Good morning, y’all. I know why some people refer to a steam room as a spritz or a schvitz. After these little pop up showers roll through, the sun comes out brighter than blazes and turns the lingering humidity into a steam bath. With just minimal exertion, I was able to completely soak through two different shirts today while doing my chores. So, I’ve been shvitzing like a lady of questionable virtue in a house of worship today.
Speaking of houses of worship leads back into our retelling of the history of the “Little Church in the Valley”. When we left our story, Reverend Daniel had announced his retirement to the congregation. To the utter dismay of his son Bubba, Reverend Daniel revealed that the congregation would be auditioning their potential new minister at the upcoming revival. There would be a dozen or so ministers, with varying styles and viewpoints. Reverend Daniel believed the congregation had the rare opportunity to “try it before you buy it”, and should take advantage of the occasion.
Previously the ministers for the “Little Church in the Valley” had come directly from the Hoakum family tree. Since Bubba was incapable of looking out for himself, it would be foolhardy to try to continue the Hoakum family tradition by inserting Bubba into the role as pastor. While it was true that Bubba had attended seminary, and was ordained, it was also true that Bubba would be hard pressed to spell “cat” if you spotted him the “c” and the “a”. Bubba was damaged goods, and the best he could hope for was the continued care, and feeding, provided by the parishioners.
Bubba probably recognized his shortcomings on some level, but never acknowledged them. His face was in a perpetual grin. Sadly, Bubba had lost most of his front teeth in the accident, and his daddy didn’t feel like replacing them was worth the expense. Reverend Daniel rationalized that Bubba didn’t have to worry anymore about making a good impression. Bubba seemed to have lost the part of the brain that makes people self-conscious, or had accepted his lot graciously. Either way, Bubba greeted everyone he came into contact with, with the enthusiasm of a first grader eating ice cream. Everyone was his friend, and he was always happy to see you. He had trained all of his life to follow in the footsteps of his daddy, granddaddy, and great granddaddy. Bubba wanted nothing more than to be a good shepherd to his flock. Now the prize he cherished so, was going to be raffled off to some unknown revival preacher.
Revival meetings can take different forms, but are predominately used to expose a congregation to “specialist” preachers. A couple of metrics could be used to determine if a revival would be considered successful. The first would be an increase in new membership. Bringing new members into the fold is always the first aim of a church. If a little extra expense at revival time does it, it is money well spent. The second measure would be if the regular attendance of existing members rose. It’s just as important to get those “backsliders” back into the pews as gaining new members. Revival ministers can be very useful in recharging the batteries of members who have decided that it’s more important to watch ESPN on Sunday than to attend services.
Typically, the summer revival week would correspond with the “Third Sunday” celebration. The “Third Sunday” celebration was when the church had what would be best described as a giant family reunion to observe a time of collective mourning. The church secretaries would start a month in advance of “Third Sunday” going through the church address register. The secretaries would then send invitations to all of the members, current and past, no matter how far they may have wandered. Part of the “Third Sunday” service was devoted to the pastor “calling out” each family that was recognized in attendance. The pastor would also use this time to acknowledge any gifts to the church the family may have made in the past year.
The formal service was then dismissed to be reconvened in the church cemetery. The pastor would then give an invocation that would usually include John 10:28-30, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”, or, John 3:16,“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The congregation was then free to wander about the cemetery and share a few thoughts about their relatives as they stood over their graves. The mourners were also encouraged to decorate the headstones of their dearly departed. Fresh and plastic flowers were available for purchase from the Ladies Auxiliary to be used to pay your respects to your kin.
Eventually the various family groups would wander back to the church parking lot, where they would tailgate like it was game day. The Ladies Auxiliary made sure everyone was well fed, even if you were the last surviving member of your family. The Pastor and Elders worked the crowd, twisting arms for promises to attend the upcoming revival. “You’ve already come so far, you should be able to stay just one more day”, “your family would love to visit with you some more”, “we’d love to visit with you some more”. Whatever needed to be said, even extolling the virtues of the upcoming revivalists to the point of heresy, was all fair play if it filled the revival tents.
This year Reverend Daniel had gone the extra mile to ensure a bumper turnout at the revival. He had sent the Ladies Auxiliary into Blairsville to place revival announcements under the windshield wipers of the cars parked at the Walmart. While the ladies had about a twenty percent rejection rate, they just uncrumpled the rejected circulars and reused them. The Ladies rationalized that the rejected missive had at least two chances to bring someone into the waiting arms of Jesus. Recycling the advertisement also helped the Ladies keep in the good graces of the Walmart management.
The Ladies Auxiliary was approached by people wearing the familiar blue vest on their first day in the parking lot. The Ladies had managed to disarm them with one question. “Do you love Jesus?”, they asked. It’s real hard to find somebody in these parts that would admit to not loving Jesus. The Ladies were allowed to stay, as long as they kept the area clean. To show their service to the community, the Ladies Auxiliary picked up all of the trash in the parking lot as they went, not just the discarded circulars. They even returned the shopping carts back to the buggy holders. The Ladies Auxiliary exemplified their creed as it was related in Galatians 6;10, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
The tents were pitched, the vendor tables were set. The event that would set the course for the “Little Church in the Valley’s” future was about to begin.