The pleasures of coming home to Georgia
The amazin’ blonde and I just landed back in Texas from Atlanta on Monday evening. Sometimes I just have to go home – there’s something built in that tells me so, and it’s hard to describe – and that time came the first of August; so, we took our little Southern excursion and enjoyed our taste of the South one more time: Some Brunswick stew, Krystal Hamburgers, a good ol’-fashioned pound cake (thanks to Coca-Cola Mike’s wife Glory) and a bunch of good ol’-fashioned people. The pine trees are tall and majestic, and the clay is red as ever, and the food is exquisite; but it’s the people that tell me I’m back home most of all.
Ah, there are some good people there: Benny Williamson, my buddy Tony Pippen and his new wife Shirley (who always come to church to hear us speak when we’re in town), young Kaitlyn Anderson and the rest of the Crawford family — and on and on. We are thankful for all of them and many more; and nobody treats us as royalty any more than those folks.
But when we visit our old church, which now resides on the Roanoke Road, many are missing, of course, including one giant of a man. This legendary Southern man brushed my path almost every day for the first seventeen years of my life. To come to think about it, he still brushes my path every day, even now, although he’s been gone now for many years. That’s how big of a lamplighter he was.
Our gentleman was a pioneer, old-timey, backwoods, tell-it-like-it-is, Bible-quoting church of Christ preacher. You know him as Preacher Miller, because you’ve read about him now for the better part of twenty years. Obviously, he was not your run-of-the-mill, ordinary preacher, not by a long shot. When you’d look at him standing up in that pulpit, he looked seven feet tall, especially if you hadn’t hit double digits in years yet. And even if you were quite a bit more than that, you still had to admit he preached that tall, if nothing else.
He didn’t know much about today’s modern psychology and philosophy. He just preached an old-fashioned gospel that would do one of two things: It’d save you or it’d convict you,. Thee wasn’t any middle ground.
After he raised the roof and shook the rafters for an hour, you wouldn’t be walking out of there riding the fence. He’d have you on the right hand or on the left hand – preferably on the right, but you’d have the right to choose the other if you wanted.
During his preaching days that covered over half a century – all of it stationed right here in our Georgia hometown, although he spent an amazing amount of time traveling the country preaching — more than a thousand folks, I guess, would come in on the left hand; and before the singing and praying and preaching was over, they’d go out on the right hand. He preached during a “golden era” of the gospel, back when people would flock out to hear the gospel preached; and they knew their Bibles, too, inside and out.
Generally speaking, I think people were more concerned with hearing truth than having their ears tickled; so, at the offering of the invitation, the stirring in the crowd would be more than just a few people getting up to go to the bathroom. Some would come up to baptized, there that very night. You didn’t dare put something that important off until you had a group together.
The preacher would take them out to an old creek or a running river or a cow tank and baptize them while the crowd coming to rejoice would sing “O Happy Day” with enough vigor that it wouldn’t have surprised me if the animals in the woods would gather around to see what was going on.
More than once he had to break the ice on the river before immersing a convert, but, because I think he had ice water in his veins when it came time to preach or baptize, I don’t think he knew the water was cold.
Sometimes at the end of a sermon during a gospel meeting, he’d notify the congregation in his loud, raspy voice that always caught their attention:
“Awright, brother, sisters, and friends, tomorrow night I plan on wettin’ my pants!”
And, sure enough, Preacher Miller would usually have them wringing wet by the next night, and two or three other people’s too — down at the river!
(This week’s column was first written on October 4, 1997, the first month we ever wrote for the LaGrange Daily News. Going home sure does bring back the best memories of all.)