I remember how religious my parents were when I was a kid. We spent nearly as much time in church as we did out of church. We went to Baptist and Pentecostal churches and I have seen some things happen at those meetings that would scare a newbie half to death! Sinners didn’t have a chance. Those churches still have active services but back then ‘active’ was not a strong enough word to describe some of the shenanigans that went on.
Once a year we attended a meeting called an 'association' that was a gathering of all the local churches under that particular sect. It was Freewill Baptist and let me tell you, they put everything they had into their meetings. The association lasted for 3 days and by the time it ended some of the worshippers were probably completely exhausted. They believed in lots of shouting, and by shouting I don't mean just yelling or screaming, although that was often part of it too, I mean the old time religious version of the word that meant jumping, kicking, running, yelling, crying, screaming, hugging, talking in tongues, and on and on. Pretty much anything went, as long as it was done while shouting.
One of the practices at the association was to have a service dedicated to what was informally called "The Footworshing". It came about from the fact that Jesus washed the feet of some of his followers. The Footworshing consisted of drinking wine, but not real wine because it contained sinful alcohol, it was actually just grape juice. We also had unleavened bread, and for those who haven't tasted unleavened bread, it is of the consistency of flint rocks, and nearly as tasty. All this was done to celebrate the last supper of Christ. After this delicious repast was consumed it was time for the Footworshing! The big metal wash pans were brought out and filled with water; people removed shoes and socks and everyone washed/worshed someone else’s feet. Men washed men’s feet and women washed women’s feet. It was a sign of humbleness but by the time those pans made the rounds without the water being changed, there was nothing humble about it.
One night at the association the footworshing was going full blast and sinners were running scared, when suddenly a guy jumped up and leaped up onto the tops of the home-made pews, then commenced to run full blast down them; all the while looking straight up toward Heaven. I'm talking about the top of the BACK of these pews, not the seats. Now these pews were constructed of rough lumber and just nailed together. There was nothing comfortable about them but they were sturdy enough to survive the most strenuous Footworshings that the association could possibly produce. The backs of these pews tilted backward for extra ease of sitting, and probably to naturally tilt the body toward the preachers face on stage, so he could spot the guilty looking sinners. In my opinion it would have been nearly impossible for a person to step up onto the backs of these pews and walk. The way they were tilted they would almost certainly have flipped and probably would have half killed the walker. They simply were not designed for weight in that area. Well, a lot of the pews were empty and this guy that was caught up in the spirit ran full tilt down the tops of them, never looking where he was going or seeming to care. He didn't have a single mishap! The pews stayed upright and he didn't trip or fall. It was probably the closest thing to a miracle that I have personally witnessed in church.
Another incident in that association meeting was one night the shouters got going and one thing led to another until everyone was at fever pitch. One devoted worshipper got so wound up that he leaped upon another mans back and proceeded to ride him like a horse, all over the room. It was hilarious, but completely uncalled for. I really don't think God gets a kick out of tomfoolery like that, nor do I believe that God had any hand in it. It was good for a laugh but not much more.
Some of the shouters were obviously legitimate and some were obviously total fakes. It was easy to see that some had practiced their shouting to attract the most attention. I recall one preacher that we occasionally seen at one church or another that was short and frog-like, and also had a hoarse voice resembling a frog. When he shouted it was funny because he simply stuck one leg straight out, and in his frog sounding voice proclaimed "Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaa". I never did know exactly what waaaaaaaaaaaaaaa mean't but it seemed to do the trick for him. It was his own personal shouting style that he no doubt had developed over time, and it never failed to get him loads of attention and laughs. Another guy, also a preacher, and actually my favorite one of all, would jump high in the air and kick himself in the rump with the heels of both feet. He didn't shout very often, maybe because it was too painful.
One of my sisters got scared so badly one night at one of the little country churches we attended that she refused to go to church again for many years. She was sitting with some of the other kids, and the preacher called for people to come to the altar and pray. A lot of people did and one old woman that my sister thought must be about 90 years old was down on the floor on her knees praying hard. Suddenly the old woman fell over onto her back, with her legs folded back under her and started speaking in tongues. Someone exclaimed that they could feel the Holy Ghost coming or something like that and all at once the church doors flew open and something came up the center aisle, blowing the dresses of the girls sitting nearby. Of course it was probably only the wind, but to the kids it was much more. It was the Holy Ghost coming for them, and they were as guilty as sin could make them! My sister took off running right out those same doors and never looked back. When she came to her senses enough to look around her she found out that all the other kids were running with her. They were scared out of their minds and my sister still hasn't forgotten that to this day, even though it was nearly 50 years ago. That was the same church that had an outdoor privy. The same sister and some other kids decided to tip over the old outhouse one night, and they did. What they didn't know was that there was an old woman inside and the fall broke her leg. Nobody ever found out that it was the kids that turned the building over. I guess they thought it just fell. I have no idea if it was the same old woman that later scared the kids so badly but if it was she got her revenge in a big way.
Do I miss the old days with the old kinds of country religion. No, not really. I am a devout believer in God and his word, but so much that I witnessed as a child was nothing but foolishness. Maybe I am just different but when the meetings were going strong I never felt the presence of God. All I could feel was a deep sense of evil that seemingly nobody else could feel. The churches were more of a mob scene to me than anything else and as I got older I realized that so much of what they did made no Biblical sense at all. It was based more on tradition and perhaps the need to vent frustrations or anger, or perhaps even the need by some to be noticed. That is not to say that none of the people were sincere, most of them were and even fanatically so. Some of the best people I ever knew attended those churches and they really did believe it was the right path for them to follow. Some of my family still attend and they think everyone should, but its not for me. I believe that the Bible is Gods Word, but only if it is translated correctly and says what God intended for it to say. I believe we need to study it and follow what it really says, not what our ancestors or tradition taught us that it says....
That old time religion can be sometimes scary, sometimes funny, but usually interesting.