My grandmother Courtright and Aunt Irene continued to go to the Methodist Church that they had attended before they came to Paulding but the rest of the family attended the Church of Christ, as did my Aunt Mable, my cousin Russell and the Neeley family. Dr. Neeley was superintendent of the Sunday school. My father sang tenor in the choir and my mother had played the organ (harmonium) for the hymns. The Church of Christ was a little more fundamentalist that the Methodist in that baptism had to be by complete immersion and church members were obliged to partake of communion every Sunday; no baptizing of babies by sprinkling a few drops of water on their heads and you were not permitted to join the Church until you were old enough to make the decision on your own.
On Sunday morning we all put on our Sunday clothes and daubed our high, laced shoes (or, at another period, our high-button shoes) with shoe blackening - it was in liquid form - then polished them with a brush until they shone like black diamonds. Then, with a penny clutched in our fists to give the missionaries we set off for Sunday school, ears alert for the first bell, which was rung five minutes before the opening talk by Dr. Neeley to the whole assembly. After a few songs each Sunday school class, first graders to adults went to separate classes. The boy's class - John, Brooks, Raymond, and I were all in the same class - was taught by the younger Mrs. Wheeler who did her best to teach us something about morals, ethics, and the bible and I think she succeeded in spite of our indifference. We learned the names of the prophets, the books of the Bible, both old and New Testaments, and something of the history of the Jews. Mrs. Wheeler would invite the whole class to her house for parties and she helped us organize a boys club with club rooms in the church basement. We had games like checkers (but no playing cards - they were considered wicked) and a punching bag which we hung on a beam directly below the pulpit. It made a loud thumping noise when we hit it and it bounced against the ceiling. It wasn't long before we were admonished not to use our club room during church services.
Revival meetings were the principle means of increasing membership used by the Protestant churches. They were also regarded as entertainment tho nobody mentioned that. Usually a single denomination would put on a revival campaign for a week or two weeks at their church, hiring a special preacher, together with a gospel singer and song leader, tho sometimes one man did both jobs. At times, however, all of the Protestant churches would hold a Union Revival and hire a revival preacher with a whole group of co-workers and use the "opery" house for the nightly meetings. It had the only large stage in town where bleachers could be set up for the choir which consisted of both adults and school children. I sang in the choir, as did most of my pals. Songbooks were passed out but most of us knew the songs by heart, "The Old Time Religion," "Halleluiah, Thine the Glory," "Revive Us Again," and others, most of them with a good sounding strong beat. Not the least important part of the meeting, at least as far as the preacher and his crew were concerned, as he got a percentage of the take, was the collection. When the basket was passed around I dutifully dropped in a few pennies and other coins every evening, coins which I now wish I had back as they were old three cent pieces, etc. coins which are now collectors items.
It was during a revival at our church that Raymond and I, the Neeley boys and our cousin Russell Moran joined the church. Our ages ranged from 10 to 13 or 14. It was Aunt Mable, who went up and down the isle as the preacher was exhorting people in the congregation to come to the front and declare for the Lord, who came to each of us and told us to go forward and sit in the front pew. We felt that was what was expected of us, so we went. When the service ended the preacher shook each of us by the hand and congratulated us on our decision - it was really Aunt Mable's decision, not mine - and somebody wrote down our names and addresses in a book.
A Sunday or two later we were all baptized in the water tank that was under the floor next to the pulpit. We all put on old clothes and gathered in a small room behind the choir and were led out one at a time in full view of the congregation. Four or five steps led down in to the warm water of the tank where the preacher stood waiting in rubber boots that came to his shoulders. He placed one hand on the backs of our heads, held a handkerchief over our noses and mouths with the other and then tipped us backwards under the water, intoning at the same time "I baptize the, _______ _______ in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, Amen." When we got back to the little room we took off our wet clothes, rubbed ourselves dry with big towels Aunt Mable had provided and dressed in our good clothes.
There was a considerable population of colored people around Paulding and they had their own revivals, or camp meetings. Whites and blacks did not mix at all in any kind of social event. The colored folks had their own churches, split into more denominations than the white, but when they had a camp meeting they all seemed to get together. A big tent was set up in the woods next to the fair grounds and colored people would come from miles around in their wagons and buggies and stay for a week of revival meetings. Kerosene torches were used for illumination at night and Russell, Raymond and I would sneak along the creek bank in the dark woods, then slip up to the camp meeting and sit in a back seat. Nobody seemed to notice us and I doubt that anything would have happened to us if they had. We did it because it looked like a dangerous adventure. On Sunday afternoon at the end of the camp meeting the newly converted black sinners where baptized by the black evangelist in the creek right next to John Polter's barn and a small crowd of curios white people stood on the hill just above to watch. It was an exciting spectacle; black folds let their emotions loose.
Billy Sunday was the most famous of the evangelistic preachers then as Billy Graham is today. I heard Billy Sunday preach in a tent in Columbus, Ohio, when I was about 15. I was wearing my first pair of long trousers. My dad took me along when he went to Columbus to consult his brother Eugene, who was a doctor there, about a stricture in his throat. In my opinion the black preachers at the fairgrounds had been more exciting.
Last modified on 14 June 2009 @ 13:39