Wednesday, January 27, 2010
One thing we have plenty of down here is Baptists, not just Southern Baptists (you can't throw a dead cat around without hitting one of those) but we have all flavors of Baptists - American, Free Will, Independent, Missionary, Reformed, etc. I love the names: "Eleventh Hour Baptist Church", "Living Victory Baptist Church", "Free Gift Baptist Church" and my favorite - "Souls Afire Baptist Church" - I kid you not. And there is always the mother of all churches, The First Baptist Church downtown. (Every town in the south has one.)
Every Sunday, their pews were filled with those who sought repentance and came to hear the hell, fire, and brimstone the preachers had to offer. At least that was my opinion growing up. And if, the Sunday service wasn't enough, you came back Sunday evening for youth activities (to keep you off the streets and on the straight and narrow way.) Of course, the Baptist ladies knew it would only stick for so long, so they would drag everyone back in Wednesday night for "refresher" to make sure you stayed holy until the next Sunday came around.
Of course, my family was Presbyterian and thanks to John Calvin and his road map of predestination, I wasn't subjected to all that. My life was pre-ordained. My friends who were Methodist (Baptist-lite) usually had something fun planned by the church youth directors on Sunday night, but they figured you could make it until the following Sunday. The Episcopalians would have cocktails and light hoers devours Sunday evening and after choir practice on Wednesday, everyone went out for pizza and beer. I wasn't sure about the Lutherans, they weren't the most lively bunch.
But to this day, the Baptist keep everyone on the righteous track. Nothing is ever planned in town on Wednesday evening because of Baptist prayer meeting. The assumption is you are either a Baptist attending prayer meeting or you are not a Baptist and should spend Wednesday evening pondering your loss soul and how you are going to ever get salvation.
The Baptist church ladies still have an air of temperance about them that keeps their husbands in check. Granted dancing is allowed and Bingo and the state lottery is tolerated, but we are only taking small steps here. A Baptist church lady will quickly tell you it is a slippery slope to Hell. First, it's Bingo, then lottery tickets, then the next thing you know women are spending all their grocery money on video poker and leaving their children locked in the car in the parking lot.
Everything rocked along in town with the churches. That was until the First Baptist Church's long time pastor retired and they hired a new one. They talked about their new preacher for weeks. He was going to revitalize the church, bring young people back to the pews. He had degrees and diplomas, some of the likes they had never seen. He even had movie star good looks (a point that was not lost on the church ladies of the pulpit committee.)
To convince him to accept their church, the committee had told him how dedicated the church was to the ministry and God, how the church had maintained growth and attendance year after year. They explained the importance of the Sunday service in the spiritual life of the congregation and how the pulpit committee had been sent with one objective in mind - fine a preacher who would continue to lead the congregation down their spiritual path.
The first Sunday he preached, they all were amazed with his articulate sermon. His words saved souls and offered salvation. That was until they realized that it was 12:15 before they got out of preaching. Now, everyone went to the Country Club for lunch on Sunday. Churches generally got out around noon. (The Episcopals usually wrapped up by 11:50 so they could eat and get early tee times.) But 12:15 put all the Baptists in the back of the line for lunch. That would not do.