Revivals of my youth

Judy Fowler Kilgore's picture

They ain’t what they used to be

Several things I’ve been thinking about and experiencing lately prompted me to choose this column topic, one of them being David’s announcement about the revival coming to McDonough Road Baptist church next week. David always writes great columns, all with just the right mix of humor and serious stuff, and enough to make you think about things.

Another thing that brought revivals to mind was the great music you always get at one of those gatherings. A long time ago when I first got my iPhone, Michael (Boylan) showed me how to download songs from iTunes. Although the tone quality left a lot to be desired, I downloaded and listened to most of my favorite hymns — along with a healthy dose of doo-wop music — on that little gadget.

It was a great surprise when I bought my new car (Ahem. First one in 15 years. See the back cover of January’s Fayette Woman.) that I could synchronize the contents of my iPhone to the radio in the car. Actually, they call it an “InfoTainment” system but what the heck — it’s the bluetooth device in my car radio.

The first time I played the hymns (I admit it was by accident. I had no idea what I was doing.) The tone quality was so beautiful it almost brought tears to my eyes. So now as I drive to work every Monday, I am surrounded by the sounds of “Love Lifted Me,” “Lily of the Valley.” “Power in the Blood,” and many other hymns of my youth. I haven’t learned to separate the songs into genres, so every now and then my spiritual reverie is interrupted by “Earth Angel” or “Get a Job” but, hey! It’s all good music, right?

So, you put together David’s mention of the upcoming revival and the great music I’ve been listening to on my car radio for the past several weeks, and, you have thoughts of a revival coming to mind.

My first experience with revivals was even before I knew what they were. My cousin Beryl lived right in downtown East Point, one block from Main Street and I used to spend many weekends there playing and wandering through the town, stopping in the stores, going to the picture-show (that’s what we called movies back then) and just generally doing what pre-teen kids did when they were young back then. Nobody worried about us as long as we were home before dark.

Adjacent to Main Street was the railroad tracks and across the tracks was the “industrial” area of East Point — mills, factories and such with adjacent outdoor areas. This is where the old-time revivalists would set up their tents — huge canvas (I suppose) coverings with rows and rows of folding chairs waiting for the faithful to come and be saved and the fire of Jesus put into their hearts. Actually, we had no idea what was about to happen until we asked Beryl’s mother what was going on.

Then Beryl and I watched with great curiosity from the safety of the street across the railroad tracks as all this took place during the day. Then, at night, we would sneak outside and listen to the fire and brimstone rain down on the sinners (you could hear most of if all the way at the house), hear the wonderful music and the cries of salvation as the spirit made its way into their little sinful hearts.

Amazing. It went on for hours. I’m sure there were a lot of “Elmer Gantrys” and unsavory men and women in the lot, but we didn’t learn about those until later. We were just wide-eyed and in awe.

When I was a little older, I attended revivals at my own church, East Point First Methodist. (Sorry, Baptists. I never attended one of yours.) They didn’t have all the activity and drama of the outdoor “tent meetings” but the fire and brimstone would occasionally rain down as the preacher got fired up and the altars were usually full every night with sinners on their knees, crying for forgiveness. Back then, revivals lasted at least a week — sometimes two or three (judging by how long the tents stayed up). Maybe it took longer to get people to “Come to Jesus,” as we say, back then, than it does today, and maybe they stayed until they got as much money as they planned on, but you rarely see a revival today that lasts more than three or four days. Pity.

The last revival I went to was several years ago. The revivalist was a highly touted evangelist, the brother of a famous entertainer, and hopes were high for an overflowing crowd. They even got the local police to provide traffic controllers, but ... very few people came. The evangelist could hardly get people to the alter and, after only a few days, I think he gave up.

He was a bit overbearing — one of the leftovers from the revivals of my youth, perhaps, but he did not make an impression on me either.

I would love to attend one of those old-fashioned events. Well, maybe not the kind where people were screaming and falling in the floor, but some good, old-fashioned preaching that moves you with the spirit and people really feel the fire of Jesus again. It’s been a while.

Until then I’ll just be content to ride through Peachtree City every Monday morning singing my old-fashioned, toe-tapping hymns from the revivals of my youth. May they live in my memory forever.

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[Judy Kilgore is the Religion Editor for The Citizen. She can be reached via email at JodieK444@aol.com.]