Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
May 22, 2016
Homecoming Sunday still means a lot to some folks
Homecomings are for old-timers. Young folks could care less; they just go along for the ride. Yet an annual Homecoming Sunday still means a lot to the older generation.
Old folks enjoy seeing old friends and laughing about the changes the years have brought on. But young and old enjoy the food, a gracious spread of mostly delicious covered dishes, everything from black-eyed peas to banana pudding.
I don’t remember my home church growing up ever having a homecoming Sunday. But the country churches I served as a young pastor introduced me to the importance of this special day. The plan included inviting an old former pastor back to preach. He would spin yarns about the good old days and exchange war stories with the old codgers. Kids stared at him, asking their parents who the old guy was.
Kinfolks who had moved away drove back to the old home church for homecoming. They reminisced about how things used to be and remembered friends who had died. Often there was a cemetery near the church where people strolled around reading grave stones.
After church people gathered outside under big oak trees where several long tables were laden with food. You fought flies with one hand while eating with the other. A gentle breeze brought praise for the Lord’s kindness. Everybody ate too much but nobody was ashamed of it. And there was enough food left over “to feed an army.” Caring women fixed plates of food to share with homebound persons or the sick.
After lunch we returned to the sanctuary to enjoy some gospel music. A quartet would shake the rafters with some foot-tapping singing while Mama banged away on the old piano. Soon everybody was smiling, singing and sweating – all the while stirring the air with a funeral parlor fan since there was no air-conditioning.
The gain may have been modest but those old-fashioned homecomings did make a difference. With the church full of people, folks took pride in the progress they had made – perhaps a new air-conditioned fellowship hall or a newly renovated sanctuary. These days we don’t fight flies under oak trees. We eat just as much but we do it in air-conditioned comfort.
On the first Sunday in June Dean and I are going to an old-fashioned homecoming at the country church where it all started for us in 1953 – Neal’s Chapel United Methodist Church. I am eager to find out how this small congregation is doing – and wondering what changes have occurred in 63 years.
We moved into the parsonage of the LaPlace Circuit on September 5 and I preached my first two sermons at Neal’s Chapel the next day, two because they had both morning and evening services back then. In addition to Neal’s Chapel, the circuit included four other churches – Bradford’s Chapel, LaPlace Church in Shorter, Union and Mt. Meigs. Except for Mt. Meigs, near Montgomery, the churches were all located in Macon County. Our mailing address was Route 1, Milstead, Alabama.
We began our ministry in September rather than June because the pastor of the circuit suddenly resigned in August and moved away, without I was told even saying goodbye. I was a junior at Auburn University at the time and given this awesome responsibility by the presiding elder, Dr. W. F. Calhoun. I knew absolutely nothing about being a pastor, nor did I know how to write a sermon, conduct a worship service, a funeral or a wedding. That did not deter the good Doctor Calhoun. I guess he figured I could learn on the job as most student pastors did in those days.
I began printing bulletins on a mimeograph machine on Sunday, October 25, which was my Sunday to preach in Bradford’s Chapel. My sermon that morning was titled “All the Way In.” It was probably a sermon I had “borrowed” from Clovis Chappell.
To this day I remain overwhelmed by the kindness and patience of the people in those churches who put up with a poor student pastor who had so little to offer them. So on June 5 I will be thankful once again to express my gratitude for the dear saints whose love and encouragement motivated me to learn at least a little about the role of a pastor. + + +