Good morning, y’all. Another stellar day here in the mountains. It’s warming up a bit, but not miserable yet. I’ve noticed a little bit of bumblebee activity on my morning constitutional. It makes me happy to see such a simple example of Mother Nature at work. There’s a family of Cardinals nesting near by, and the grounds are filled with fat squirrels thanks to Mulva’s bird feeders. The circle of life continues.
Living close to the Earth is something the folks in this area have done for hundreds of years. I guess if you include the Native Americans, that might extend to thousands of years. Being aware of the signs in nature to determine when to plant and harvest were just part of the survival skills that people that lived a subsistence living learned. Home remedies, and natural cures were something that each family learned to utilize. The closest “real” doctors lived miles away, and cost money. Reliance on midwifes, and practitioners of folk medicine to handle the everyday medical needs of the community were just part of living in an isolated rural community. Serious ailments, like cancer ran their course. When it was “your time”, it was “your time”, and chasing after cures was something only the wealthy could do. That is, until it was learned that healing could be brought about by faith and the laying on of hands by a spirit filled minister. Then the game changed.
Healing, by the “laying of hands”, goes back to the New Testament days and the countless miracles attributed to Jesus. Therein lies the rub. How does a minister purport to have the powers of Jesus, without being blasphemous? Heresy will get you run out of town on a rail quicker than chicken stealing. Recognizing the razor thin tightrope he was walking, Levi Hoakum invoked the scriptures to describe his newly discovered powers. Levi related in his weekly sermon that he had been studying his Bible, when he read Acts 19:11-12,“And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.”
Levi felt such a power within when he read the verses that he felt compelled to tell his wife, Ruth, straight away. Ruth suffered from severe headaches and was at that time laying in their bed trying to regain her balance. Levi related to the congregation how he gently placed his hands on either side of his wife’s head and asked her to pray with him, asking for healing. Hardly any time passed at all when a feeling like an electric current passed from Levi’s shoulders through his fingertips. Ruth was jolted in bed as if struck by an electric current, and then passed into a quiet sleep. When she awoke, the headache was gone.
After the sermon, the altar call and testament of faith were packed to the point of straining the floors of the little church. People who were deathly afraid of snakes pushed forward in the hope of catching the attention of Pastor Levi Hoakum. Truth be told, even people who were in the best of health had some nagging infirmity that they hoped to have cured. Dentists were not in abundance in the mountains and people tended to just let a toothache resolve itself. With the promise of no pain or ache too small or too big, the faithful crowded forward to receive a blessing from Pastor Levi.
The first official “healing” at the “Little Church in the Valley” lasted over two hours and the results were mixed. For those who did not receive immediate relief, they were encouraged to go home and study the Scriptures and their hearts. Pastor Levi invoked Matthew 13:58, “And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. “, as explanation for his lack of total success in healing all of the ills of the congregation. Having been brought up, literally, in the church, Pastor Levi knew that one well motivated vocal skeptic can undermine the best laid doctrines. Pastor Levi recognized that unless there was a component dependent on the individual’s behavior and deep faith, there were going to be skeptics in the congregation. By giving skeptics an opportunity to explain an unsuccessful cure as a result of the unworthiness of the afflicted, Pastor Levi insulated himself from most criticism.
The “laying of hands” component of the service transitioned over time from weekly to monthly to the semi-annual revivals. Pastor Levi was always available for special ministrations, always ready to lay hands in those circumstances when an individual showed the depth of their belief through giving. The church, and the Hoakums prospered during those times. The Great Depression came and went. The Hoakums were able to help some of their neighbors during the hard times, and help themselves as well. Levi’s six children were gifted with parcels of land if they stayed in the area. Levi’s two daughters married and moved away, but his four sons took their place in the community as prosperous landowners. The youngest son, Daniel, was to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
Not everything was sunshine, lollipops and rainbows during this period. In 1941, the state of Georgia made snake handling a felony punishable by death. Like the early Christians of Roman times, the “Little Church In The Valley” continued to practice their faith fearlessly. While not as open as they had been, the church continued their Testament of Faith in spite of the threat of capital punishment. One could argue that since the faithful were already tempting the fates by death from venom, that the potential of death by electrocution didn’t loom as large. The righteous were vindicated when the law was repealed in 1968, and the congregation moved their practice back out into the sunlight, literally.
The semi-annual revivals were now week long affairs bringing followers and curiosity seekers from all of the surrounding mountains. To accommodate the crowds, sometimes numbering a thousand or more, the church pitched giant circus tents on the grounds surrounding the church. Visiting Pentecostal preachers from other areas would come in and either tag-team in one tent, or, if the preacher was a big enough draw, hold down one tent to himself. Even within the context of people preaching the same message, there was a variety of styles that compelled one follower to follow one revivalist over another. There were guest ministers who were known as “great healers”, and their tents were standing room only. It was into this environment that Daniel Hoakum found his calling.
Little Daniel, as he was known, took over the mantle of the church from his daddy in 1964. He was the first Hoakum to attend seminary, The Pentecostal Theological Seminary over in Cleveland, Tennessee. Daniel was the first Hoakum ordained, and entitled to the title Reverend.