03 May 2010

A "well done" to a "good and faithful servant"

As our friend, Fr. Jake, knows, my mother was a convert to the Pentecostal movement (Assembly of God) years before I was born. For the years of my life I had to attend church with her - at least three times each week. Now, this was in the days before being "charismatic" was socially acceptable. These people were holy rollers. Every stereotype "holy roller" brings to your mind, I experienced first hand. I've seen it all from being "slain in the spirit" to "holy dancing" to seeing, with my own eyes, a woman's leg being lengthened by two-and-a-half inches. The only thing I didn't see (and they didn't engage in) was snake handling.

The congregations' median age was about 60 years old. They had "gone into Pentecost" in the 1910s and 1920s. They were simple folk who had experienced something that changed and transformed their lives. They enjoyed their pentecostal faith. My vast knowledge of the bible is because of these wonderful people. I do not regret the experience of my young life.

But, I could never "buy into it." I felt there had to be something other than "feeling." I was rescued by my Episcopalian granny who got me a job playing for the Swedish Lutheran Church in town, and then got me into the choir at St. James', "my" parish to this day. That's where I blossomed.

One of the major events of the Pentecostal church year was the revival. These occurred quarterly, if not oftener. For two weeks, every night except Monday, we would fill the church while the Evangelist preached. Some of them were really unintentionally funny, some were boring as heck, and some were just plain stupid.

But two of them reached out and grabbed my heart: Mary Worden and Dovie Harms. They were The Gospel Roadrunners and there was a painting of a roadrunner on each side of their Winnebago. They chose that name because they "ran up and down the highways preaching the Gospel"And let me tell you, those two women could preach. They made Billy Graham look like an amateur.

Mary ran a puppet show and we "kids" would be recruited to help out. We laughed, and laughed and laughed. When we did David and Goliath, Tybeth King was "working" Goliath. When David let lose that stone, she had ol' Goliath fall like a lead brick. But, Tybeth had this wicked sense of humour - so, once he fell down dead, she pulled on the string working on of his legs and he did the famous "kick of death." Mary and Dovie laughed until they cried. Then they asked her to leave it it the presentation. The congregation howled in laughter.

Once, during the church service the bible story was about "two in the field, one is taken and one is left." There was this old man puppet who was just a horrible person and he was so mean to the little boy puppet who was meek, and good, and kind. Well, when it came time for one of them to be taken, Dovie yanked the old man up into the air and out of sight. She screamed in a whisper, "Oh, Mary, I took the wrong one!" She later told us that for a split second she contemplated sending the old mean man back and snatching away the wee lad. I wish she had! The vision of heaven spitting that old man out is just too funny. When the presentation was over, Mary, ever unflappable, walked out in front oft he puppet theatre and said, "You see, brothers and sisters, you looked at the outward appearance, but God sees the heart." I've never forgotten that lesson. That night was the beginning of my egalitarian outlook.

Mary and Dovie would return annually and I couldn't wait until they returned. They were such fun. They would eat at our house a lot, and we would laugh until our sides hurt. We developed a real family bond with then. We talked with them via telephone on the first Sunday of each month. Mary died a few years ago, and I kept calling Dovie.

When Doive was a young minister her first pastorate started out well, but two days after she took over, the flu hit the congregation. For six days she had no sleep - she was called to house after house to pray for the ill. She said that it got to the point that she was walking in her sleep. She was called to one man's bedside to pray. She said she remembered kneeling down beside the bed and the next thing she knew she was almost yelling "Hello? Hello? Hello?" She said that it shocked her, but that she had the inspiration to add, "Oh God, I'm so glad you always hear us when we call on you." So, When I telephoned Dovie, our conversation always began with "hello, hello, hello!" And she would laugh and say, "Jimmy, is that you, hun?" Before the telephone call was through, she would launch into a mini sermon - and then say, "Now, Jimmy, you didn't think you'd get away without a sermon, did ya?" Then she would add, "Stay close to Jesus, Jimmy, it won't be long before he comes back."

Today I made that call and got a recording stating that the number was not a working number. I telephoned Gary, Dovie's son, and learned that a couple of weeks ago Dovie graduated to that larger life of perfect freedom. I wept, and wept, and wept - for many reasons:
  • Dovie was the last person of influence from my childhood. Her death closes a chapter in my life.
  • Dovie was one of my best friends
  • Another connection to my parents is broken
  • The final connection to the religion and congregation of my early childhood is no more.
But, most important, there is no one to pray for me. I have to explain that, I suppose. Growing up with those Pentecostals, I loved the hear the elderly women pray. No, it wasn't the type of praying I do, or even like, but I knew they were in direct communication with God. The cadence of their prayers, their fervor, their sincerity, and their simplicity was really comforting.

Throughout my life, when I was going though major trials, I could call Mary and Dovie and know, that they were interceding for me even before the telephone conversation ended.

Even now, there is something very comforting to me to hear a Mother in Zion (the term used when I was a child for the elderly Pentecostal women) pray. I think of all the things I'll miss about Dovie, not having her pray for me, or hearing her pray is what I'll miss most.

I know that on 27 March at 5:23 PM Jesus was there to welcome Dovie and say, "Well done, good and faithful servant." I only wish I could have been there when she arrived to join the chorus saying, "Hello! Hello! Hello!"

John Bunyan wrote in Pilgrim's Progress"
I have formerly lived by hearsay and faith but now I go where I shall live by sight, and shall be with him in whose company I delight myself. I have loved to hear my Lord spoken of; and wherever I have seen the print of this shoe in the earth, there I have coveted to set my foot to. His name to me has been as a civet-box; yea, sweeter than all perfume. His voice to me has been most sweet; and his countenance I have more desired than they that have most desired the light of the sun. His word I did use to gather for my food, and for antidotes against my faintings. 'He has held me, and hath kept me from mine iniquities; yea, my steps hath he strengthened in his way.'
That perfectly describes Dovie's life of faith.

I love you, Dovie. Thank you for loving me, for praying for me, and for being my friend. And thank you, God, for giving me Dovie to know on this, my earthly pilgrimage.

I've posted a few songs from my childhood in that pentecostal church. The songs are out of favour now, but I love this type of "old school Gospel" music, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I guess these songs are a tribute to, and a burial of that childhood faith experience. The first song is
If I could hear my mother pray again. I'm posting it as a tribute to all those Mothers in Zion I knew as a child - especially Dovie Harms. And I really would love to hear them pray, again.

By the way, Dovie was also my mother's name.

In this final clip, please take note of the older people singing. They are the royalty of the Gospel music world. They are the remaining membrers of all the quartets from the 1940s - 1960s.