You’re looking at sacred ground. I know, it looks like just a vacant field, which it is. Now. But a large white tabernacle once filled that space, and oh, the memories.
For 90 years, starting in 1917, the tabernacle was the centerpiece of Rhodes Grove Camp, the United Brethren camp in Chambersburg, Pa. The tabernacle eventually became unusable, structurally unsound, beyond repair, and was torn down in 2006. But in its day, thousands and THOUSANDS of children, and adults, walked the long aisles to the front of the tabernacle, knelt at the altar, and committed their lives to Christ. Probably hundreds of them—it’s impossible to know—became pastors and missionaries.
I was one of those children. It was June 1966, during Junior Camp, just after my 4th grade year. I walked probably eight rows to the front, and knelt across from a counselor, who happened to be my dad.
“Do you know what you’re doing, Steve?” he asked.
“I think so,” I told him.
Dad explained a few things, and then prayed with me, his firstborn.
Rev. Burton Lange was the evangelist. A few years ago, when I reminded him that he was preaching the night I was saved, he told me, quite correctly, “With your background, if it wasn’t me, it would have been someone else.” To be quite honest, I’m not sure anything Burt Lange said did the trick. I think it was just my time. I was ready.
Dozens of other kids made commitments to Christ that week—just that one week. Several more camps followed that summer. Multiply by 90 years. Imagine.
Forty-five minutes away is Gettysburg, a battlefield dotted with monuments to what happened there—fierce firefights, acts of heroism, turning points, valiant stands. Gettysburg is one of my favorite places. Been there many times. It’s pretty, but nothing particularly unusual—regular rolling countryside. But something epic occurred there.
Perhaps a monument should be erected in that field, where the tabernacle once stood. On this ground, children, men, and women wrestled mightily with God’s pull on their lives. On this ground, decisions were made which totally changed the trajectory of lives, families, careers, churches. On this ground, epic battles occurred between Good and Evil, and the Good Guys usually won. On this ground, God touched hearts—over and over and over—and people responded, “Yes, Lord.”
Kids still find Christ at Rhodes Grove, of course. Salvation doesn’t require a tabernacle. When God speaks, when He reaches out and touches your heart, you remember it, whether you’re in a historic tabernacle or sitting in a car. Hallowed grounds are being created elsewhere at Rhodes Grove, and those places will one day deserve monuments of their own.
But my heart is in that vacant field. I’m at Rhodes Grove now, attending a Pastors Summit. My room overlooks that field. And I am remembering.