Good morning, y’all. Nineteen more days until Summer officially arrives, and we’re experiencing ninety degree heat here in the mountains. Folks in Atlanta are used to coming up to the mountains to escape the heat. I’m not sure there’s that much of an escape anymore. If you sit in the sun for very long you fell like you’re sitting in Hell’s waiting room.
Speaking of Hell’s waiting room brings us back to the retelling of the history of the Little Church in the Valley. It is the first night of Summer Revival 2010 and the crowds are filing in. The Ladies Auxillary has set up booths to provide the crowds with whatever food and liquid refreshment they could possibly need. Most folks are coming directly from work, and they appreciate being able to buy something onsite. The Ladies Auxillary has provided the very best of carnival food, from corn dogs to snow cones, in the hopes of fostering a fun experience for all ages. There is a T-shirt booth displaying shirts with the current year’s theme: “I Found Jesus at Summer Revival 2010”. There is a spray paint artist on hand to personalize the shirt with the customer’s name, for a five dollar charge. There is a small booth setup to sell small bric a brac items with the Little Church in the Valley logo emblazoned wherever possible.
In fact, the bric a brac booth had been a point of contention with the Right Reverend Hap T. Johnson. The Right Reverend traveled with a full line of Evangelical artifacts specifically blessed by Hap T. Johnson. Who had the right to sell what, came down to a line by line listing in the contract. The Right Reverend was willing to provide his followers with a complete line of memorabilia, from Bibles to seashells with the sign of the cross painted on them, at his souvenir booth. Prices were set so that everyone could afford to take away something to remind them of their experience.
The awning for the booth attached to the side of the tour bus and ran a full forty feet. It provided about four hundred square feet of retail space, and customarily provided the Right Reverend with about $10 a square foot in sales per night. If the revival was particularly forceful, the Right Reverend’s gift booth could expect to double their average sales on the last night of the revival. This revenue was strictly Hap T. Johnson’s, and he did not share any portion with the host. Twenty five to thirty thousand in souvenir sales was not an uncommon week for the Revivalist. Like his healings, there were no guarantees and absolutely no refunds.
Promptly at 7PM, the lights throughout the parking lot flickered and the speakers spotted about the area started playing a hymn later identified as “All Are Welcome”. Almost everyone had taken their places before the warning. People listening to the Right Reverend Hap T. Johnson had started filling the folding chairs in tent number one at about 5PM. Tent number one was double the size of tents two and three, where the hopefuls would be biding their time to do warmup for the Right Reverend. Using a baseball analogy, it was like on-deck and in-the-hole, with the hopefuls rotating through tents, and start times, to give the crowds ample time to sample the preachers. It was the hope of the Elders that everyone would get to hear Right Reverend Johnson, but, if not, they wouldn’t feel cheated for the experience.
Tonight’s schedule was Al Bino opening for Hap T. Johnson in Tent One, Brighton Early opening for Dale E. Bread in Tent Two, and Bill Foldes opening for Rocky Rhoades in Tent Three. As Al Bino looked out over the seated crowd of five hundred, and another one hundred or so clamoring for standing room, he prayed for the strength and guidance to reach the souls gathered before him. He also prayed for control of his voice and his intestines. One of which had quit working, the other was working overtime. Pastor Bino was introduced to the crowd as a “young spirit filled minister taking time from his flock in Suwannee, Georgia, to bring his message of love and salvation to the folks gathered there tonight”. And like that, there he was in front of the biggest audience of his life. Fifty-five minutes later Al Bino was passing a beautiful, well fed, four foot copperhead between his legs and behind his back while he danced with the spirit of the Lord and the ferocity of a dervish. Al had hoped to pass the snake directly to the Right Reverend Hap T. Johnson as sort of a “passing the baton” like moment, but the Hap Johnson people made it clear there would be none of that. Instead, Pastor Bino placed the snake back in the box and exited stage right.
Elder Diggum stepped up to the microphone and introduced the “man who needs no introduction”, the Right Reverend Hap T. Johnson. From the brochure handed out by Hap’s people, the congregation had learned that Hap T. Johnson was born Happy To-a-tee Johnson to disgraced members of the Johnson and Johnson empire. Hap’s father had protested against the family’s conglomerates exploitation of third world countries to the point of being expunged from the board of directors. He was told to shut up or he would be completely disinherited. Hap’s father decided to take up painting, golf, and tennis. Not having a strong father figure to pattern after, but having been taught of the evils of the family business, Hap was at a loss for a career choice. Hap exhausted twelve years of college life pursuing assorted disciplines until settling on Divinity school.
Once Hap figured out he could interpret the Bible for people who were desperate for a message, he was on his way. When he found that people actually believed he had “healing” powers he was shocked, but was happy to receive the adulation that came from the believers. Drawing on his stipend from the family fortune, Hap promoted his message and marketed his brand throughout the country. Hap was able to cut short the time from neophyte to super star by decades. Using his family fortune, and the marketing techniques he had learned in six years of business school, Hap had “arrived” in just under five years.
Now, as Hap stood before the congregation stretched out before him, his mind went through the mental checkdown necessary to bring off a successful revival. It was Monday, therefore sermon one, he was in Nunsuch, Georgia, as the guest of the Little Church in the Valley, an unaffiliated Pentecostal church with a long tradition of snake handling. He had made sure that his snake box was filled with harmless corn snakes and Northern water snakes, which bear a strong resemblance to copperheads and rattlesnakes. Part of Hap’s security team’s function was to ensure that Hap’s snakes were not co-mingled with any other snakes, and vice versa.
Hap checked his vest pocket to make sure that the anti-anxiety pill he would take thirty minutes into the sermon was in place. Snakes made Hap’s flesh crawl. The anti-anxiety pill taken with the tea glass of Bourbon before the show would need a booster to keep Hap “level” when it came time to start “dancing with the snakes”. Hap looked to each side and saw that there was a security member in place, and they were watching the crowd and not his backup singers. Satisfied that his checklist was complete, Hap stepped up to the microphone and straightened the knot in his Armani tie. With a brief shrug of Hap’s shoulders, the piano player hit the first note as Hap began to sing, “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”. The Hummingbirds joined in close behind in harmony and the Summer Revival 2010 was begun.