I was just thinking, now that summer is upon us, about days gone by. I do that now that I am in my latter years of life. Memories are such a treasure — at least the good ones are. I want to take some of you down memory lane and others to get a glimpse of church life in yesteryear.
With each passing decade, things change in our country. The rutted old wagon trails that later became bumpy gravel roads are now paved and smooth. The days of sweltering in a hot house in the summer with only a window fan, ceiling fan or in some houses, a dog trot to cool are not fondly recalled. (For some who may not know, a dog trot was a “breeze way” constructed with two living areas of the house on either side.) Those have been replaced by air conditioning to take away the heat that drains energy from one’s body.
Two Week Revivals — Growing up in the 50s and early 60s, “going to church” was quite different from today, and that was especially true of revival meetings. Usually in the spring, a church would vote to invite a pastor or evangelist to preach the summer revival. Dates were chosen and plans were made. Choir practices would begin weeks out as preparation was made for the music during the meeting to come. Not everyone referred to those meetings as revivals; often they were called “protracted meetings.” When you are nine years old that didn’t explain much, until the second week of every night attendance of the revival! I learned quickly the meaning of protracted.
Most often the meeting was one week. But if people were getting saved and others were uniting with the church, the meeting would be protracted — they would go another week. Sometimes that meant calling another preacher to step in when the revivalist was unavailable to continue. I never experienced one, but some revivals were protracted to three and four weeks. Today, those meetings have been shortened to three or four days.
Hosting the Evangelist — I remember, as a youngster, hearing our pastor, Edwin Peters, announce that a list was on the church bulletin board for families to sign up to feed the visiting evangelist. When came the time for the meeting, various families would host him and the pastor’s family at mealtime. Some would take him to a restaurant, but more often he was hosted in their homes. Of course, with both the husband and wife working, there were times when they forgot to prepare. The evangelist and pastor would show up at the home, quite to the shock of the forgetful hosts!
Community Events — In those days to which I refer, the revival effort of a church was not relegated just to the members. Instead, other churches from the city would announce the time of the meeting and would turn out in large numbers.
In my growing-up days, baseball or softball games were never scheduled on a Sunday or Wednesday evening. Such conflict was not to take place with the times of worship. That is not the case today. Hindrances of every sort limit the attendance of not just those visitors, but members themselves. Maybe our towns and cities need revival more than is thought.
The Salvation of Souls — Today, people are saved more often outside the church building than in it. Such was not the case in those days gone by. I recall, from the time of my elementary school days all the way through high school, many people trusting Christ as Savior during a revival meeting. Often there were shouts of praise by family and friends as one would announce his or her decision to place faith in Christ and pledge to walk in His ways.
Outdoor Baptisms — I grew up attending Central Baptist Church in Ashdown. I was blessed to have such pastors as A.R. Reddin, C.O. Strong, Edwin Peters, J.P. Jones, Paul Bearfield and Tommy Hall. I was saved under the ministry of Bro. Peters, and baptized later by Bro. Jones. Central was a church that had an indoor baptistry and I was baptized in it; but many churches did not have that luxury. When summer revival time came, and souls were saved, the baptismal services were much different. Rivers, creeks, lakes and, in some cases, stock ponds, were the sites of baptisms.
Church members and townspeople would line the banks of the water to witness the baptism of new converts who were giving testimony of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ — in obedience to His command. When there was a large number of people to be baptized, the occasions were often celebrated with picnic lunches along the riverbanks.
One of my favorite stories of an outdoor baptism was when the very tall Horace Dunn was being baptized. C.O. Strong was on the bank observing the carrying out of the ordinance. The pastor struggled somewhat to get Bro. Dunn under the water and the top of his head was still visible. As he came up out of the water, Bro. Strong yelled, “You didn’t completely bury him. Do it again!” I suppose they did it again. But Bro. Strong had a good point. Baptism, whether in an indoor baptistry or an outdoor body of water, is a burial not a birth. One should be completely buried to properly depict the death, burial and resurrection of the One in Whom they believed.
Well, in these early days of summer, that is what I was just thinking. May God bless each pastor and church of our association, and may each church, whether with a protracted meeting or not, have a summer of blessings because we worship an awesome God.