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Photo Friday: “Six Hours of Sitting Seemed Like a Lot to Young People”

Students at the Upland Brethren in Christ Church's annual Bible conference in 1919. (Upland Public Library)

Like many Brethren in Christ communities through North America, the Southern California churches in the first half of the twentieth century held annual Bible conferences — gatherings at which ministers and other teachers would instruct listeners on a variety of biblical topics, including prophecy. (Such gatherings were not unique to the Brethren in Christ, but in fact occurred throughout the conservative Protestant world, and had their roots in the late 19th and early 20th fundamentalist movement.)

In his 1992 memoir Walk Memory’s Lane, Southern California Brethren in Christ layman Eldon Bert reflects on these Bible conferences as he experienced them as a young man growing up in the 1930s and 1940s. Here’s a taste of his reminiscences:

Bible conference would begin on Tuesday of Thanksgiving week and go through Sunday. Different speakers were scheduled to be on the program. Sessions would begin at 10 a.m., then there was an afternoon session of about three hours, and in the evening again about two hours. Six hours of sitting seemed like a lot to young people. Of course on Tuesday and Wednesday our public school was in session and that excused us from those day sessions. When I went to Beulah College Academy, school was dismissed for these days, but we had to take notes on some of the sessions and turn them in to our teachers. They kept record of our attendance. . . .

Bible conference was not all sitting, especially for us young fellows. Between sessions much time was spent playing football on the small grassy area on the south side of the church. The game rules had to be changed because of the small area. Even so we could work up a good sweat in the hour or so in which we could play before having to go back into church. Times did change as we became older. Some of the young people, boys and girls, would walk around the city block and talk. Sometimes they would even hold hands as they walked slowly.

I wonder how Bert’s memories of Southern California Bible conferences would square against the memories of one who had attended similar conferences in (more conservative) Lancaster County, Pennsylvania?

For more on Southern California Bible conferences as Bert remembered them, see Eldon F. Bert, Walk Memory’s Lane (Harrisburg, Pa.: Triangle Press, 1992), 20-21.