Tuesday, June 10, 2008

(relatively) Hallowed Ground: My visit to Alexander Campbell's Home

One thing that I really wanted to do before I moved from West Virginia was to visit Bethany. For those who don't know, Bethany is this historic homestead of Alexander Campbell , who is, in some sense, the/a founder of the American Restoration Movement (Churches of Christ, Independent Christian Churches, and Disciples of Christ). This post may not have relevance to you if you do not share my particular religious heritage, but I wanted to share my experience.

Bethany is about 2 1/2 hours from where I lived in West Virginia, and I thought it would be sort of a shame if I didn't at least visit the place...after all, I've grown up in this tradition, and actually have done a bit of historical research on our movement. About a week before we moved, my friend Matt Wilson came to visit, and my friend and (now former) co-worker Joe Spivy (who had been to Bethany several times before) agreed to go with us and act as a sort of guide. I don't think that Matt or I were prepared for how the experience would affect us. I'll let Matt tell you his perspective on our pilgrimage(?), but as for me, it was a profound moment in my life. Campbell's house and study are still standing, and its quite amazing how much has actually survived. As we walked through the house and as I stood in Campbell's study, this profound sense of being a part of a story came over me. I kept thinking "This is real," which is silly on one level, because I already new that. I guess it's more that it became real, or maybe tangible to me. We went to a church that Campbell actually regularly preached at, and the archives containing historical documents at Bethany college, where I saw Thomas Campbell's personal copy of the "Declaration and Address," with his handwritten notes in the margins. It was an experience that I'll treasure for the rest of my life. Alexander Campbell, and his father Thomas Campbell were attempting to be Jesus to their world in their time. Deeply embedded in both modernity and early American culture, they effectively engaged their culture with the Gospel. They spoke prophetically where they felt that Scripture called them to do so. Being fallible human beings, they made mistakes, but their lives and legacy are inspiring, none the less. I felt a renewed sense of a calling to be faithful to that legacy. As we enter into a post-modern age (whatever that may wind up meaning), I want to be faithful to the legacy of these men who effectively engaged their culture with the message of Jesus. To simply emulate their forms, constructs, etc. would be unfaithful to this legacy. To unquestioningly accept the status quo would be a betrayal of it. To constantly go back to Scripture and wrestle with faithfully translating the faith and practice found theirin for our time, is the path that they cleared for us. May I follow them as they follow Christ.
Here are some pics I took with a camera phone:

This is a bust of Alexander Campbell

This is Alexander Campbell's personal study/library

This is the Inscription on Alexander Campbell's tombstone

This is a floorboard from the Brush Run Church Meeting House

This is Alexander Campbell's personal writing desk

This is Alexander Campbell's...ummmm....toilet chair ;)

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