Have Faith: The Tabernacle

You’re walking on hallowed ground in the Campground.

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Guest preachers will come to the historic Tabernacle during July and August this summer. — Gabrielle Mannino

It’s almost time for the M.V. Camp Meeting Association to open up the Tabernacle with a summer schedule filled with traveling preachers. It always reminds me of those circuit riders who were sent out on horseback to spread the good word all those years ago. Except now they likely fly into our little airport or take the ferry over, and their work isn’t as dangerous these days (or at least we hope so).

The Camp Meeting Association assembled the wrought iron Tabernacle in 1879, and it was open for business in July that year. The organization’s website says that it’s “an extraordinary 19th century building, and one of the few remaining examples of wrought iron structures created at the time.” Before the Tabernacle was erected, in the early 1800s, the camp meetings were pretty serious stuff, with no children allowed, and preaching and praying lasting well into the night and starting all over again the next morning. The campers set up tents, which then sprouted into little wooden houses, and eventually their own architectural style.

When I lived in Parish, N.Y., a little village about 30 miles north of Syracuse, I lived so close to St. Anne’s Church that you could throw a rock at the church window from my backyard. I didn’t, of course, but it was that close. Makes it sort of difficult to find excuses to miss a service when you’re that close to the church.

We had daylong retreats in the Catholic tradition at my old job, and they could be interesting, with speakers that enlightened, cafeteria-style lunches, and those “breakout sessions” I wasn’t crazy about. I can’t imagine devoting an entire week or more to nothing but preaching and praying every summer, organizing an entire vacation around church services and events, like those ardent Campground visitors decades ago. I keep thinking that there wasn’t much else to do back then, so naturally they all flocked to the camp meeting. But I’m guessing I’m wrong. I’m sure there was more than enough to do back then, and people chose not to make excuses as to why they couldn’t go to Cottage City for the camp meeting. In fact, they probably made elaborate travel plans as if this were a very important event in their lives. Even though I probably wouldn’t agree with teetotalling and not dancing, I’m intrigued by their zeal and perseverance.

Although the Campground began as a Methodist endeavor, it’s grown to include all denominations, with speakers this summer ranging from ministers in urban congregations to a rabbi from Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, to Father Robert Joerger, C.P., the provincial superior of the Passionists religious order. Although there are sometimes world-renowned nonreligious speakers at the Tabernacle in the summertime, and there are plenty of musical events as well, the spiritual aspect of the place remains. There are Bible studies weekdays in the summer, as well as Sunday service at 9:30 am in July and August.

​Services are interdenominational and everyone’s welcome to come; there’s coffee and chitchat after the service. It feels like hallowed ground.

The Federated Church in Edgartown rescheduled speaker Tom Hallahan, executive director of Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard, so he’ll speak at the church following the Sunday, June 16, 10:30 am service. Our hospice is one of the few in the country that doesn’t charge for its services, and it’s an important resource on the Island. Come listen to Tom talk about how it all works. This is part of the church’s Federated Church Community Partners program.

Congrats to Sean McMahon, who’s now the part-time music director at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Martha’s Vineyard. With Sean, and also Jeremy Berlin as a regular accompanist, that church is brimming with musical talent. Check out an 11 am service some Sunday.