Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

September 17, 2006


Homecoming Sunday still has meaning for the old timers


          Young folks are not as excited about a homecoming Sunday as the old timers are. But most churches still manage to hold a homecoming once in awhile. Old folks enjoy seeing old friends. The younger crowd enjoys all the sumptuous food that a covered dish luncheon brings forth.

          When I was a young pastor homecoming was a special day in the country churches. We would invite a former pastor who was retired but still kicking to come back and preach. He would talk about the good old days and enjoy telling war stories with the old codgers who could still remember those golden years. Kids would walk around staring at him, asking their parents who the old guy was.

          Kinfolks who had moved to town would come back to the old home church for homecoming. They would reminisce about how things used to be and chat about their friends who had died. Usually there was a cemetery near the church where almost everybody would stroll around reading the grave stones.

          After church the food would be scattered out on long tables outside under big oak trees. There was no air conditioning so the best you could hope for was a gentle breeze. Children would play while the women arranged the food and worked hard to keep the flies off the food.

          Everybody would eat too much but nobody was ashamed of it. And every homecoming it was always the same – there was enough food left over “to feed an army.” We were all proud of that.

          Usually some of the ladies would fix plates of food and take them to homebound persons or the sick that were unable to attend. That made us feel a little less guilty about having eaten so much. Often there was a sweet little old lady who would say, “Preacher, you take what’s left of this pound cake home with you.”

          There was never any left-over pecan pie to take home. And more often than not, that left-over pound cake was so dry you had to soak it in milk before you could eat it.  But in those early days of ministry, when money was scarce, we never turned out backs on anything offered us.

          After lunch many times we returned to the sanctuary, with a funeral parlor fan in hand, to enjoy some good old gospel music. A quartet or a family group would rear back and shake the rafters with some foot-tapping singing while Mamma had the keys on the piano smoking. Soon everybody was smiling, singing, and sweating; but what the heck, it was homecoming!

          In a way I miss those old-fashioned homecomings. They made a difference in the church. Attendance was good and people could take pride in the progress they had made since Brother Ed, or some dear brother, was their pastor many years ago. They enjoyed showing off the church to old friends and former members who had come back for a taste of the past.

          Nowadays we don’t fight the flies outside under the oak trees. We eat just as much but we do it inside in air-conditioned comfort. Seldom is there a quartet on hand to entertain us. After all it would take a two-ton truck to haul all their sound equipment around and everybody is little too sophisticated for gospel music anyway. Besides, we are all so busy. Who has the time to hang around the church singing until four o’clock in the afternoon?

          I have not been to an old-fashioned homecoming for many years. They may be a thing of the past by now. But I am going to one today – at my old home church, First United Methodist Church of Wetumpka. I am excited about going – especially to find out how things have changed since I joined that church at age 13.

          Most of the dear people who influenced me to choose Christ and become a minister are dead. Still I am indebted to many of the pastors and people of that church that impacted my life for good. It was there among them that I fell in love with Jesus and answered his call to preach. There is a new altar rail in the sanctuary but I still remember the exact spot where one night I knelt to surrender my life to God.

          I remember where I stood to preach my first sermon, where I stood when Dean and I were married, and where we sat and wept during the funeral of our son David. I remember the love poured out upon our family during the funerals of my dad and my mother. I remember and I am thankful for all this church has meant to me and my family.

          Today I will be the old retired preacher invited back for homecoming. I will be the one whom the children will be staring at as they ask their parents, “Who is that old man?” They may learn my name. What they won’t know is the depth of my gratitude for the ways God used that old church to shape my life. And they will have no idea how much it will mean to me to stand again behind the pulpit where it all started for me. + + + +