We All Love Bible Schools
This year, we’ve attended three wonderful weeks of Bible School—Palm Springs, Rocky Mountain, and our local Idyllwild Bible School. Bible Schools are an invaluable resource in the Christadelphian community, a blessing to us in so many ways. They affect us deeply, for good and forever.
In 1950, I was about thirteen years old when I attended the Eastern Bible School, my first Bible School. It was located in Wilbraham, Massachusetts. (Wilbraham Academy pictured above.) The school and the friends I made there impacted my life, allowing me to survive my teenage years, and it became a spiritual anchor. Bible Schools have impacted most of our lives spiritually. Some have been baptized at Bible Schools. Some have met their spouse there. We all have benefited from the years of Bible study that our teaching brethren have shared with us in their classes. Brothers and Sisters prepare classes for the children, with crafts and projects that enable our little ones to learn many basic Bible facts and stories. These remain with them for the rest of their lives.
The Idyllwild Pines camp itself was started in 1923, one hundred years ago this year. The facility was created to provide a place for Christian churches to have Bible Schools. Fortunately, it is not owned by one denomination, so we have been allowed to rent it. As some Bible Schools have experienced, many Christian camps dismiss us as a “cult” because we do not believe in the Trinity. The Christadelphians have been meeting there for 68 years, since 1955. My wife, Sis. Bonnie attended the first school and has been going ever since.
The gratitude felt for all the hard work that goes into our Bible Schools caused me to wonder when the first Bible School began and who started this wonderful practice. I had it in the back of my mind that the first Christadelphian Bible School was in Arkansas, sponsored by the Unamended Christadelphians.
I discussed this with Bro. Dave Jennings because his mother (now deceased) was originally from that community and learned about the Truth there. It turned out that The Advocate Magazine recently published an article about the school. Dave sent me a copy, and it got things going. The heading for the article is: “One Hundred Years of The Arkansas Bible School.” It was the first Bible School in the USA and possibly the first in the world.
That Bible School is located in Martinville, Arkansas, which is less than an hour north of Little Rock. The article has many pictures of the camp and some of the participants over the years. Most of the article consists of individual brothers and sisters sharing their personal memories of school.
What follows is not intended to be a definitive history of Christadelphian Bible Schools but rather a sharing of some of the background of a few of the Bible Schools and camps that I, and many of you, have attended over the years.
A Wilbraham/Arkansas Connection
I remembered hearing that Bro. Alvin Brittle (who lived in New Jersey and was very important in my life at some key junctures) had been instrumental in bringing the Arkansas Bible School concept to the Central fellowship, which resulted in the Wilbraham Bible School.
Bro. Jim Sullivan in Massachusetts has put together a history of Wilbraham and has given a number of presentations on the subject over the years. He has a copy of “The Origin of the Eastern Christadelphian Bible School” written by Bro. Alvin Brittle. My dim recollection was confirmed. Bro. Alvin was a key factor in getting Wilbraham started.
I might also add that he was a factor in the Hanover Bible School’s beginnings. Alvin leaned into my car as I said goodbye to everyone upon leaving the Orange, New Jersey Ecclesia and moving to the Midwest. He said they really needed a Bible School in the Midwest, and I should start one. The furthest thing from my mind was that I would start a Bible School. I was about twenty-two and only baptized for a year.
Nevertheless, it stuck in my mind, and I shared Alvin’s suggestion at a planning meeting after a young people’s weekend at the Shakamak State Park in Jasonville, Indiana. The brothers and sisters in Indiana and Illinois took it up and, with God’s blessing, got the Hanover Bible School going.
The following is quoted from Bro. Alvin’s history of the beginnings of Wilbraham:
While serving in conscientious objector camps during World War 2, brethren from the Eastern USA learned that years ago there had been weeklong Bible camps started in Texas by the Berean Fellowship, and in Arkansas by the Advocate fellowship. When they were released from Civilian Public Service in the summer of 1946, Bro. Doug Egles, Bro. Don Lipfert, and Bro. Al Brittle decided to drive out and attend the Arkansas Bible School.
In September 1946, several brothers and sisters got together and decided to start a Bible School in the eastern USA. Sis. Ruth Rankin suggested Wilbraham as a location, as she was working there as an accountant and knew Charles Stevens, the director. A committee was formed, brochures were sent out, and the first Bible School was held the following year.
The school ran from August 9 through August 17. There was an advisory group called the “Executive Committee” and a larger group of brethren involved in all the many tasks necessary for a Bible School. One such task was recording the classes, and I remember helping Bro. Howard Wallace by running between classes with the microphones.
Bro. Fred Turner was the first brother to come from England and teach in 1950. Bro. John Carter followed in 1951 and 1952. Those, and some subsequent visits, led to the resolution of the Central and Berean Fellowship division in 1952. The West Coast was almost entirely Berean at that time, and a number of them attended Wilbraham. As a result of the reunion and what they experienced during their visits, these brethren determined to form a Pacific Coast Bible School (Idyllwild).
The Wilbraham Bible School has changed locations since its beginnings. All involved are very thankful God has blessed the school and enabled it to continue.
The Pacific Coast Christadelphian Bible School
Idyllwild began in 1955. Wilbraham influenced its beginnings as the result of some California brothers attending that school. A committee was formed, including Bro. Bob Lloyd, who, at that time, was the youngest brother on the committee. Sis. Peggy Lloyd, who attended that first Bible School, assisted me with some of the early recollections.
As we mentioned at the outset, this year, 2023, is the 100th anniversary of the camp and the 68th. anniversary of our Bible School being held at the camp. It is located about a three-hour drive southeast of Los Angeles, in the San Jacinto Mountains, at 5,000 ft. elevation. It is a very beautiful location. The San Jacinto Mountain range is the second highest in California, reaching 10,804 feet at its peak.
