Of all the things I can remember in this world some my earliest memories involve attending church at Double Springs Baptist Church. DSBC is a church with antebellum roots and was proudly the first rural church to achieve a Double A or Advanced Standard Sunday School Program. It was accomplished in 1921 under the leadership of the legendary Preacher Suttle and Sunday School Superintendent Jasper N. Barnette. The later took a job at the SBC headquarters in Nashville where he was instrumental in guiding Baptist Sunday School life the whole denomination over.
My first memories of church were of being in a nursery and being rocked by a kindly old maid named Myrtle. She had jet black hair (which she kept until the day she died.) She was a fixture in the nursery for as long as I can recall.
Preaching was in a sanctuary that was nearing the end of its usefulness. Having been built in the early 1920s, parts of it had plaster that was falling from the walls. It was actually the third sanctuary built by the church. There was no air-conditioning in that building and it was common for the big windows to be opened and for people to fan themselves with paper fans on wooden sticks always provided by the local funeral homes. It wasn’t unusual for the members in attendance to be distracted by one or more yellow jackets that managed to find their way inside. Double Springs has always had a problem with yellow jackets and few years pass without someone happening on a nest, normally with painful results.
Men wore suits. In recent years, in most churches, worship attire has become less formal. It is the norm to see men wearing khakis or even jeans and a pull over three button up shirt. Many of them wore fedora style hats which they placed on a hat rack in the vestibule before entering the sanctuary.
Women always wore dresses. Pants suits were still several years away from being fashionable and even when they did, it was still many years before the women would dare wear them to church, especially on a Sunday morning. It just wasn’t done. Many of the older ladies wore hats and white gloves.
The Kings James Bible was always used. Most of the well-known modern translations did not exist yet, or had not been widely adopted so all scripture reading was full of thee and thou and thus sayeths. The morning prayer was always offered up in King James language. It never struck me to wonder why in those days, but we didn’t speak that form of English. Why did we pray in it? Even so it seemed more majestic than many of the prayers you hear now. Some of them seem a little too far in the informal and the familiar. Of course it is the heart of the person praying, not the nature of the words.
A new sanctuary was opened in the early 1960s and the old one pretty much abandoned except for Vacation Bible School and other assorted activities. This new sanctuary featured a stunningly beautiful painting on the wall behind the baptistry. In the painting, there was a lush grassy bank with a refreshing shade tree beside a gentle river that vanished toward the distant mountains. I spent many a Sunday just staring at that painting wishing I was sitting under that tree. It just looked so calm and relaxing.
Prayers were still offered up in fine King James style English. Since, to my shame I never paid much attention to them, I amused myself by pressing my eyes tightly shut until I saw those funky twisting screen like patterns. I also found a way to amuse myself during the sermon. There were high intensity spotlights in the ceiling. I would stare at them for a while, until a blind spot appeared in my vision. I would then put the blind spot over the preacher’s head so it looked like we had a headless preacher. Silly, yes I know.
As it remains today, Wednesday night was an important time in Baptist life. My earliest memories were being in something called Sunbeams although I can’t recollect what the focus of it was. I suspect missions because Southern Baptists have always emphasized mission efforts. There was also Celestial Choir where we learned such standards as “Jesus Loves Me” and “Deep and Wide”. There were hand motions to accompany “Deep and Wide”. I have yet to determine what this song is really about. I have always believed it is about God’s Grace but the lyrics are quite nebulous.
In later years, we went to youth choir and to RAs. After all the activities were over we would often play freeze tag on the front lawn of the church. Or we would go down and to the creek and hunt for salamanders and crawdads. Sometimes we would dam up the creek and see how long it would hold. Usually not long. We also went up a big hill above the creek to the playground where there were swings and a see saw. Legend had it that a kid once swung so high he went over the top. I’m sure there was no truth to it, but it made a good story in any event.
In colder months when it got dark earlier, we would dare one another to go into the graveyard. We would see who could go the farthest without getting scared. The bravest souls could go all the way to the “Witch’s Grave.” It was in the back corner of the cemetery and I suspect it was called as such due to a primitive carving on the tombstone that looked like a witch’s face. I’ve never heard a definitive reason for it though. In any event it just seemed spookier than all the other graves.
One of the yearly highlights was Vacation Bible School. back in those days VBS was a little less high-octane and multimedia than it is now. It always began with us lining up to march into the sanctuary. A boy was chosen to carry the American Flag, and the Christian Flag. A girl was chosen to carry the Bible. Once we marched in, we would stand at attention and say the pledges to both flags and the Bible. The preacher would bring a brief message and then we would be dismissed to our individual classes. We would have an hour and a half or so of lessons, then we would go downstairs for refreshments. Normally the refreshments would be kool-aid and peanut butter soda crackers. Occasionally we would have fancy cookies. I remember windmill shaped cookies and what a big deal it seemed like to get one.
After refreshments we would return to our classes for craft time. A typical craft included a cigar box, gold spray paint, glue, and macaroni and cheese. Once we had a piece of plywood with an outline of a church on it. We were given all assortments of dried beans, peas, and rice to glue on the board. I remember it seemed like a lot of fun at the time.
The highlight of VBS was always a big church-wide picnic and dinner on the ground. It seemed like there was one extremely long row of picnic tables filled with dish after dish of wonderful homemade food. Country women have always been the best cooks. And they had tin tubs filled with ice and Coca-Colas in glass bottles. They never tasted so good. It was truly one of the highlights of the year in church life.
Most years we had a week-long revival. A visiting preacher would come in and preach a sermon each night. On the last night of the revival, we would have to sing all six verses of “Just As I Am” ten times or more as the line of churchgoers wanting to repent and rededicate their lives to Christ or to make a profession of faith to be followed by believer’s baptism could be quite long. It was during a spring revival that I made a profession of faith. I still struggle with the genuineness of that profession. I bore no fruit for many years.
One thing that I always hated was the time between Sunday School and preaching. It was because in those days most men smoked and the area right in front of the church looked like a Grateful Dead show. Fortunately that has died out and no one lights up at church anymore.
As I grew up I attended all the youth activities. We had Bible study. We played softball, ate pizza, went on trips to Carowinds on occasions and once an overnight trip to Six Flags that saw absolute mayhem during the night.
As I graduated from high school and went off to college, my participation in church at DSBC diminished. For years I attended only sparsely, convinced that being in my late twenties then early thirties and being single made me somewhat of an outcast. I would occasionally be cornered by some busybody old woman who wanted to know when I was going to get married. I hated that and avoided church for that reason.
Once I did get married, my wife and I began attending regularly and found that we grew in our walk so much by fellowshipping with others and by hearing the preaching of the word. In 2000 we moved from North Carolina to Alabama and began attending and later joining Morningview Baptist Church. We love MBC and we cherish all the friends we have made there. But it’s nice to go back home and get a warm welcome back at DSBC. We still love that church!!!!!!