“June Meant VBS and Revival Meetings”
School let out the last of May but, for me, summer vacation didn’t begin until late June after Vacation Bible School and the Baptist and Methodist revivals were over. These required me getting up just as early as if I were still in school. There were three churches in town, each positioned on the same street and each a block apart. Vacation Bible School was held at the Methodist Church because it had the best facilities.
Kids gathered at the back of the sanctuary each morning to march in to “Onward Christian Soldiers.” One of the preachers would give a brief devotion after we were seated. Then, came Bible story class. Recess followed when ladies served Kool-Aid and cookies. After that, we worked on Bible crafts made from play dough or paper mache or colored macaroni noodles to make a picture. These treasures were taken home to parents on Friday.
The Monday after that one of the two revivals began, usually the Baptist. This is the church I attended with my Mother. My Daddy was superintendent of the Methodist Church but I never heard religion argued in my home. Preachers back then were of the ‘circuit variety’ and preached elsewhere on alternate Sundays.
As a teenager, I was one of only two piano players in town. After playing for my Sunday School on the first and third Sundays, I would run down the block to Daddy’s church to play for the Methodists. When June came around, I played for both revivals.
There were two services each day, Monday through Friday–a morning service at 10 a.m. and an evening service at 7 p.m. The visiting evangelist stayed overnight with the home pastor but the women of the congregation served noon and evening meals in their homes for the preacher, the visiting evangelist and the piano player.
Let me try to describe these heavily laden tables that were set before us… every woman tried to out-do the other. All year, ladies gathered new recipes to be kept for “the preachers.” One year, two ladies served the same ‘new’ recipe of lime salad, made with whipped cream, cream cheese, and walnuts. They were so upset with each other we were afraid a “split”might occur in the church. A little Baptist humor, there. The new “dishes” were served with all the fresh garden staples– purple hull peas with okra, squash with onions and bacon, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, Kentucky Wonders boiled with fat back and new potatoes, congealed salads. Tomatoes and relish. Also, the big platter of fried chicken (what preacher didn’t love that?) and a roast plus a Pyrex of chicken and dressing. Desserts? You could never imagine the cakes and pies that were set before us. We were all urged to take healthy servings of everything and to ask for seconds. Feelings were hurt if we didn’t eat pie AND cake. Preachers eased bloated bodies from chairs at the “dinner” table to get ready for the supper meal.
Evening services were more heavily attended and people dressed up more for them. Ladies wore their best summer voile dresses, often with a fresh flower pinned to the shoulder–although many were already perfumed with “White Shoulders.” Men wore clean dress shirts and smelled of Lava soap and Vitalis after their hard day’s work. We saw people at night we’d not seen since the previous revival.
Windows were always open since churches weren’t air conditioned back then. This aided ladies “in the change” who frantically waved Funeral Home fans found in the pews before them. The smell of cape jasmine from Mrs. Ola’s garden perfumed the air but, occasionally, wasps and other foreign bodies flew inside. Once a bat came in and attached itself to the pulpit. Service was over early.
At the end of the service, the evangelist went down to the front pew, mopping his sweating brow, while the home preacher took over. Night service was also more emotional, more fiery with frequent shouts and very long invitations. I never knew most of the third verses of hymns, but knew every verse of “Just As I Am” and “Why Not Tonight?” I can still play “Just As I Am” by memory.
On the final night, we walked down the sidewalks to our homes, many of us together. Mama usually invited neighbors to stop in for “a bite to eat.” She would serve icy Cokes, brownies, and watermelon out on our side yard. Underneath the big oak tree, the adults sat in lawn chairs or the glider while we kids sat on the lawn. The week was re-lived as the adults pondered the effects of the revival. Who had come down making confessions during the week and who would darken the door before next year’s revival?
After awhile, someone would make the comment it was time to go home, but no one moved from their seats under the big tree. The guests often stayed late while everyone visited and laughed and picked at the last bits of refreshments on their plates. They continued to enjoy the heady smell of honeysuckle trailing along our fence, listening to the crickets telling their bedtime stories, and watching the lazy moon making its way across the sky. A night like this was just too sweet to let go.
Brenda Miles is an award-winning columnist and author of two books. She welcomes your comments at [email protected]