Homer Bristow

I watched the movie “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” for about the fourth time the other night. In this movie, there is a scene showing a baptism on a river. This got me to thinking about the church my mother dragged me, kicking and whining to every Sunday when I was a child. This was Calvary Baptist Church on the corner of East Sycamore and North Ohio streets. This church has been active since 1947.

Almost every Sunday for several years I was, against my will, shoved, dragged, or herded to this place of worship. The only times I didn’t have to be dragged was those Sundays they had a big dinner or a wiener roast or a watermelon feed. I came to realize at a young age that the Southern Baptists were big eaters. I also did not mind going to church when they had a Baptism on Spring River, followed by a big dinner.

The things I disliked about church was Sunday school and the sermon because the adults actually wanted me to sit still and listen. Back in those days there were many preachers that preached fire and brimstone and at my young age I did not want to hear about it. It always seemed to me that when the preacher was telling the congregation about burning in Hell for some offense, he was looking directly at me.

The part of the sermon that really made me nervous was the invitation. The preacher would stop shouting and pounding the lectern and threatening hell fire forever and suddenly his voice would become soft and low and he would plead for all the sinners to come forward and repent and be saved from hellfire.

The congregation would automatically or be signaled by the music leader to sing, “Just As I Am” or “Jesus Is Calling.” I really didn’t think I had sinned enough in my short life to warrant walking down that aisle and facing that ranting, raving, red-faced, sweaty preacher, but evidently my aunts, Lela Tadlock and May Phillips, thought I had, because almost every Sunday in the middle of the invitation one of them would get up and walk back to the back row where I was usually sitting and whisper to me and encourage me to take that walk and relieve myself of my terrible load of sins. I would always tell them maybe some other time.

The worst times were when Aunt May and Aunt Lela would gang up on me and both of them would come back and sit on either side of me, leaving me no route of escape. I would almost pass out from the smell of face powder, perfume and peppermint these two ladies gave off. I loved both of these women dearly and I knew even at that young age that they were only concerned with my spiritual wellbeing, but I never gave into their coaxing. Some of the kids my age went down the aisle several times, there were a couple of them that seemed to repent every other Sunday. I figured they were really bad and needed resaved a lot.

I drifted away from the old church in my teens and never returned until 1971. I finally took that walk down the aisle and asked and received forgiveness. I was baptized the next week by a preacher named Jimmy Reader. He weighed about a hundred pounds. He motioned for me to enter the baptismal and face him. He then put his hand on the back of my neck and the other in the small of my back, he said relax, then he bent me backwards and his feet slipped and he dropped me. We both came up splashing and sputtering.

I can’t say for sure, but I think I heard more than a few muffled laughs. Afterwards the congregation came around and shook hands with all of us freshly baptized souls. My Aunt Lela hugged me then she hit me and said, “It’s about time boy.” Now every time I drive by the Calvary Baptist Church I think of all the people that were there when I was a child. Almost all of them are gone now. I believe my mother who is 92, is the oldest remaining member.

I will always remember those fire and brimstone preaching preachers.

I think people now could use a lot of that. It sure scared the devil out of me.