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Saturday, June 26, 2010
The Preacher Waxing Warm
We've just concluded our annual Church of God in Tennessee Camp-Meeting. For those who may not know: Each year the people from all churches throughout the state gather in one place for five nights of worship of God, fellowship with one another and instruction in the Word of God, the Holy Bible. Now-a-days we have something over 400 churches in this state alone, so you can see that this is a massive undertaking. 3000 to 4000 people attend these services each night. Our speakers were all well known people. Loran Livingston, David Griffis, Tommy Bates, Mark Williams and for the concluding service John Hagee. They were all in top form and had something fresh to share with us. I've never heard them preach any better than they preached this week.
Of course Camp-Meeting now is very different from what it was 70 + years ago when I first started attending. You see, I've been attending Camp-Meetings all of my natural life because my Dad and Mom were pastors before me. This week we were in the sanctuary of our headquarters church (North Cleveland Church of God) which is air-conditioned. PA equipment, at least 3, maybe 4 Video Cameras, keyboards, organ, trained and talented singers all made their good contributions to a pleasant worship experience. Books, CDs and DVDs were on sale in the lobby. There were two overflow areas (totally packed the last night) plus the main sanctuary.
Of course I don't remember all the details of those first years for I was a baby in Mother's arms. I CAN remember much though from the time I was eight years old. I remember hearing Ray Hughes preach about Jesus in a Florida Camp-Meeting at the campground in Wimauma. I can close my eyes and be transported in thought to that place and hear him even now, saying, "Come with me down the via Dolorosa. Let your bare feet touch the cool cobblestone pavement and smell the green moss growing on the stone walls where the sun does not reach it but for moments each day. We are following a noisy crowd as they follow the man called Jesus, who is carrying a rugged old cross on which he will be hanged today......" and on he went describing the crucifixion of Jesus. In my mind I can hear the congregation saying "Amen". I can see the old folks with eyes glued toward the podium, fanning with a cardboard fan that contains advertisement for a funeral home. My folks (Mom, Dad, Grandma Jones, my brothers and baby sister) are all there. It is hot. I can hear someone slap their hand against their legs - swatting mosquitos. The old model A Ford goes by with a tank mounted on back, spraying for mosquitos, chiggers, and any other bugs that might succumb to the fumes made by a mixture with a heavy base of kerosene (called coal oil). In my mind's eye I can see people bowing their heads and coughing as their hands reached for their mouths to stop them from ingesting the bug spray. But I can also remember that no one wanted to leave the open-air tabernacle area during the preaching. When the invitation was given for people to come and pray - we all rushed forward. Everyone was engrossed in the message of Jesus!
There are so many wonderful memories of Camp Meeting. At the Wimauma campground there was a huge bell hung on the back of the tabernacle which was rung about 10 minutes before and again at starting time of each service. In those days there were many campers, camped in tents. Some slept in their cars. Some built one or two room cabins on the property. My grandmother had a cabin which had two rooms. One for cooking and eating - the other for sleeping. The boards on the floor were partially covered by linoleum rugs. We kids slept on a pallet on the floor. Kerosene lanterns served as our light. A "two-burner" kerosene stove served as the kitchen range. An ice-box was filled daily with a 25 pound block of ice. Ahhh... what memories. Singing lessons from V.B. (Vep) Ellis. Music by Vep and Leon Ellis, Vestal Kerce, Arnold Godwin, the Blackwood Brothers, Hovie Lister and the Statesmen, the Speer Family, the Florida Boys with L.G. Beasley, Videt Polk and so many many more.
In Tennessee, the Camp Meetings were also great events. Preachers like Y.W. Kidd, A.V. Beaube, W.E. Johnson, Wade Horton, Paul Henson, T.L. Lowery, Steve Brock, George Alford, Jack and Danny Drake, George Voorhis, Clyde C. Cox, Albert Batts and others too numerous to list. Singing by Connor Hall, Calvin Wigley, Gordon Stallings and his family, Ray Branham family, special choirs, quartets, and solos. My own Mom and Dad were called on to sing at Camp Meetings in Tennessee. If I were to tell the whole story it would be too lengthy for this blog. In fact - I'm going to have to hunt some pictures to help break the monotony of my writing. Smile with me folks.
I must put in just a word for what I have always considered to be the most special part of Camp Meeting: the Morning Bible Study. I always loved the Bible Study better. I never could understand why more people were not in attendance for them. Most times there were half (or less) number of people in the morning study sessions than the night services. They were often not as emotional. Maybe that was the reason. Of course some of our folks work during the day and could only come at night. But Bible Study - sitting under the teaching of those old-timers like David Lemons, George Alford, Albert Batts, etc., was so rich. Some of them could quote verbatim an entire book - like 1st Thessalonians or Timothy or Titus or Malachi - and give such powerful insights into the meaning of the Bible. It was so satisfying to me.
Well - this week was no exception. Mitchell Tolle, a very successful artist who has his own gallery in Berea, Kentucky, gave us masterful teaching based on Psalms 1. It was like a breath of fresh air. He threw down a challenge to us to become radical Christians! I wish you could have heard each session. WOW! Tolle is also the pastor of the Man 'O War Church of God in Lexington, KY. If I'm ever in that area I want to attend and see what the Lord is doing there.
Two Friends Listen; W. Paul Fritts and Edward L. Williams
I'm looking for a place to stop. My Dad taught me that I should learn how to "dismiss" the people and do it smoothly. He would stand and walk to the pulpit and say, "You're dismissed!"
OK. You're dismissed!
- Fred Alton
- Cleveland, TN, United States
- I am Fred Alton Brannen, the son of Louis A. Brannen (deceased) and Bonnie Jones Brannen, Louis was an Ordained Bishop with the Church of God. Bonnie is an Ordained Licensed Minister and at 89 years of age is still actively engaged in speaking and singing engagements. I am married to the former Frances Hildreth. We celebrated 53 years of marriage this past June and we are the parents of 3, grand-parents of 10, and great-grandparents of 10. I pastored in Tennessee for 24 years and served the Church in some capacity in missions for over 23 years. I retired from full-time ministry in August of 2008 but remain active, speaking and singing and teaching whenever opportunity affords itself. In January of 2010 I received a letter of commendation for having been credentialed as a minister in the Church of God for 50 years! My family is very important to me. Our get togethers are always noisy affairs and most times will include family sing-alongs. The children love their Mom's cooking so we have the privilege of seeing them regularly! WE LOVE having them over.