Editor’s note: After 10 years, Hardy Jackson is retiring his monthly column for Alabama Living. His first column appeared in the magazine in February 2014 and ran every other month. In 2017 his columns began appearing monthly, and were accompanied by custom illustrations by artist Dennis Auth. In the years following, Hardy amassed a loyal following of fans, many of whom were so touched by his columns that they wrote letters to us. Hardy has won several awards for his work, including a national first place award from the Statewide Editors Association for his November 2020 column, “Appreciating Veterans and anchovies.” We will miss Hardy’s humor and nostalgic take on life in Alabama and the South, but his columns are still available on our website at alabamaliving.coop. Next month, we will introduce a new columnist, so as they say, stay tuned!
Years ago, when agriculture dominated Alabama, August meant revivals.
Crops were laid by and the first cotton boll was yet to open, so it was a dandy time to get folks to church, entertain them with music and preaching, shake them out of their summer spiritual lethargy, and maybe even save a few souls.
A visiting evangelist would come town to bring the Word in a series of nightly messages. There would be “special music” and professions of faith that would soften the hardest heart. A week of this would culminate with a wing-ding of a sermon on Sunday, followed by dinner on the grounds. Bring a friend and a covered dish.
When I was a boy, rural churches loaded up members and drove to town for the festivities — a trek that normally was only made on Saturday. But it was OK to take time to make the journey because, well, it was done in the name of the Lord.
Not to downplay the spiritual side of revivals, but there was also a reunion aspect to the gatherings – especially for the children. Friends they had not seen since school let out came with their parents. Often segregated from the adults who went to “Big Church,” kids were among their own, and as I recall there was more playing than praying where we gathered.
Most folks I knew were either Methodists or Baptists. They mingled freely.
Children were especially ecumenical. We attended each other’s Vacation Bible Schools, where we learned which denomination had the best cookies and Kool-Aid.
Theological differences eluded us – Baptist dunked, Methodists sprinkled – that was pretty much it.
And we attended each other’s revivals, because it was a great place to meet girls.
Rural families who came to town to be “revived” often brought a daughter you had not seen since school shut down three months earlier. Time had worked a miracle and the skinny, knob-kneed, girl that no one would give a second glance had blossomed into a sun-kissed beauty.
By the last night some lucky lad was holding her hand under the hymnal as they sang “Have Thine Own Way.”
There were also moments of high drama, which usually came at the end of the evening when the evangelist issued the “altar call.”
While the congregation sang “Softly and Tenderly,” sinners came forward, confessed their sins, and prayed for forgiveness.
Only sometimes they didn’t.
I remember well such a time.
Over and over the congregation sang “calling o’ sinner come home” but the sinners just sat there. The evangelist looked worried. If no one got saved, his reputation could suffer.
My fear was that we would be stuck there all night.
I was on the verge of going down myself and confessing that I was the one that put the dead snake in Mrs. Poole’s flower box – almost gave her a heart attack, she told her neighbors – when the spirit moved someone else and I was safe.
Then we sang a closing hymn, the relieved evangelist pronounced the benediction, and we went our separate ways. After all, September and football season was right around the corner.ν
This article was originally published in August 2014.
Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at email@example.com