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The Tabernacle

This is a review of the Mennonite Tabernacle reproduction in Lancaster, PA.

Summary

This is a guided tour of an actual-size reproduction of the Biblical Israelite Tabernacle described in Exodus.  The tour includes a brief history of the Mennonites as well as Biblical background so visitors can better understand the role of the Tabernacle and its implements in ancient Israelite worship.  The tour is informative, engaging, and enjoyable.  The guide and all the staff are extremely friendly and knowledgeable.  Great little gift shop as well.  Absolutely worth a visit if you’re in the area.  Allow about 90 minutes for your visit.

Background

The LORD God is an awesome God.  He envisioned, designed, and created the entire Universe in all its grandeur.   He is also a God of exquisite detail, as demonstrated by the intricate precision and perfect balance within every living cell, molecule, and atom.

Therefore it is not surprising that The LORD God provided very specific instructions to the Israelites in the Book of Exodus for the design and construction of the His earthly “dwelling”, the Tabernacle:

“And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.  Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.”  (Exo 25:8-9)

Reading the Biblical description permits one to imagine what the actual structure might have looked like, but one can never be certain that imagination matches reality.  Therefore I was excited to learn about the Mennonite reproduction of the Tabernacle in Lancaster, PA., and was determined to visit it.

The Mennonites

But first a brief description of the Mennonites.  The Mennonites, named after founder Menno Simons, trace their roots to the radical Protestant movement of the early 1500s.  They practice a fundamentalist Christianity based on literal interpretation of the Bible as the Word of God, and emphasize personal spiritual responsibility whose acceptance is evidenced through a conscious decision for public water baptism.  Mennonites strive always to follow the teachings, mission, and example of Jesus Christ as written in the Word of God.  Therefore they place great emphasis on missionary work and related activities to help all those in need, and eagerly spread knowledge of The LORD through word and deed.  (They use this replica of the Tabernacle as another tool to accomplish their mission.)

The Mennonites in Lancaster emigrated to America from Germany in the late 1800s.  Mennonites are often confused with their Amish cousins because the two groups share common roots and similar beliefs.  However, the Amish cling to a traditional, simple way of life; Mennonites do not.  In fact, based on appearance alone, one could not differentiate between an American Mennonite or any other American.  Over one million modern day Mennonites can be found serving The LORD worldwide on most continents.  Following are links to additional information on the Mennonites:

http://www.usmb.org/our-story
http://history.mennonite.net/

The Experience

Back to the Tabernacle…  The Tabernacle is located in the Mennonite Visitor Center.  The Center, located in the heart of rural Lancaster County, is reached by a series of country roads.  I would have gotten lost, had it not been for Garmin.  But no problems…

The Brazen Altar in the Court

The Tabernacle is experienced as part of an hour long-tour that starts with a 20 minute video presentation in the auditorium about the Mennonites.  Visitors then are ushered into the ante-room of the Tabernacle area where they hear a 20 minute informative, live narrative about Biblical history and the significance of the Tabernacle.  A glass window-wall on the right side looks out at a full-scale replica of the Court and Brazen Altar; a mural of the entire Israelite camp covers the opposite wall of the ante-room.

The initial two presentations significantly enhance the experience.  They provide the knowledge and background necessary for proper understanding and interpretation of the Tabernacle by those who may be unfamiliar with all its details and symbolism.  Our tour guide was a retired Mennonite pastor and quite knowledgeable, informative, and engaging in his presentation.  I happened to arrive at the same time as a busload of elderly ladies, so our tour consisted of 40-50 people.  I suspect the normal tour size is much smaller, although the facilities easily accommodated everyone in comfort.

The Holy Place with High Priest and Veil in background; golden column in foreground.

After the introductory briefing, one enters the interior of the Tabernacle, the Holy Place where the priests serve the LORD.   Photographs are not permitted.  All dimensions are Biblically accurate, but one would best liken the reproduction to a stage in the round.  This is totally understandable since The LORD God designed the Tabernacle’s dimensions to accommodate only a few priests, and not large numbers of tourists.  Therefore the tourists must sit on benches “outside” looking in through invisible walls.  Columns and poles are there to provide the proper sense of

dimension; but only samples of the curtains forming the exterior walls can be provided else one couldn’t see anything inside.  Hence some imagination is still required.

Once in the Holy Place, the tour guide describes the various items, their use, significance, and symbolism.  This presentation is most informative and requires about 20 minutes.  Upon conclusion of the presentation, one gets to peek through a small window into the Most Holy Place which houses the Ark of the Covenant.

The Ark of the Covenant

Upon conclusion of the tour, one returns to the gift shop which offers a large variety of books, CDs, memorabilia, etc. at reasonable prices.  This is an excellent opportunity to ask questions about anything that may have been left unanswered during the tour itself.  The tour guide and staff are extremely friendly and helpful, and enjoy the dialog.  The entire experience requires about 90 minutes, including time for browsing the gift shop.

The Replica

The Tabernacle is actually housed indoors, and the visitors’ gallery is quite comfortable with cushioned benches.  Visibility is excellent.  The replica of the Priest is animated, adding a touch of realism to the experience.

The implements and furnishings themselves provide an accurate representation, but they are not “Disney” quality.  They are simple and “country style.”  For example, metal items clearly appeared to be made of wood and painted gold.  Nevertheless, it requires much less imagination to envision the Tabernacle having visited this replica than it requires simply reading the Biblical description of Exodus.

Conclusion

Definitely worth the visit if you’re in the area.  Follow these links to other reviews:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g52970-d1954982-r140489051-Lancaster_Mennonite_Historical_Society-Lancaster_Lancaster_County_Pennsylvania.html

http://www.yelp.com/biz/biblical-tabernacle-reproduction-lancaster

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