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Column: They sure don't do meetings like they used to

WORTHINGTON -- What do you think? Should we try for a tent meeting this summer? If we're going to do it, there isn't much time. Several evenings, no later than next month. Maybe one Sunday morning. We want to get the meetings out of the way before the county fairs begin.

There is no record exactly -- local newspapers seemed not to report on tent meetings -- but it appears Worthington has not had a revival rally in nearly three-quarters of a century. The last gospel meeting in a tent seems to have been before World War II, maybe 1940. That tent was erected along the west side of the old Second Avenue water tower grounds. Parking was in the streets -- a lot of worshipers came on foot.

It is not clear why the water tower grounds were chosen. Worthington may have discouraged tent meetings in its parks.

Another popular site in the heyday of revival assemblies was a large open area on the south side of Clary Street where the Rock Island tracks crossed that broad gravel road. This area was nearly undeveloped in the years before World War II.

If we were to proceed with a plan, there are large challenges in our path. First off, finding a tent. There are not many large tents around any longer. The Ringling Brothers circus fire at Hartford, Conn., was in 1944. Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey have not shown in a big top since that time. Cole Brothers' "The Circus of the Stars" played in a canvas tent on the Nobles County fairgrounds at Worthington, but this was a quarter-century ago.

There are other challenges. Lights. We need lights so that people can see their song books. In the earliest days, tent meetings were lighted by dangling kerosene lanterns, but we could not do that any longer. Safety precautions. Later, there were strings of sockets at the tops of the canvas walls. Screw some light bulbs into the sockets. I don't know if they even make large, incandescent bulbs any longer. I think we might have to find large fluorescent bulbs.

Pianos are not hard to come by. Certainly there are guitars. We probably could arrange for music without difficulty. And a preacher. A lay preacher would do. If everything went right, we could bring a crowd together in a month and have them settled on wood-slat folding chairs. (Where do we find those?)

All right now. Everybody. Sing out in a loud voice:

"Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness, Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;

Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping, We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves..."

The thing that would have been simpler, a thing Worthington seemed to prefer, was to bring together a men's chorus or even a full choir on a Saturday evening on the stone front steps of the 1894 Nobles County courthouse on 10th Street. This has not been tried since the courthouse went down and Worthington area residents by the hundreds stopped shopping on Saturday nights.

The singers -- men in suits and ties, women wearing hats -- would assemble at an early evening hour, maybe 7 p.m. They usually attracted a small audience to the courthouse lawn but, mostly, Worthington shoppers went about their business, looking for shoes at Schmidt Brothers or buying groceries at Goff & Dean, listening only incidentally while the jubilee singers went through their hymns:

"What a fellowship, what a joy divine, Leaning on the everlasting arms; What a blessedness, what a peace is mine, Leaning on the everlasting arms..."

Worthington's biggest religious moment came in 1906 (or 1907?), when Billy Sunday brought his Crusade to southwest Minnesota. Albert Rust remembered:

"That was 1906, or 1907.

"Billy Sunday had a wooden tabernacle built on Tenth Street. [Approximately on the present-day Sterling Drug site.] There was sawdust on the floor. There were wooden benches.

"Billy Sunday was here for five weeks or more. My brother and I were in high school then; we stayed across the street and we went nearly every night. ...

"Billy had been a ballplayer once; he was an athlete. ... He would get right up on top of the pulpit."

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.