published Saturday, June 9th, 2012

Tabernacle replica on display at Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church

A full-size Tabernacle replica can be seen at Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church this week.
A full-size Tabernacle replica can be seen at Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church this week.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Now that the Ark of the Covenant is here, Harrison Ford is gone.

Ford, who was in Chattanooga last week to film scenes for the movie "42," had to search for the biblical chest in the fictional 1981 movie "Raiders of the Lost Ark" to keep it out of Nazi hands.

This week, the Tabernacle Experience, a touring, full-size replica of the tabernacle Moses was instructed by God to build during the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the Sinai Desert, arrived at Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church.

"We just wanted it to be an outreach to the community [for people] to see how Jesus Christ is woven through the entire Tabernacle [and] to be a reminder of how God wants to dwell with us," Celestial Allen, a member of the church and liaison for the event, said of the display, which includes an Ark of the Covenant.

Signal Mountain Presbyterian will host the display for the public today, Friday and June 16, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday through Thursday from 1 to 8 p.m.

The 150- by 30-foot curtained area contains the altar of burnt offering, the laver and an inner tent divided into the Holy Place with the table and bread, lampstand and altar of incense, and the Most Holy Place with the Ark of the Covenant.

Visitors who tour the 55-minute, audio-enhanced experience visit nine interactive stations, according to the Rev. Chris Handley, the assistant pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Florence, S.C., who directs a tour east of the Mississippi River.

The stations, he said, afford people opportunities such as tossing a charred piece of wood into the fire, dipping their hands into water and lighting a candle.

Handley said the goal of the experience is to provide visitors the history of the Tabernacle and reveal how it points to Jesus Christ.

"It teaches and encourages you to think about how these elements point to the Lord," he said. "It's worshipful for the believer, and it gets nonbelievers thinking harder about Christianity."

To date, according to the Tabernacle Experience website, more than 160,000 people have toured the replica.

The experience was founded by Jeanne Whitaker, a Southern California resident who had a vision following a trip to Israel several years ago to build a life-size replica. Spurred into action by a women's event at her church, she had it built to biblical specifications -- the measurements for which are given in cubits in the book of Exodus -- on a vacated tennis court.

Today, she still directs the tours west of the Mississippi River.

Allen said she and several other church members had seen the Tabernacle Experience two summers ago at a conference in Montreat, N.C., and began efforts to bring it to Signal Mountain.

Handley said organizations who book the experience agree to pay $5,000 to cover transportation and expenses. Whether they recoup the money from visitors is up to the organization.

The group that books the traveling replica is responsible for much of the setup and takedown, he said.

Allen said more than 400 volunteer slots are involved with the presentation of the Tabernacle Experience during the eight days it is here.

"Thankfully," she said, "a lot [of people] have taken more than one shift."

No reservations are necessary to visit the Tabernacle Experience, located on a lawn to the far right of the church on James Boulevard.

It has a suggested donation of $5 per person, with a $20 family maximum per family, "but we will not turn anyone away," Allen said.

"We're excited that we're going to get to introduce the Tabernacle to the Chattanooga community," she said. "We just hope it will be a blessing."

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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