As I noted in an earlier post, today I took the students in my Brethren in Christ history and theology course to the Ringgold Meeting House, one of the first worship spaces built by the Brethren in Christ Church.
I love visiting Ringgold — I love the simple architecture of the space, love soaking up the atmosphere by sitting in the old pews and paging through the old hymnals stored in the preacher’s bench. My favorite reason to visit, of course, is to attend the yearly hymn sings held at the site — I absolutely love hearing hymns sung in four-part harmony echo off the spare white walls of the old building.
There was no singing during our visit today (for better or for worse — and those of you who’ve heard my singing voice would probably say for better!) but touring the meeting house did give me the chance to reflect a bit on the simplicity and symbolism of the space. (For some insight on the symbolism of the meeting house, check out E. Morris Sider‘s insightful article “The Rinngold Meeting House as Symbol” — my students had to read this piece in preparation for today’s visit.)In any case, my students seemed to enjoy the trip. (In my experience, students tend to enjoy getting out of the classroom and engaging the subject matter in a more hands-on way.) We spent time discussing the ways in which the meeting house communicates historic Brethren in Christ values like simplicity, humility, and community. We also unpacked the space’s symbolic representation of the Brethren in Christ’s 19th-century cultural context (their utilitarian nature born out of their agrarian background) and theological context (their decision to use the relational term “meeting house” instead of the “worldly” term “church”).
Students were engaged and asked a lot of good questions. Some were more historical in nature (“What did the Brethren in Christ do with their old meeting houses once they started building ‘regular’ churches?”) while others were more practical (“Where did people go to the bathroom here?”). Of particular interest were the hard-back, unpadded pews (“I actually prefer these!” I heard one student say) and the cemetery outside the meeting house doors, where we wandered around for a few minutes before loading back into the van.
Tomorrow, students are taking their first test. On Wednesday, we’ll begin exploring the Brethren in Christ’s “first period of transition” — the time in which these plain people adopted mainstream Protestant innovations like Sunday school, revival meetings, foreign and domestic missions, higher education, and Wesleyan holiness theology.
Look for another update post over the weekend!