Good morning, y’all. Another beautiful day in the mountains. Why would anyone live anywhere else? Not that I’m asking for an influx of folks from the city to overpopulate our fair burg. I’m just saying, when folks decide to plant their roots for raising their families and growing old, why would you choose a big city over a small town? Particularly a small town as perfect as Nunsuch.
Of course a lot of life’s decisions are narrowed down for us. Like religion for example. As much as every zealot would like to scream in your face that they are the one true religion, ordained by the only, one true God, their choice of beliefs was narrowed by geography. If you look at a world map of the religions by geographic area, you’ll see that religion is strictly a function of who got there first:
Clearly, if the Muslims had defeated the Christians back during the Holy Wars, the European countries would have exported Islam as the religion of choice, as opposed to Christianity. Why has the world’s oldest religion, Judaism, not fared better? Well, you have to be born into that club, and to their credit, they don’t send out missionaries. The Jews are not unique in that regard. I’ve never had to run off a Hindu passing out pamphlets at TackyToo, even though there are Indian people in our area. I guess they think religion is a personal matter.
Why I’ve headed off on this tangent is a result of four hours in the car, and a few more sitting around, discussing the latest goings on at The Full Gospel Original Church of God with Mulva. She is absolutely tied in a knot, and I can’t say that I blame her. The rapid expansion of the “Little Church in the Valley” caused a move to an ostentatious edifice in Blairsville that had been abandoned by the Church of the Latter Day Saints, or Mormons if you prefer. A goodly portion of the congregation chose not to travel to Blairsville for their dose of religion. As a result, the original church was left open to continue to minister to the people who felt more comfortable in the more intimate surroundings. Besides the more intimate surroundings, there is a tremendous amount of history associated with the “Little Church in the Valley”.
As the story goes, the original meetings of The Full Gospel Original Church of God were held sometime in 1902 in the general store owned by Hiram Hoakum. Prior to Reverend Hoakum breaking from the First Baptist Church of the Apostle, Hiram had been the senior Deacon in the church. He was often called upon to deliver sermons due to the failing health of the pastor, Ima Drunque. Pastor Drunque was rumored to have severe bouts of “flu” after ministering to some of the parishioners who lived in the outlying areas. It was widely believed that these parishioners lived in remote areas to discourage government oversight into their business ventures.
The relationship seemed to work for all parties until Hiram introduced a new twist to the sermon. One Sunday, Hiram decided to focus on a specific piece of scripture, Luke 10:19, “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” To prove his belief that he was “speaking truth”, Hiram pulled a very fat copperhead from a gunny sack, and proceeded to bounce about the stage of the church in a rhythm that only the snake understood. Others were encouraged to take part, though none did. The bold action by Hiram was not lost on a good portion of the congregation, and many perceived Hiram to be the true messenger of God’s word. The Southern Baptist Convention intervened, and while they made allowances for member churches who practiced “foot washing” they had no provisions for the handling of deadly reptiles. Hiram was asked to cease his “blasphemy”, but he would not, and so Hiram and his followers began to meet each Sunday in his general store.
Well, rumors spread like a brush fire in the little community. This was way before TV and people looked upon their trip to church each Sunday as a relief from their day to day, and a time for community. It wasn’t long before the community had found that the new “hot spot” for entertainment was Hoakum’s General Store. Hiram put his shelves on rollers so they could be easily rolled out of the way to provide more room for followers. It wasn’t enough. People were packing into the general store like sardines in a can. Hiram had to stand on a little wooden table so that everyone could see him. A precarious perch for one handling venomous serpents.
Finally, Hiram purchased a big tent and pitched it alongside of the grocery. While the tent was an unexpected expense, it paid for itself by stopping the outrageous shoplifting losses the general store was experiencing. It had gotten to the point that Hiram was asking his wife to mark down where people were standing during the services. Hiram didn’t mind if people shopped during services, he just wanted to be able to charge their accounts. Fortunately, the expansion to the tent prevented the possibility of a “billing error” leading to bloodshed. Mountain folk are proud folk, and being called a thief is worse than being called a fornicator.
For folks that see “signs”, almost anything can be construed to solidify their viewpoint of the world. When the little Methodist church in our area gave up, they forced the balance of their followers to worship at the Methodist church in Blairsville. That is, the worshippers who had not already migrated to the “Foot Washing Baptists”, or the “Snake Handlers”. Hiram and his followers considered the Methodists move a “sign”, and he pounced on the abandoned church. The “Little Church in the Valley” was born with its first official service on August 10, 1902.