Men who are not old in the ministry can well remember when they went into a city, rented a lot for the tent or tabernacle, and started their evangelistic effort without asking permission of anyone. All that concerned them was the securing of a suitable lot. Today the procedure is vastly different.
Every man who has been engaged in public evangelism for a few years has learned from experience that there are now so many city ordinances barring a tabernacle from certain districts and zones that to get permission to erect the tabernacle in anything like a desirable place within the city limits is almost equal in worry, time, and effort to conducting the whole series of meetings. At least there are times when this is true. There is no doubt but that our evangelists lose weeks, months, and years trying to get permission to hold their meetings in choice locations.
As far as I know, no suggestions have been published in the Ministry or elsewhere as to the best method of getting permission to erect a tabernacle in restricted districts. Therefore everyone has had to learn, as I did, by experience.
Almost invariably, when one makes inquiry about erecting a tabernacle on a certain lot, he is advised to go to the mayor or building inspector and ask for permission. But a recent experience has caused me to doubt that this is the best thing to do, and I know of no better way of showing what steps should be taken than to relate my experience. A lawyer, with whom I had been talking about renting a lot, had told me not to ask information of the building inspector, and I decided to follow his advice. Before leasing a certain lot I went to the mayor to learn whether or not it was in a restricted area. The mayor expressed no particular objection to putting a tabernacle on this lot, but during my conversation with him the building inspector came to the office. When told of my desire, he read the law and immediately voiced his opinion as being opposed to it, because the lot was in the fire zone, and the ordinance prohibited our nonfireproof building's being erected in this zone.
Not wanting to give up all hopes of securing this location for an effort, I asked that members of the church visit or phone the councilmen of their ward and tell them they would appreciate it if they would use their ,influence to secure permission for the tabernacle to be located in this restricted zone. I then asked one of our church members to go with me to the councilmen of the various wards. This member was well known throughout the city. I took with me a handbill which showed a picture of our tabernacle. After calling on the majority of the councilmen, showing them the picture of the tabernacle, and laying before them our desire as clearly and tactfully as .I knew how, I went again to the mayor, just before the time for the council to meet, and asked if I might present the matter at the council meeting. This privilege was readily granted. At the meeting I gave a brief speech which was something as follows:
"This series of anticipated lectures is not a moneymaking project. Although hundreds of dollars will be invested in the campaign, admission to the lectures will be free. The purpose of the lectures will be for the uplift of humanity, to make better men and women. This series is a part of a neat campaign which is being sponsored in cities throughout the United States, and the building which we desire to erect has stood in a number of the principal cities in the State. Now, I know you have a city ordinance which would prohibit a permanent building from being placed on the lot, but I have found in my experience that councilmen in some cities have made exception to these ordinances because the building is only a temporary structure. Furthermore, there are citizens in the city who are interested in this project, and I know that some of them have put thousands of dollars into this organization. So altogether we feel that you men might do as much as councilmen have done in other cities, and kindly permit us to erect our building on the site we have chosen."
Almost immediately it was unanimously voted that we could occupy the lot which we desired. The building inspector was present at the meeting, and I thought he appeared to be rather chagrined, but he spoke not a word.
This experience proved to me that the building inspector's emphatic No does not always have to be taken as the ultimatum of one's hopes. It has also led me to believe that it is better first to lay the proposition before the councilmen as individuals and then before them assembled in meeting than to wait and try to do it all at a meeting of the city council.
If all portable tabernacles could be made of fireproof materials, it would be a big step toward greater success, for it would do away with much worry, expense, and waste of time. And many times it would mean a desirable, instead of an undesirable, location for the effort.