaller numbers to public speakers.
Included in the past 25 years, notably, is an array of extraordinary Summer Pavilion series guests and events that include the Portland Symphony Orchestra, the West Point Military Band and the ever-popular Sandi Patty, Steve Green, Stephen Curtis Chapman, Ron Kenoly, Mark Lowry and Michael W Smith.
For Salvation Army camp meetings – the heart and soul of the Pavilion – the visit of every active General, the gathering together of 5-retired Generals, the New York Staff Band, the Northern New England Don Moen massed choral events, visits from the International Staff Songsters, the Canadian Staff Band and the Territorial Arts Ministries (TAM) drama productions all readily come to mind as top quality. We’ve seen the massed choirs from both the Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) beneficiaries and the children’s meetings, jugglers, acrobats and even a petting zoo.
And yet, the most heart-warming moments are surely the sights of a regularly lined mercy seat, groups of people standing in earnest prayer together and the amphitheater filled with song, praise and worship.
Well done to the multiple layers of teams, institutions and people who have had to work closely together during the past 25 years to write this Pavilion story. We’re just hitting our stride and can surely hardly imagine what the next quarter century will hold in this summer gem.