It had been 45 years since the last renovation of the storied Tabernacle’s sanctuary, and it was time for a redo.
For several years, the congregation of the historic church in Battle Creek, Michigan, United States, had discussed lowering and enlarging the platform so it could accommodate large groups, such as choirs and bands. Some funds had been given toward that project. But the carpet was getting stained and worn, the pews were becoming unstable, and the lighting and audio-visual equipment needed to be upgraded.
The members wanted the church to glorify God and be a place where they would be comfortable bringing guests to worship Him. With all these needs in mind, a committee was formed in 2019 to explore remodeling the entire sanctuary and main floor. In early 2022, a capital campaign was begun.
There were three steps to the campaign: (1) remodel the platform, add a bathroom to the main level, add a new sound booth, and purchase new audio-visual equipment; (2) paint and carpet the sanctuary and foyer, and purchase new pews; and (3) repair the exterior front steps, and purchase a sound board. Once the goal of the first stage was reached, the work began.
Church members volunteered many hours demolishing the platform, pulling up the carpet, and removing the pews. The large picture behind the platform of the rich young ruler turning away from Jesus, which had been there for more than four decades, was taken down. New carpet and pews were installed, walls and trim were painted, the platform was completely remodeled, and a restroom was added off the foyer. The first two steps of the project were completed by mid-summer 2023.
With so much visible evidence of God’s leading in the remodeling process, leaders decided to have a special thanksgiving and dedication Sabbath. Invitations were sent to members who had moved to other churches and those who had stopped attending church altogether. Former members from around the Lake Union were informed of the special dedication service.
On Saturday (Sabbath) morning, September 23, the day of the dedication service, the church sanctuary was full. Members and guests were excited to see the changes. The church looked updated and refreshed. God’s presence was felt as we worshiped together that morning.
One of the highlights of the service was the introduction of new stained-glass artwork behind the platform. The congregation had chosen a stained-glass version of “The Rescue,” based on Luke 15:4, by artist Nathan Greene. The picture shows Jesus reaching down to rescue a lost sheep and is backlit by LED lights to emulate a natural window. Greene was there for the dedication service and gave a brief history of his painting.
People Are More Important than a Building
Michigan Conference president Jim Micheff offered a prayer of dedication, in which he thanked God for His many blessings and dedicated our new sanctuary to God’s service. In his remarks before the prayer, Micheff reminded the congregation that even though the Tabernacle has a rich history among Seventh-day Adventists, it is not buildings that save people. Buildings facilitate ministry, but “the most important building material of the Battle Creek Tabernacle is not in the walls. It’s not even in the [stained glass] picture. Right now, it’s in the pews. And that’s you,” he said to the congregation. He continued, “I want God to take our hearts so that we might be used to draw someone else to Him.”
Wayne Johnson, co-chair of the remodeling program, gave a heart-felt thank you to all the contractors and workers who participated in the project — decorators, painters, carpet installers, wood workers, plumbers, electricians, and others. They had all been invited to the dedication service. Several of the workers had asked Johnson questions about Adventist beliefs. As a result of these questions, each worker was given a beautiful, hard-back copy of Ellen G. White’s The Desire of Ages.
The project manager of the remodel attended the dedication service and later sent Johnson a text in which he said, “I never thought of myself as a tool of God through that project until you spoke of it Saturday. That impacted me. It’s funny the things we see as normal operations speak louder to other people.” Johnson said he was glad that he had used the opportunity of a rebuilding project to witness to the workers.
Tabernacle Is Not Just a Name but a Mission
Special guest speaker for the morning was Dwight Nelson, recently retired pastor of the Pioneer Memorial Church in Berrien Springs, Michigan. The title of his sermon was “When Your Name Becomes a Verb, Your Mission Is Complete.” He began his sermon by pointing out that the word tabernacle has two meanings in the Bible — as a noun in Exodus 40:34, “Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle”; and as a verb in John 1:14, “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt (or tabernacled) with us.”
Nelson continued, “Every time we look at the painting [of Jesus and the lost sheep], we remember that the Maker of all things loves and wants us.… He’s not looking for an excuse to throw us out but to draw us in. He wants to tabernacle with us!”
Nelson challenged the congregation with these words: “That’s why the Battle Creek Tabernacle exists — because tabernacle is not only a noun; it is also a verb. It is not just your name; it is your mission! Not just who you are but what you do. Not in here for two hours but for seven days a week out there.… You have just met your mission statement. You are a verb! You’ve been a noun long enough; become a verb now. Tabernacle all over this city!”
This powerful sermon capped off a service of recommitment, praise, and thanksgiving. By God’s grace, the Battle Creek Tabernacle will be both a noun and a verb!
The Battle Creek Tabernacle was the fifth Seventh-day Adventist church in Battle Creek. Its predecessor, the Dime Tabernacle, was destroyed by fire in 1922, so the new — and current — Tabernacle was built with bricks, concrete, and iron. It was dedicated on October 9, 1926. Beautiful stained-glass windows were added later, along with a mural of Jesus and the rich young ruler.
In 1914, a grand piano was hand-constructed for the family of C. W. Post. After her parents and stepmother died, C. W. Post‘s daughter, Marjorie Merriweather Post, sold the piano to the Tabernacle. It is still being used today.