Hopkins County Folk Lore
By Contributing Editor, Carolyn Buntin Eveland
If you were brought up in a rural southern Protestant home, then this story will bring back a lot of memories for you. Perhaps for the younger generation it might bring to mind happenings told by your parents or grandparents.
Revivals were held at one's regular church but a visiting minister did the preaching. Church wasn't just held on Sunday, Sunday nights and Wednesday nights during a revival. Revivals continued from Sunday to Sunday culminating with a baptizing after Church on the last day of service.
If the visiting ministers traveled from a distance to conduct the revival, they were put up at the homes of church members. The minister, his wife and children were all passed from house to house during the week or two weeks he was at your church. This was a great hardship on the pre-teens and teenagers of the household, at least in their minds. Being on one's best behavior to impress the visitors was an order not a request! Added to that misery was the almost certain fact that the child would have to give up his/her own bed to one or two of the visitors.
The awful heat of those summer revivals was long remembered. Air conditioning was a thing of the future and so the congregation sweltered. Windows and doors were opened while the women of the church furiously fanned themselves and their sleeping babies with paper fans. These fans were made from a stiff piece of paper with a painting on one side and an advertisement of the facility that had provided them, usually the local funeral home, on the other side. The fan was then glued or stapled to a flat piece of wood resembling a large popsicle stick. The men were too proud to fan themselves. They found relief in stepping outside to "stretch" or "smoke." There they could open their collar or just mill around in the still, hot air hoping to "stir a breeze."
The children were not so lucky. There was no stepping outside for them while the service was going on. There were no nurseries in those days and the younger children usually sat with their mothers. There they sat through the duration of the singin', preachin', altar call and more singing. Children that squirmed too much got a tiny swat with the fan across the knuckles or knees. So it wasn't uncommon at all to see children in service with dolls, toy cars, coloring books, etc. in an attempt to keep them quiet during the service.
Teenagers usually sat in the back of the church, boys with boys and girls with girls. If a boy and girl were "courtin" they sat together. I dare say not much of the preacher's ardent sermon was heard by them. The "courters" passed the time away writing notes on pieces of paper tucked inside their Bibles before arriving at the church. Glaring at the back row offenders, mothers would stop excessive whispering by giving the culprits a steel-eyed, you-better-straighten-up-right-now-and-I-MEAN-IT look! That usually worked but in some stubborn cases, the mother would leave her pew and reseat herself beside the guilty party.
This was the ultimate embarrassment for a teen to endure, but it worked! Needless to say the teenager was still in hot water when the family returned home.
The preacher was something to behold. If he were any "good" at all, he stood behind the pulpit just long enough to turn the pages of his Bible before striding from one side of the podium to the other. He pranced, stomped, and embellished his preaching with great waving of the arms along the front of the platform. His passionate pleas of "Can You Say Amen, Brothers"! were met with chorused "Amen's" and "Preach it Brother!" from the men of the church. If he "was worth his salt", his clothes would be soaked with perspiration; hair wet from his exertions while the sweat streamed into his eyes. Near the end of the preachin', his voice would sound coarse as a tree frog and it was acknowledged then and there, with nods of mutual satisfaction, that he had "give his all" to his calling.
Finally came the time for the altar call. An Altar Call came at the end of the service and the preacher always left the podium and stood right in front of the pews. The congregation was told to open their hymnals to a certain song. Usually hymns like "Just As I Am" or "Amazing Grace" was sung in hopes of calling the wayward to repent. The Altar Call was then given to the sinners of the church who hadn't "accepted Christ" and to the backsliders who had returned to their old ways of "sin and degradation." The call was made to come forward and repent. A person who wished to "be saved" would come forward and shake hands with the preacher. He/she was then gathered up by men of the church, usually deacons or elders, and taken aside for prayer. Salvation came by confessing that they were living in sin, then asking God to forgive those sins and welcoming Jesus into their hearts.
The end of the Revival was concluded with a big baptizin'. This took place usually after church on the last Sunday of the revival. The congregation would leave the church, assembling at a nearby river or swimming hole. There the new Christians would be baptized with complete submersion to wash away their sins. Great thanksgivings came at the conclusion of these events. Songs were sung and prayers said on bended knees as the people came together giving praise to God.
I remember those Revivals with the warmest of childhood memories. Somehow it just seems that life was a lot simpler then. It would be good to step back in time for just a little while, becoming a child again just for a brief moment. Standing wide eyed and full of wonder, I would nestle into those summer nights of long ago when the preachin' was good, the singin' was fine and the minister stayed at someone else's house!
My husband loves to tell the story of when he was a boy in Hopkins county and this one particular minister would come to hold a revival. There wasn't a building large enough to accommodate the multitudes, so a large tent was put up, usually on the spot that was called 'Jockey Ground' in Madisonville. The preacher had a microphone that he would use while preaching. He was apparently quite long-winded but folks loved to hear him preach. After a while, he would talk softer and softer and would apparently flip the switch turning the microphone off. He would quit preaching, and start hitting that microphone on his open palm, then announce to the multitudes that he was going to have to get a new microphone in order to 'do the Lord's work', so was going to pass the hat for an offering to pay for it. Folks would give what they could and when his hat came back to him, full of change and small bills, he would flip that switch turning the microphone back on and shout 'Hallelluah... It's a miracle!', and pick up his preaching as if he had never been interrupted. He did this at least once during every service during the revival, and sometimes more than once. He collected enough during a revival to probably buy 2 or 3 new microphones, in addition to the regular offerings. That was ok tho. . . folks hereabouts loved to hear him preach.
Nancy Trice, © 2000