The campgrounds and facilities have been expanded and improved in many ways over the years to the benefit of us all. The original camp had no cabins in the meadow and did not include the 40 acres of a neighboring Jewish Camp called “Gilboa.” The addition of Gilboa added classrooms and cabins. The camp initially consisted of what we now refer to as “the upper camp,” and the sleeping facilities were called “the chicken coops.”
Two families would be in one chicken coop, separated by a hanging curtain. I remember when a family sharing our cabin had one of their children get sick in the middle of the night. The following day, on the way to breakfast, the father apologized for all the noise. I told him not to worry. I was so thankful that it wasn’t one of ours and that the noise didn’t bother me a bit.
The format of the school week is typical of most Bible Schools. Three classes in the morning for the adults, three for the teens, and classes for the children, along with a nursery group. There were about 350 adults and children in attendance this year. Recruiting all the teachers kept Sis. Jennifer Russell extremely busy. The teachers prepared their lessons and crafts, and Sis. Kristin Atwood and others helped the children prepare for their musical presentations at the end of the week.
Sis. Kristin also led the choral practice every afternoon, and the choral presentation was one of the high points at the end of the week. There are many other activities for all the different age groups, all of which take planning and guidance. It is a lot of work, for which we are all very thankful.
Sadly, there is a downside to the Idyllwild location, which is the danger of wildfires. One year, we couldn’t go up the hill at all because of fires. Another year, we had to come home because of fires that endangered the camp. Fortunately, the camp and the town of Idyllwild have been spared. In both years, there were fires. The Bible School Committee pivoted and held the classes at the Simi Hills Ecclesial Hall. Brothers and sisters from other areas stayed at the homes of local brothers and sisters for the rest of the week.
Western Bible School
The first Bible School in the West was the Western Bible School, started in 1951 by the Unamended Christadelphians. The first location was in the Lake Tahoe area, later moving to Boulder Creek, near Santa Cruz, about thirty miles southwest of San Jose, CA. The brethren had to change locations several times, as the camps would determine that our beliefs were incompatible with theirs. In 1969, they moved to the Menucha Retreat and Conference Center in Corbett, Oregon, about thirty miles east of Portland. The Bible School continues to meet at the same location.
During the early 1960s, some Unamended families living in the Modesto and Merced areas in California began gathering at the Calaveras Big Trees State Park (east of Sacramento) for a week. It was an affordable location. It did not start out as a Bible School, per se, but eventually it became one.
I recall when Bro. Harry Whitaker taught at the camp for one year. Mark Twain’s short story about the frog-jumping contest made the Calaveras area famous, which I believe is still re-enacted each year. It is a beautiful location with ideal weather for camping. We all had tents in those days. I remember one family’s campsite consisted of a clothesline strung around four trees, with blankets hanging over them. Cooking was in the firepit and on camp stoves. There were three classes in the morning and afternoon, after which we drove down to the beautiful and refreshing Stanislaus River.
After some years at Calaveras, the camp moved to Sharin’ Woods. Bro. Ron and Sis. Dee Magness bought forty acres in the mountains near Shaver Lake, where they and their son and daughter-in-law, Bro. Leonard and Sis. Beth Magness could also have a home. The idea was that there would be plenty of room for the Bible Camp, and it really served us well. We would continue our classes in the morning, and in the afternoon, many would go to nearby Shaver Lake. We would also have gatherings there over the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.
The fact that we were there representing two different fellowships was brought home to all of us on Sundays when we would have two different Breaking of Bread services going on in two distinct parts of the camp. We were far apart enough that we could not see each other but could hear each other singing the hymns. The plus side to all this experience was that we got to know, love, respect each other, and share our love and knowledge of the Scriptures. With God’s blessing, that was no small factor in enabling our doctrinal differences to be reasoned out and for us to come to a oneness of mind when the reunion efforts began.
Sadly, Sharin’ Woods ended after thirteen years, but the contributions it made to us spiritually lives on. Interestingly, in different ways, both Wilbraham and the California Bible camps were important components in unifying much of the community.
The Feast of Booths
Bonnie and I have been to nearly ten different Bible Schools over the years. There are many more in North America and in other countries. We have just touched on a bit of the history and the many features we appreciate in our Bible Schools and how distinctive features have affected us at various stages in our lives.
Bible School week is a holy week. While we are there, we are completely separated from the World. It makes one think of the Feast of Booths under the Law. The Feast of Booths was the most joyful of Israel’s feasts. While we usually think of Israel’s feasts as solemn occasions, this was much more like a campout with your family and all the other families nearby. The purpose was to cause them to remember that for forty years, God sustained them as they lived in “booths” while they wandered in the wilderness. Each succeeding generation was taught in this powerful, week-long experience.
And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days.
And ye shall keep it a feast unto the LORD seven days in the year. It shall be a statute for ever in your generations: ye shall celebrate it in the seventh month
Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths: That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
And Moses declared unto the children of Israel the feasts of the LORD.” (Lev. 23:39-44).
Attending a Bible School is the ideal family vacation. There are activities planned for all ages. I can’t think of any place where you can take your young family and have something that appeals to each of them at their stage of development. As you pull up to the camp and open the car doors, the kids are gone in a flash, looking for their friends. It is so much more than just one week.
We look forward to Bible School all year and remember it all our lives. We pray God will continue to bless us with our Bible Schools as we prepare ourselves and our blessed children for His Son’s return. May it be soon.
Simi Hills Ecclesia, CA