That old time religion just slipping away
By Emmett Burnett
I was raised in church. Not a mega-center, as seen on TV, operators are standing by, cathedral of the most immaculate minions, 9 percent interest compounded daily, tabernacle.
I’m talking about real church with foot-stomping, song-singing, Sunday night revival; shout me up to glory services followed by ice cream socials. It was a blessing and so was the banana pudding.
Forget Julia Child, Rachael Ray and Food TV. Back in the day, nobody cooked like a Methodist lady. As a child, I learned to always follow the tad portly woman, carrying a large bowl of banana pudding. You knew based on her round physique, when it came to banana
pudding, this was not her first time.
There were also homemade cookies, cakes and hand churned ice cream. Remember how good homemade ice cream tasted on hot summer Sunday nights? I do.
I also remember a visiting missionary who had his first taste of strawberry fudge swirl. After one bowl, he never returned to India.
Ours was a small church with a congregation of about 200. Of that, 199 knew each other. The other was that India missionary who never bonded and was just there for the ice cream. Didn’t matter, he couldn’t speak three words of English. I think today he’s a cashier at Circle K, but I digress.
Sadly, the old time church of yesteryear is vanishing and with it are some of its stories.
Like my dad, a good man, devout church goer, but could not whisper. True story: In his elderly years,
I drove dad to a wedding held at our church.
As we entered the stone silent sanctuary of 200 guests, an usher asked: "Sir, are you on the bride’s side or groom’s side?”
Dad replied, “Are they fighting already?”
It was a short service.
Short services were sometimes very welcomed, especially during children’s programs. In the church Christmas play, I was always in the supporting cast, usually portraying a shepherd watching the fields by night. My role was to stand in the background while concealing the J.C. Penny’s tag on the bath towel turban wrapped around my head. I did well but the innkeeper blew his lines.
“Johnny” was a 6 year old ‘method actor,’ ahead of his time in the art of improv theater. When two children portraying Mary who was with child and husband Joseph asked Innkeeper Johnny “Is there room in the Inn?,” the lad took liberty with the scriptures, replying, “Sure! We got plenty of room! Y’all come on in!”
That was a short service, too.
Overseeing our church was a wise and devoted pastor. I loved this guy. Explaining parishioner visits, he once told me, “On visitation days I like to give a one hour warning; gives them time to hide the beer.”
The pastor also recalled a coffee and a devotional family home visit. As the reverend opened
his Bible, the mom told her five-year-old, “honey, go bring me the book mommy loves so much.” The child returned with the Sears catalog.
And no pastor ever had to worry when it was Sunday, 12-noon, because at 12:15 unattended chickens throughout Prichard started burning in the ovens. After preaching past noon for three Sundays in a row, on the fourth Sabbath he was ‘called to new church.'
On a recent trip upstate, just outside Troy, Al., I came across an old church like the one I knew from childhood. You’ve seen them: wooden-white with steeple, bell, and a small cemetery on the side. I pulled over, to read grave marker inscriptions. These were the people who no doubt helped build this church, baptized their babies, and witnessed that same baby’s marriage 20 years later.
These were yesterday’s worshipers, with data recorded in family Bibles, not Excel spreadsheets. They sang ‘Bringing in the Sheaves’, loved one another and reached for the lost, one bowl of banana pudding at a time.
Rest in peace you all, but we sure need you folks back.
(Burnett has been a freelance writer in Mobile for more than 20 years. For more information, visit his website.)