I had quite an ecumenical upbringing. Several great-grandfathers on both sides were Baptist ministers. [One, Dr. Lafayette Westbrook, also a country physician in Arkansas, was shot and killed by a jealous husband in 1904!] A great number of relatives are buried in the Partin Cemetery behind Red Oak Baptist Church in Middlesboro, KY. Among those is Rev. Wesley Mason, who served the church during the 1930s.
I remember attending Albert Street Baptist Church, whose congregation consisted of transplants from Bell County, Kentucky, who had migrated up to Lima, Ohio. Several times I attended outdoor baptisms at some pond. Sunday services were at least a couple hours long, often followed by a meal. We sometimes returned Sunday evening, for more preachin’ and singin’! I did like the music and still love olde tyme gospel – especially the bluegrass variety.
Worship services often became very loud with long and enthusiastic preaching, usually leading to a call to the altar to dedicate one’s life to Christ. One Sunday evening when I was six, the fervor built to a crescendo with a lot of shouting, crying, and vivid descriptions of the hell awaiting non-believers. With tears welling in my eyes, I turned to Aunt Hazel who was sitting next to me and announced I’d better go up and be saved. I didn’t want to burn in hell. I was quite terrified! My aunt calmly suggested I should think about it for a week.
All I asked for that Christmas was a Bible. I received one, with a zippered white leather cover with my name embossed on the front. It was inscribed, “From Mom & Dad, Dec. 24, 1953.” I probably got something else, but don’t remember. It would not have been much though. Those were lean times. [I am holding it in the photo below.]
An Aside – We were so blessed when we moved to Henderson County and discovered the local NPR radio station played bluegrass all afternoon on Saturdays and bluegrass gospel every Sunday morning. My radio is always tuned to WNCW at 88.7! One of my joys in life!
I was eventually baptized, but not in the Albert Street’s pond. Don and I had begun attending the neighborhood Calvary Evangelical and Reformed Church (which later became a part of the United Church of Christ) with our friends. Barry Cottrell’s older sister, Wilma “Bill” was one of our Sunday school teachers.
Their two ministers were very kind, warm, and often thought-provoking. The elderly Rev. George Boettcher gave me an old set of encyclopedias when he retired. I devoured them though they were at least 40 years old. He was followed by Rev. Charles Trout., who led our confirmation class. He had a good sense of humor and made us adolescents feel welcome and valued. In April of 1961, I completed the confirmation class and became a member of the church.
Ready for Sunday school, with (L to R) Barry Cottrell, Donnie, Ronnie, Darlene
Patton, Phyllis Cottrell in front. Wilma “Bill” Cottrell, our teacher.
When Don went through confirmation class, both of our parents decided they should also join the church. Mom had been baptized when she was young, but Dad never had. So he joined the baptism ceremony with Don. Only there was no pond. They had a baptismal font and just dribbled three sprinkles of water on their heads. Seemed like a nice ceremony though.
Some of my relatives had come to this important event, and afterwards we headed home for the big lunch Mom had prepared. I rode with one of my uncles. As soon as he started the car, he broke into a rant about how awful that ceremony was, declaring, “It didn’t count. You have to dunk people for them to really be cleansed.” I was shocked! Very unlike my normal introverted personality, I chimed in with a question about why that was such a bad thing? He snapped, “We have to everything just like Jesus did!” To which I responded, “Then why aren’t you wearing sandals?”
His immediate comeback: “Don’t be such a smart-ass kid!” I shut up, but it registered deeply in me and later helped shape part of my spiritual journey. There’s more to the story.