Friday, June 15, 2012

Pilgrims Journeying

I finished cooking up a mess of fried potatoes prepared on a bed of white sweet onions, which I have to admit turned out especially good for someone that started cooking post-75. While eating, my wife ruminated on our launch into Pastoral Ministry at Harrison, Arkansas, 1951.

She especially remembered a recent visit from the J. R. Hooker’s of Carthage, MO. Understand that I was raised in southwestern Michigan on the shores of the big lake and knew nothing of the southland, the Ozarks, or Harrison--Hub of the Ozarks. Harrison is in NW Arkansas; Carthage is near Springfield, in the beautiful Ozark country of Missouri. If I do say so, it is the kind of area I would love to retire to.

I remember driving into Harrison about 8:00 p.m. on Friday evening, June 1, 1951. That Sunday morning I suddenly became the pastor on call 24-7, the weekly preacher--twice on Sunday, and the resident theologian--Wednesday Bible Study and Prayer Service. We had a 6 week old infant--preemie. We had just arrived in our Green Hornet (1939 Plymouth sedan). Everything we owned came with us in our car, with our baby bed secured on top. We had driven to Welty, OK from Portland, OR, and from there to Harrison a few short hours eastward.

We existed on a beginning salary of $15 weekly for three of us. We lived in SS rooms in the basement of a modest church facility at the corner of East Prospect and Bergman Road. I quickly went to work for Clarence Martin, Chairman of the Board (a local contractor). Working with Clarence, were Warren Kendall (former-founding pastor), and Omar Kendall (all related). I soon found myself rubbing finishing compound into the hardwood floors of new homes and picking Arkansas flintrock at the developing Bull Shoals Dam site. That 90 cents an hour kept food on our table and guaranteed milk for our preemie--baby.

Very quickly, we were absorbed into the State Youth Camping Program. I served as counselor and conference leader and Tommie was drafted into the kitchen when a cook failed to show. Meredith stayed in her $15 buggy at one end of the Dining Hall where she became everybody’s baby. She bothered no one (poor baby grew up going to youth camp and prayer meeting and never knew but what that‘s what everybody did).

I no longer remember how we connected with the Hookers, but they did visit us in our basement home in the church. They were the parents of Joe Hooker, whom we had known at Bible College, and Sam (and Adele) Hooker, who later led the Woodstock Church in Portland, OR. We visited back and forth with the Senior Hookers over the next several years. Carthage became a convenient halfway point on our annual 1700 mile pilgrimmage to the annual Anderson Convention when we relocated to San Angelo, TX.

To this day, Carthage remains home to friends from through the years. Daisy, now widowed, was Mrs. Carrol Hendrix, our music and worship minister in Vallejo, California. Carrol was the son of the Eschol and Mary Hendrix who pastored the Scotland Church near Carthage, Scotland being the home of Chester, from the Gunsmoke tv series (Mary was a sister to my boyhood pastor Walter Weaver). Chester attended Sunday School under Brother Hendrix.

J. R. Hooker owned a monument works in Carthage and lived in a big rambling old house. It had plenty of room for a young family like us to visit and enjoy R&R and that brought refreshment to an elderly couple who no longer had their family gathered about them. It was there that we met the Bob Loudermilk’s from West Plains. Earlier, we encountered Loudermilk while conducting revival services in San Antonio at Highland Park; I was stationed at Kelly AFB. Bowden and Loudermilk were old Missouri cronies who came into Church of God ministry under the mentoring leadership of the Robert Lee Berry era.

Those days are forever gone. Whereas we were then young, we are now at the end of long years of church ministry that took us from Oregon--California to Georgia, from Texas to Michigan--nationwide, with stops in between. We’ve criss-crossed the nation with descendants of the Hookers; we stayed in touch with the Bowden’s until his death at past 90, and our common point of reference has always been our annual pilgrimage to what we now call our North American Convention--Anderson, Indiana (see above our worship center for 45 years--now gone).

This convention has changed in every way an event of this magnitude can change. It no longer has the programming, the vitality, the attendance--nothing is the same--except for one ingredient--we still gather and worship as friends: together we are a part of the Family of God. We will visit with newer friends--relatively speaking, while swapping visits with everyone we can, from near and far - friends from yesterday and friends of 5-6 decades. And what binds us together? The answer is I John 3:14: We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren. . .”

This is a journey I first made 68 years ago, while still a teen. The primary ingredient my wife and I will find this year has not changed over the years--love of the fellowship. Some now stand and cheer from their balcony post within that great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). Others, like us, still patiently (or impatiently) run the race, and others are new, young, full of zest and new ideas and methods, et al (pictured just above are A.F. and Rosie Gray, dear friends from the late 40s-early 50s)

Nonetheless, we all look to Jesus as the “author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2 KJV).

From Warner's World, you are

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