In the summer of 1907, the year after the move of the Gospel Trumpet Co. from Moundsville, W.Va., to Anderson, a large tent was erected for the first “camp meeting” to be held in Anderson.
A year later a permanent building became home for general services and meetings of what became the Church of God International Convention (later North American Convention of the Church of God). That building, remodeled a couple of times over the years, still stands on the Anderson University campus as Byrum Hall.
Since that time only once has a Church of God convention not been held in Anderson. That was in 1960 when the old wooden tabernacle, successor to Byrum Hall as the center of the convention, collapsed under the weight of a snowstorm. The General Assembly, composed of Church of God ministers and lay delegates, convened that year at Park Place Church of God, but no mass meetings or associated conferences were held.
But now, with the announcement that the 2014 convention will be held in Oklahoma City, the event will be held outside Anderson for the first time in 107 years.
Church officials had been discussing the possibility of moving the site around to accommodate the changing demographics of Church of God membership. Attendance had been declining for several years. When Warner Auditorium, built in 1962, developed asbestos problems a few years ago, its replacement was not deemed cost-effective as other facilities were adequate to handle convention attendance. But the expense of moving around compared to the availability of AU facilities at little cost was a roadblock to looking elsewhere.
Reardon Auditorium had been the convention’s central location in recent years. Twice more distant facilities were used, in 1961 when Warner Auditorium was on the drawing board and mass meetings were held in the brand-new Anderson High School Wigwam, and a few years ago when East Fifth Street in front of Reardon Auditorium was under reconstruction, moving to Madison Park Church of God.
Church officials cited a decline in hotel rooms in Anderson as a factor. Sounds like more of an excuse. While two major motels no longer operate, others have taken up the slack.
The real reason, along with demographics of church constituency, is a change in lifestyle. Far fewer people are wont to plan a vacation around a church convention, pay for hotel rooms for several days, stay in AU dorms or bring a motor home halfway across the country. And there are many more counterattractions vying for the attention of laypersons as well as ministers.
I suspect the presence of another church-related college in Oklahoma City, Mid-America Christian University, is a factor with available low-cost facilities. As for future years, we shall see how plans for the 2014 convention and beyond work out in motivating people who have never entered the city limits of Anderson.
Jim Bailey’s reflections on Anderson’s past appear on Sunday. His regular column appears on Thursday. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.