Songs bring building to life

September 08, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

RINGGOLD - The voices of about 100 singers recently filled the historic Ringgold Meeting House, bringing the 133-year-old building to life once again.

"Last year we had about 80 people come to the annual hymn sing," said Frank Kipe, one of several members of a commission of the Brethren Church of Christ that oversees the building. In years past, as many as 150 have attended.

Kipe, who describes himself as the "keeper of the keys," said the 1871 meeting house closed in the 1960s. There is no electricity in the building, which means it has no lights or air conditioning, and the only heat comes from an old iron stove.


Rows and rows of straight wooden pews fill the main floor of the building.

Still, for the past 32 years, the meeting house at 14426 Misty Meadow Road has been opened for the hymn sing. Those who attend are offered light refreshments afterward and may tour the historic structure.

"It was quite warm inside, but everyone seemed to enjoy the service," Kipe said of the Aug. 29 event. The shutters were flung wide open and the dozen or so windows were opened to allow some cross-ventilation with the help of breezes through the trees that ring the three-level brick building.

The commission members mow the grass and see to it that the building is open for a few services every year.

Avery Zook, who has served as secretary of the commission since 1972, described the building as characteristic of the background of the Brethren in Christ denomination, which took over the operation and maintenance of the meeting house in 1988.

"It's very simple, almost stoic," Zook said. "The seating puts everyone on the same level."

The ministers came out of the laity, so there was no hierarchy within the church.

Back in the 1960s when regular services were halted, there was some talk of taking the building down and reassembling it at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., Kipe said.

But as Zook pointed out, the background of the congregation of the Ringgold Meeting House was traditionally agrarian, so it seemed appropriate that the house stay in the middle of a farming community.

Until 1871, members of the then-"River Brethren" denomination worshipped in homes or barns when the audience was larger, such as for love feasts. When it became apparent that a central location was needed, the Ringgold Meeting House was built.

A timber frame encased in locally made bricks, the building is 65 feet long and 40 feet wide.

The basement sometimes is used for carry-in meals. In early days, meals were cooked there, Kipe said.

The attic had crude accommodations for people who slept there overnight during love feasts, which sometimes lasted a couple of days.

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