Sunday Morning’s Alarm Goes Off

Later this morning, as I write, I’ll walk into the fellowship hall of the First Baptist Church of Lanett, Alabama, and address their deacons in an abbreviated (30 minute) synopsis of what is normally a 2-3 hour training session.

I’ve done it in an evening and a morning, in two hours, and now in 30 minutes. I’ve done it in a roomful of deacons from several cities and in one church that had no deacons but wanted their potential leaders to have the training. Flexibility.

Being retired, I’m trying to take most of the invitations that come my way, although obviously if a date is already committed, the answer is “sorry; please ask me next time.”

I’m learning what full-time evangelists and consultants know all too well: be prepared for anything. Two weeks ago, the host church put me up in a bed and breakfast. Last week, it was an apartment in the home of a member. This week, it’s the Holiday Inn Express. (Next week, I’m home!)

I’m in Alabama, but oddly, it’s the Eastern Time Zone. There’s a little section of the state that abuts Georgia and that state’s time zone seeped over here, I suppose. (They say it goes back to when locals worked at mills just across the Georgia line and in order to avoid confusion about times, this area changed from Central to Eastern time. The mills have all shut down, but the change remains.)

Churches, I’m finding–although I guess I knew this–are all alike and completely different.


Southern Baptist churches, at least those that invite me, seem to be alike in their style of organization and (to some extent) type of worship, in their commitment to Scripture and certain ways of doing ministry.

But each church is different and as unique as the fingerprints on your hand due to a hundred reasons: the pastor who leads them, the church members who make up the congregation, the town where they are located, and such.

It’s fun. But ask any full-timer, it can be challenging. I’m only finding it out and so far, enjoying the experience.

A Facebook friend messages, “When are you going to preach in Montana?” I confess no one has ever asked me that before and the idea has never occurred to me. But one never knows.

Saturday, driving from my mom’s home in Winston County, Alabama downstate to Lanett, I had to enter Birmingham and connect with Interstate 65 South to Montgomery. The normal way is to hit I-20 at Arkadelphia, drive east to downtown, then board I-65 South. But I had time and decided to retrace some old steps.

Stay on Arkadelphia and you pass in front of my Alma Mater, Birmingham-Southern College. The neighborhood has changed drastically since I matriculated here (graduating in 1962, light years ago), so high security fences surround the school. Inside, prosperity is the order of the day. The buildings gleam, the college is the showplace for this part of the city. It really is a “city built on a hill.”

I never lived on campus, but nearby. On Graymont Avenue, there is the apartment building where Joel Davis and I rented a furnished one-bedroom for 75 dollars a month. The twin building alongside it has been razed, but our building stands. Two blocks down the street, the boarding house where we lived prior to this venture still stands. A couple of large Baptist churches have gone up on Graymont, ministering I would expect to the African-American community in the area.

The boarding house was just a simple four or five-bedroom home owned and run by a little lady who variously called herself Mrs. Pope and Mrs. Holleman (depending on her mood; I think both Pope and Holleman had been husbands at one time or other). She took in men boarders and charged the phenomenal rate of 15 dollars a week for a bed and two meals a day.

Joel Davis moved in one day, newly arrived from LaGrange, GA. He was managing the office at Roadway Express and one of the employees roomed with Mrs. Pope-Holleman, so Joel took a room too. From the first, he and the landlady agreed on nothing. He didn’t care for the meals (Margaret will tell you: I’m low maintenance; everything is fine) and she didn’t like the way he left the newspaper scattered on the floor.

One Wednesday evening, Joel was sitting on the front porch swing reading the paper while I sat on the steps. He said, “Well, if I was back home in LaGrange, I’d be going to prayer meeting tonight.” I said, “Well, come go with me. I’m waiting on my ride right now.” He did, and that’s how he got to be a member of the large and impressive West End Baptist Church and we became close buddies.

One evening, Joel told me he’d found the apartment building down the street and he thought we ought to move there. We did, and it was a “God thing,” as we say. We would double-date–hey, he had the car, a 1958 Green Chevrolet; this was 1960–and we sang in both the youth and adult choirs at church. He’s the one who called my attention to “Maggie Henderson.”

We would lie awake at night (twin beds, in case you wonder) and talk. He’d say, “Man, did you see Maggie tonight? She is so beautiful.” I would answer, “You ought to date her.” Since he was 7 years older than me, and that put him 9 years older than her, that was a no-no. Little did I know he was working on me.

He became our best man. The first weekend of November, I’ll be leading a senior adult retreat for Snellville GA’s Annistown Road Baptist Church where Joel is senior adult minister. Then, I’ll preach in that church the following Sunday. Joel and (then) pastor JoJo Thomas started that church; today it is large and flourishing.

I drove past Rickwood Field (with me? I’m back in Birmingham cutting across the Western section heading to I-65 South) which is identified as the oldest baseball park in America, having been constructed in 1910. Babe Ruth played here, as did Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, Walt Dropo, and just about anyone who ever was anyone in the old days. I lived two blocks from this wonderful site.

What was West End Baptist Church is now Mount Calvary Baptist. Thankfully, those good folks are taking great care of the facility. It looks beautiful. I thought of the sacred places inside the building–the choir loft where I was standing when God called me to preach in April, 1961, the foyer where I saw Margaret for the first time.

Across the street, Hemphill Elementary–Margaret’s first school–is shining and lovely, still in productive use, clearly.

I drove down Cotton Avenue to 8th Street SW and turned onto that little one-block long street. Margaret lived at 808. All the houses there were later bought up by Baptist Medical Center-Princeton and are now grassy expanses, but you can see the cuts in the curb where the driveway came. Holy ground.

A few blocks further is Elmwood Cemetery. This a massive graveyard with all kinds of celebrities interred, including Paul Bear Bryant. My in-laws, James Waller and Inez Shrauger Henderson, are here. I had to call Margaret in New Orleans for assistance in finding the graves. There they were. A grateful son-in-law stopped by to let them know I still love them.

Then, on to Lanett. Foolishly, I stopped in Auburn to fill up with gasoline and got caught in the football traffic.

My hotel in Lanett is filled with Auburn fans, but since they lost to Kentucky, it was a quiet evening.

Now, on to church. The deacons await. I’m excited.

4 thoughts on “Sunday Morning’s Alarm Goes Off

  1. When I moved back up into the country, I would spend one night each week with you guys to keep from the long commute. About all I remember is that I had to prepare the evening meal and we fattened up on macaroni and cheese. That was the only thing I knew how to warm up. We survived!

  2. Joe – I am Rodney at the Holiday Inn Express where you stay. It is a pleasure to have you here amongst the Auburn fans. I found your picture you drew of the “Young guy” behind the counter hilarious!! Everyone has been kidding me about it all day. Patty let me copy it and I hope it is ok that I did that! Thanks so much!! I posted it on my myspace and facebook as well as sent it over to Hampton Inn since I work over there as well :)

  3. Joe,

    I grew up one block up from Marsh Bakery. I went to Pike Avenue Baptst Church, then Fairview with Eural Starnes. I remember the majesty of the Churches, every denomination, and still drive through wanting to go in and see them all one more time. The roads you traveled were the same I would travel, and I am sure the same traveled by many before…

  4. Bro. Starnes performed my wedding at Fairview Baptist in 1976, and later my husband and I moved to West End Baptist. It feels like time has been rewound to go back to those areas.