The temporary wooden tabernacle has proved a very successful auditorium in which to hold evangelistic meetings. It is not ideally perfect, yet it probably has as few faults as any place in which meetings might be held. I think it more successful in certain sections of the country than in others, and more successful in certain sizes of cities. The tabernacle makes a fine auditorium in a medium-sized city, where there are no large halls that may be used for the purpose. It then becomes a material advertising asset when it is the largest auditorium in the city. But if the tabernacle is much smaller than most of the other auditoriums, it does not constitute an advertising asset, but rather a liability. And if the tabernacle is smaller in seating capacity than the regular churches, there is likewise a bad psychological effect. But in a city where the tabernacle is larger than any other church or hall, it produces a helpful psychological effect, namely, that no place was large enough to accommodate the interest that the meetings would raise.
If the speaker is advertised as a prominent Bible lecturer or evangelist, then naturally the city expects him to draw a larger attendance than would be found in any of the local churches. In the West our large tabernacles were, practically without exception, larger than any auditorium in the city, or possibly any auditorium or tabernacle that had previously been built in the city, and we could advertise it as such. Naturally, crowds came partly through curiosity to see what it was that could hold such a large audience. If there was difficulty in the subject matter presented, they would not so quickly blame the evangelist as they would themselves for not being able to comprehend. In these large Eastern cities, however, where there are a number of halls, and some churches as large as or larger than our tabernacle, it has not been such a decided advantage in drawing a crowd. This fact should always be kept in mind by those planning to hold a tabernacle effort.
I have found, also, that the Easterners have traditions concerning what a church building and lecture auditorium should be that rather works against their interest in coming to a place built in the locations in which our tabernacles can be erected. People seem to think a great deal of the historic background of an auditorium, and also of the noted people who have provided lectures therein. If one can hold a meeting in an auditorium or church in which some famous men have preached or lectured, it gives a better impression. Westerners do not have such traditions, and because of the newness of their country, have few such famous auditoriums, and have not grown up to reverence the buildings. They are glad to attend any place that is, clean and respectable.
There are also problems in the erection of the tabernacle that one must take into consideration. The location in a larger city is almost always restricted to what is known as a manufacturing district. Tabernacles are not permitted in residential sections, or within the fire zone where everything must be of fire-proof construction. Sometimes our workers have forced the issue,—of erecting the tabernacle in a strictly residential section, or in a zone where fire-proof construction is required,—and have succeeded in getting a special permit from the city council. But this is an unsafe plan to follow, as I found to my sorrow in one Western city. Having been granted a permit from the council for a tabernacle in a residential section, there arose an objection on the part of the neighbors to the erection of the structure. And they were able to force the city council to revoke our permit, and cause us to dismantle the tabernacle. So I found that a city council's permit is of no value if the tabernacle is in a restricted area according to the city building ordinance.
Here in Providence a building may be erected, such as our wooden structure, for either commercial or lecture purposes, within the strictly commercial zone for a temporary period, if the plan of construction is acceptable to the city building inspector. There is no definite plan of construction stated in the code. So all we had to do here was to see the inspector and secure his permit to erect the building for a temporary period, and no one can force us to take the building down during the period of our permit. However, in the locations obtainable in a city of this size in a strictly business section, we found none that were ideal, so we had to erect our building in the best location available,—one-half block from an important thoroughfare. Since constructing this building, we have realized that it was not favorably located, but it is the best that we could find.
The attendance has been good considering the severity of the winter. During our opening weeks there were continuous storms and extremely cold weather, and by the time the better weather arrived we were into the testing truths. Yet, despite these handicaps, we have been able to give the message to thousands of fine people, and have received the names of many hundreds who are really interested in the truth, and we expect to baptize a large number.
Our tabernacles have always been constructed by donated labor. By making a call through the union paper and in the local churches, we have had a response sufficient to construct the building. We generally furnish board and room for those who come from out of town, but do not pay any wage. Especially during these depression years, a number have been glad to get their board and room, as they have no other work. Of course, among these there are very few who are really carpenters. But with the work laid out for them they are able to accomplish a great deal. I have always taken charge of the construction myself, not because I am a carpenter, but because of experience in erecting many tabernacles. Therefore, it was not necessary to hire a foreman. With donated labor we are able to erect our largest tabernacle in from three to six weeks. Some of our former tabernacles have even been erected in six or seven days by donated labor.
Our tabernacles have ranged in size from 60 x 100 feet to 80 x 160 feet. The former will accommodate approximately 1,000, with the closest seating, and the large one approximately 2,000. Of course, the seats can be scattered out, and a small crowd can be made to appear to fill a large building. We put no floor in the building, but just cover the ground with sawdust or shavings. We do not paint the outside, but simply cover it with tar paper. Our seats have been benches that we make out of plain lumber, and we have found them to be more economical than the purchase of folding chairs, yet just as comfortable.
We have found by experience that the type of construction we are now using makes for practically perfect acoustics. Our largest auditorium needs no amplifier, for all can hear with perfect ease in any part of the building. One reason for this is the sawdust floor, which eliminates the echo found in the permanent auditorium.
Of course, meetings in a tabernacle should be conducted at least five times a week, and sometimes it may be advisable to conduct a meeting every night. The expense of overhead and light in such a building is very low. In fact, almost all rented auditoriums of a permanent nature cost more to heat and light than does our auditorium of the same size. This is doubtless due to a more economical system of lighting, which brings the lights down closer over the people's heads, and does just as well as the indirect lighting systems used in permanent auditoriums.
The tabernacle may be moved from city to city with small loss of lumber. We do not build in sections, but dismantle piece by piece, first pulling the nails with nail pullers so that no damage is done to the boards. The cost of transporting is low. The large tabernacle here was moved from New Bedford to Providence, a distance of approximately thirty miles, for $120, and we did not lose over 1,000 feet of lumber in breakage, so the building was reassembled at low cost. Another advantage of a tabernacle that is not built in sections is that it can be constructed to accommodate any piece of land, whether it is level or not.
The tabernacle is built according to the slope of the ground rather than making it level, while a building in sections would have to be on the level in order to fit together. Building to the contour of the ground, we have found, saves a great deal of money in construction. Then, too, the sectional building must be built by experienced carpenters. Our large building here in Providence cost approximately $2,500 to construct, and we have already been offered $2.500 by the owner of the lot if we will leave it for him. So the tabernacle can many times be sold after the meetings are over for the price of construction. If this present offer is consummated, it will give us our building without any expense aside from the rental of the land upon which it stood.
Providence, R. I.