Pagans, Christians, and the cost of temple administration

The 1998 PBS series, From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians continues to impress me, and I’ll still point people to the legacy website. Good to keep bookmarked if you study theology, teach in church, or preach.
A particular page called Why Did Christianity Succeed? The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Considers History — excerpted from Rodney Stark’s 1996 The Rise of Christianity — stands out because he questions the wisdom that Christianity became dominant over pagan cultus because of Constantine’s establishment. Rather, Christianity seems to have won a popular place that Constantine consolidated. Also, Stark contends it wasn’t miracles or martyrs that made people Christians but a kind of administration that people could up hold (he cites the ruinous costs of pagan religious exercises), a leadership that was close to the common people, and the claims that Christianity (and Judaism) made towards conversion rather than mere adherence (itself a product of how deity is understood.)

It don’t lift the article up in a “look at those silly Pagans; their religion fell apart” way, but because the same thing could very easily happen to Christianity as we know it in the United States. When the faith takes on a corporate (as in business) gloss, a reputation for high costs and endless fund-raising, and a pandering uncertainty about where it stands, the future doesn’t look good.

Tin Tabernacles

Y’all know I’m all about useful alternatives in church life. And history. And to a lesser degree, Georgia, where you’ll still find tin-roofed houses. Not tin really but corregated iron: a cheap, if down-market, resource.
Thus I was tickled to discover this British (and elsewhere) use of “tin tabernacles”: buildings meant to be temporary home for new congregations — some are now a century or more old, though few that survive are still used as churches. A few that do are Unitarian. They were made from kits, and could be quite decorative.

But there was no article about them at Wikipedia, so I just wrote one, my first.

If you know anything about them, go and edit or add to my stub of an article.

My No-Heller experience

I think I was reading a hint of bemusement in Graham’s comment about the forthcoming site. For the record, I’m not being cute but referring to an old Universalist eponym.

I used to preach a fragment of an old Georgia-South Carolina circuit, which worked well as my parents live near the Ga.-S.C. line. If I preached in Newberry, I would stop in on them to or fro’. In between, there’s a little town (on the South Carolina side) that once had a Universalist church: Saluda. I had read or heard that the ruined church still stood, but I didn’t know where. I drove through the town and stopped at the combination general store and laundromat: one of those squat cinder-block jobs that pepper the South. A good a place as any for local information, and perhaps a Moon Pie.
I put on my best “lost but still Southern” manners, and asked the proprietor. He knew nothing of the Universalists much less a local church. The thought dawned on me. “What about a No-Heller church?” Oh yes. . . he knew about that. Not too far; when he was a boy (three or four decades earlier, I’d guess) he used to roller-skate inside it. His directions took me and my top-heavy Chevy Astrovan down a deeply rutted logging road. (If it had rained the night before, I might still be there.)

An archived page about the Saluda church. (No photos, alas. Steven, do you have one? I am extraordinarily dubious about it having been re-established.)

The church in Elgin, Illinois

Bill Baar posts some photos of the the condemned former Universalist church in Elgin, Illinois.

I used to be sad when I heard news like this — with Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust bumping along as a mental soundtrack — but without a congregation (of any denomination, to my mind) then a churchly building is simply an architectural and culture feature of interest or disinterest to the locals.

But I’m glad to see the photos, and I hope some clever Elginite finds a use for this edifice.

First Universalist Church Elgin, Illinois

"Adieu, Susan, The Lord bless & comfort you — N. Stacy"

It probably wouldn’t hurt to write about Universalism once in a while.

Yesterday, I received a letter I bought after a winning auction on eBay. The close is the title of this post.

It was written by key Universalist minister Nathaniel Stacy to his wife from Philadelphia, July 12, 1826. I bid on the letter because he mentions exchanging with the minister of the “old church in Lombard St.” and I had just been in Philadelphia, and saw the building, which today is the Kesher Israel synagogue. (It was night and the photos didn’t come out. See this restoration architect’s page.) He’s there — to use our modern term — in a short interim ministry. The details of letter a familiar to anyone who has either been away from one’s family for several weeks, or has served a church. Plus, his hurried hand (and complaints that his wife isn’t writing back) add some color to one of our denomination’s greatest evangelists.

He complains about the “home hospitality” but notes — more than once — how healthy Philly is. He misses home and his children. He notes with pride his article in a forthcoming copy of the local Herald of Salvation, and how he has helped the publisher (and his landlord) in it. But Stacy is right when he wrote “I have assisted Br. M[orse] in that work as much as I could since I have been here — it is quite a task for him, & I think they will discontinue it when the present year is out.” (He did: Herald of Salvation only ran 1826-1827. Link.)

He had been offered preaching and lecturing in New York and Albany, if the money makes it worthwhile.

But it is the endearing bits that make this letter: “Tell the children to be good children — I think of them almost every moment & and if they are good I will bring them something. Kiss Clara for me, O! I want to see her.”

Another Universalist Publishing House location

I’m categorizing and boxing my Universalist ephemera — remember the Hollinger boxes? — and found a cache of the Sunday School Helper “devoted to the interests of Universalist Sunday School Teaching.”

Some time in 1877 or 1878, the Universalist Publishing House moved in Boston from 37 Cornhill (a district with a long history of Universalist publishing) to 16 Bromfield Street. I’ve probably walked past this place because it isn’t too far from King’s Chapel.

The place is now an Irish pub — the Dubliner — which seems to be a good reason to visit.

16 Bromfield Street (Google Maps)

Universalist church building demolition watch

This time, Peoria, Illinois. Sure, the congregation sold it, but it seems noteworthy because this was once one of the largest Universalist churches in the country.

The 94-year-old Universalist Unitarian Church in Peoria, which was sold to Methodist Medical Center last October and could be demolished, has been put on a list of the top 10 most endangered historic places in Illinois, officials announced Wednesday.

Peoria Journal Star, 15 March 2005


Call me silly but I have a fascination with mixed-use (or interfaith) religious architecture with a particular period (post-WWII it seems) feature: turntable altars.

This interest was fostered by its odd, gee-wizz, and even its kitch character, but the original inquiry came out of some thought around the appropriate interworking of worship in governmental settings, like military, aviation, or educational settings. Most of the turntable altars are and were found in military chapels. If you have one chapel, out of necessity it must serve the whole religious program. Here comes technology to the rescue.

Imagine a triangular tower that pivots on its vertical axis where each of the three sides are set for Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish worship. Pivot, and voila the building changes function. Simple chancel furnishings complete the scene.

No great thoughts here — just a couple of pictures. Of course, the best pictures are “in-between” shots. (Coming from US government sites, I’m assuming they’re public domain.)

National Institutes of Health chapel Naval hospital chapel, St. Albans, New York

And a remote link:

in the United States Merchant Marine Academy chapel

Universalist church for sale!

The buzz today: on eBay is a former Universalist church building, in New York.

Sold for scrap.

I don’t feel bad — it hasn’t been a Universalist church since 1922 — but I wouldn’t say no to an architectural feature. After all, it was built in 1818.

Go thou and bid

Facilities rules

I made reference to some “rules of thumb” for space needs. I wanted to offer some resources speaking to that.

I have a working rule. “If you need some specific, nondenominational, technical information about church life, look to the Armed Forces.” Somehow, they usually have an answer, even if no denomination does. (Online, or for free, anyway.) Thus, see

  • “Flexible design makes effective classrooms”
  • The ABC’s of school furniture (Archive link.) Though speaking to the needs of a church-based school, it is a sobering breakdown of the cost of furnishings and space needs.
  • Also, it is worth noting that children and youth, in their educational setting, need much more space per capita than adults.