Wednesday, December 23, 2009

City Evangelist, Country Church

--Guest Post by Jesse Taylor II

Back in the Appalachian Mountains of old Kentucky, when I was a boy, the churches were one-room, white, simple little buildings. They weren't anything fancy. Not that the size or construction of the church matters to the Lord, but our churches were simple and small because the people led simple lives and, when it came right down to it, didn't have the money to support the building and maintenance of a large church.

In fact, the day to day maintenance of the church was so simple that one man could take care of it. All that really needed to be done was dusting the pews and window ledges, sweeping the floor, and in winter, building a fire in the little "pot-bellied" stove. The outhouse might need some attention or, if the day was unusually dark or if the service was after dark, the kerosene lamps might need filling and lighting. Usually, this task was taken up by Uncle Jim Gibbons.

Uncle Jim was a simple man who lived alone in the same two-room cabin he'd grown up in. He never married, so he considered his only obligations were to his fellow man and his Lord.

I recall one Sunday morning when the whole community was "all a-buzz" because we were expecting to have a big revival, led by a big city evangelist. As luck would have it, Uncle Jim had been busy with his old mule, that morning. Seems the poor old creature wasn't feeling the best and Uncle Jim had been tending to him to the point where he clean forgot about the time. When he finally realized his mistake, Uncle Jim took off for the church in such a hurry that he didn't have time to grab himself a bite for breakfast.

Uncle Jim didn't drive, so his only way of getting to the church was to walk. He was accomplishing this with great speed that morning. He was going along at such a clip that he almost stepped on a possum. Now, Uncle Jim considered a possum to be some mighty fine did most folks around the area. Since he hadn't had any breakfast, he knew he'd be mighty hungry by the time church let out. So, never one to pass up a good meal, Uncle Jim found a stick and collected what the Good Lord had provided.

He didn't have time to run it back home, so he took it along, stopping only long enough to "field dress" it when he reached a stream crossing. He rinsed off his pocket knife and his hands and continued along to the church, freshly cleaned possum by his side.

As was mentioned, the church was a one-room, simple building. There weren't any "nooks or crannies". There wasn't anyplace to put the possum out of sight. The only place Uncle Jim could find was a ledge, just over the door, on the inside of the church. The menfolk used to put their hats on it, but that practice had ceased since someone had donated a double row of fancy, brass coat-hooks, which had been installed along the back wall. Now, there was ample room for everyone to hang their coats and hats and nobody had to strain up to reach the shelf.

So, it was up there, out of sight, that Uncle Jim decided to hide his possum. It seemed like the perfect place. After all, everyone would be in a church pew and would be paying attention to the evangelist, who would be putting on a real show from a little "riser" that ran across the front of the church. Nobody would be facing the back of the church, except for the evangelist and he would be too busy with the sermon to notice a possum tucked back up on that shelf.

The church service got underway. The evangelist was introduced and the "stage" was turned over to him. The preaching soon reached a fevered pitch. This was the old "fire and brimstone" type of preaching. These preachers believed you had to put the fear of God into your congregation. There was much pacing and jumping and stomping and waving of hands, gnashing of teeth and wailing of voices. The evangelist was putting on quite a show. As he paced back and forth, stopping every so often to bounce up and down for effect, he was laying on the gospel thicker and heavier. His voice was rising and falling. He was pounding his fist into his hands as he preached, "Every day of our lives we've got to get down on our knees and thank the Good Lord for the blessings we've received. Every day of our lives we've got to get down on our knees and thank the Good Lord for the food He puts on our table and the clothes He puts on our backs. Every day of our lives we've got to reach out our hands up to heaven, raise our eyes towards the sky and say.....Good God! What a rat!!!"

After that, Uncle Jim was always fond of saying that, "You can't hide what the Good Lord wants revealed." Bless his heart.

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