Column: Is the Baptist Tabernacle site still holy ground?

Caribou Coffee is where the Baptist Tabernacle once stood.

Bob Kirchner

Bob Kirchner

In 1910 the Baptist church purchased the old Shuler Building located there and demolished it. This land became part of the church yard.

But in June of 1924 a new pastor, Leonard Elgin Brough, came to First Baptist. He was a well-connected and well-seasoned evangelist.

He had a vision for this land – a gospel tabernacle – a kind of permanent camp meeting revival tent. It was soon constructed and connected to the church.

The tabernacle was a simple one-story structure made of wood and tile. It was steam heated, well ventilated and had fine acoustical properties.

Electric lights were well arranged and the interior nicely finished to create “a strong appeal for its cheerfulness, both day and night.”

Centered in the front was a platform which accommodated a 50-voice choir as well as seating for several speakers.

The platform was flanked by a choir room to the east and a prayer room to the west.

The seats had high backs for more comfort than typical in a revival tent. At the back of each seat was a convenient rack to store song books.

It seated 600 people and had a sawdust floor.

The tabernacle was dedicated Sunday, Oct. 12, 1924. The Anoka Union reported that “the tabernacle was filled with those who eagerly gathered to listen to the dedicatory services. Happily, the weather changed from a dark, dreary morning to an afternoon radiant with sunshine which streamed in through the windows as though pronouncing its benediction on the services of the auspicious occasion.”

An American flag hung in front of the pulpit and other flags decorated the room. Branches of autumn leaves hung from corners and pillars provided a touch of brightness and color.

The dedicatory sermon was preached by the world famous evangelist and Bible teacher Dr. R.A. Torrey. He had been superintendent of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and had held revival meetings throughout the United States, England and Australia.

His message on this day was “The Main Business of the Church of Jesus Christ.” The newspaper reported that “Dr. Torrey spoke convincingly in an earnest, pleasing manner, showing the best authority for everything he uttered. It is seldom that Anoka has the opportunity of securing the services of so distinguished a man.”

As reported, it was “a red letter day in the history of the Anoka Baptist Church.”

There followed a week-long series of gospel meetings in the tabernacle demonstrating Christian unity. Baptist, Congregational and Presbyterian pastors from St. Cloud, Minneapolis and St. Paul preached in turn.

The superintendents of the Minneapolis and St. Paul Union Gospel Missions, the Northwestern Bible School in Minneapolis and the Minnesota Baptist Convention preached.

Ira L. Deal, a nationally acclaimed gospel singer from Waterloo, Iowa, sang at several meetings.

Over the years the tabernacle was used for large revival meetings, Bible conferences and statewide Sunday School conventions.

But by the 1940’s the building fell out of use and the land was needed for parking for the growing congregation. It was demolished in 1942.

So when you are conversing in Caribou consider that on this spot stood the preachers preaching and the saints singing. Some would say this was holy ground. Some would say it still is.

As Scripture declares, the Word of God is alive, powerful and effectual. It is enduring, imperishable. Its fulfilled purposes are scheduled. It speaks to those who listen.

In fact, you can still hear Dr. Torrey, in his only known recorded sermon, preaching “Some reasons why I believe the Bible to be the Word of God” at www.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/docs/torreysermon.html.

Eternal truths pierce the barriers of fallen time. So if you listen in the spirit perhaps you can still hear their sermons and songs.

Bob Kirchner is a local historian, seminary student and recently retired as the city of Anoka’s community development director.

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