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Raising the Tabernacle

by David Ridley

Page 1  |  

Annual Missions Conference at PBI: The rustling of pages in well-read bibles.The arched beams of the interior of the Maxwell Memorial Tabernacle at Three Hills are like those of another meeting place set in a prairie landscape- the hockey arena. The ambient noise in the "Tab," however, is not slapping sticks and the thud of pucks, but the rustling pages of marked and well-read bibles.

Here,  those who come on Sundays for the pulpit message or arrive each autumn for the missions conference, have entered what might be called by anthropologists "rhetorical territory." There is a commonly shared and understood language that works as a centripetal force among those who gather.

For many Albertans, and others throughout Canada and around the world, the tabernacle at Prairie Bible Institute is a place where people hear the call to a particular vocation. It is here where the Great Commission in the Gospel of St. Matthew is preached, pondered and embraced: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

Words emblazoned on the Tabernacle's walls proclaim the evangelical vision of the gathered: Is there a soul who died, who died because of me, forever shut away from heaven and from Thee; because I tightly clutched my little earthly store nor sent Thy messengers unto some distant shore? The space serves as a tent of witness, where the worshippers present themselves to concentrate and sharpen the faculties, preparing to receive God's revelation.

The pilgrim nature of God's people and anticipating the heavenly city of God: Bumper sticker, Missions Conference 1995.Buildings speak and the Tab is no exception. Its interior is relatively unadorned. This austerity is generally the rule for meeting places linked to the evangelical renewal from the Great Awakening to the forums that shaped the Keswick movement. The functional simplicity and plainness speak of the concern for present use and stands in contrast to the "for all time" grandeur of cathedrals and temples. It affirms the pilgrim nature of God's people, that there is no permanent place here on earth and one awaits the heavenly city founded on God and illuminated for humankind in the birth, crucifixion, resurrection and anticipated second coming of Jesus.

There is not a bad seat in the house. The clear lines to the pulpit are surely a practical consideration, but it reinforces the teaching at PBI of the need for a personal and unmediated encounter between the believer and the Word, based on the Protestant ideal of solo scriptura.

In this age, most of us do not participate directly in construction of our homes, nor places where we gather and meet. The Tab is an oddity. Its very construction was an act of the community, a form of liturgy, public worship, resulting in a form in which to rekindle and refine the vision of the community.

The following excerpts and photographs recount this enactment, in the words of PBI's publication of the day, The Prairie Overcomer.

February 1953

The new Tabernacle... is becoming the talk of the campus, and it is a welcome subject to both students and visitors. The noble old [tabernacle] is due for retirement- ask the unfortunates in the balcony who crane their necks to catch a glimpse of the speaker. We have all shivered at times, for the present tabernacle is not built to facilitate proper heating. So we are happy about the prospects of a new building and would appreciate your praying with us about it.

FRIENDS FEEL THE NEED OF NEW PRAIRIE TABERNACLE

Size- 180 feet by 100 feet
Seating- Some 3,200- without balconies

Service- To world missions- till He comes
               To student-- year round;
               To crowds- each Conference

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