In case you’re reading this far in the future, this is Saturday January 3, 2015. It’s the end of the main week of college football bowl games. Auburn lost their bowl game. It’s also after the first game of the first playoff for college football – Alabama lost. I realize this is a sore subject and a moment of great pain for fans of either team, but it would’ve been a moment of delight for my father, the Methodist minister. He wouldn’t like it because any team lost, but because if the right teams lost, more people would come to church.
His primary station was Montgomery, Alabama, a city with a population almost equally divided by allegiance to either Auburn University or The University of Alabama. The membership of my father’s congregation was divided in the same way for the same reason. It was that fierce allegiance by the fans who attended his church that dictated how well-attended any given Sunday-after-the-game would be.
If Auburn won their game, no matter who their opponent was, all of the “Auburn” church members would come, maybe to give thanks for a victory, and maybe to gloat, but it was the same for the “Alabama” members. Also, if one team won, but the other lost, then all of the winning fans would be in the pews on Sunday, and about half the losing fans, the good sports, would show up. The winning records of both teams almost guaranteed a church attendance of about seventy-five percent. My father could live with that.
What he dreaded was a Saturday when Alabama and Auburn played each other, because he knew that the following day only half the church members would come to the service. Knowing how the winners huffed and smirked and gloated and paraded their victory with posture and expression, it’s no wonder the losers stayed away.
On the other hand, and this is what my father secretly hoped for, if both schools had a really big game with other teams, and they both lost, everybody came to church. Once, I asked him why that was. He told me that some came to share their misery with the other side. Some came to beg, “Why, God, Why!” And some, he said, came to be thankful, as in “Dear Lord, thank you that if we had to lose, You made them lose, too.”
So, this first Saturday of 2015 is seeing some sports casters calling the previous week The Great Crumbling of the SEC. Almost every conference team was beaten, including Auburn and Alabama. Tomorrow should be a big day in church. Dad would be proud.
He was Reverend Walter Bozeman. His main duty in the 50’s and 60’s was to convert small groups, meeting in homes, to full congregations, by coordinating membership, land purchases and construction of church buildings. In his time he helped form and build more than 30 churches in central Alabama. My mother, Elizabeth, was by his side every step of the way, teaching Sunday School, as well as organizing and leading the women’s groups. In fact she wrote many of his sermons.
For a while, they were like modern-day circuit riders, traveling and preaching at as many as three churches each Sunday. In Montgomery he built the original station for Whitfield Methodist near the intersection of Narrowlane and Woodley, and he served as assistant minister at Forest Avenue Methodist, now Aldersgate. Others were in Ramer, Tallassee, Oak Valley, and Notasulga, but that’s only a few.
Oak Valley was his last station. He was actually sent to do something he’d never done before, close a church. When they arrived there were only seven members left. Shutting it down seemed logical. But I remember my parents telling me, “We know the Conference gave us a job to do, but there’s no way we’re letting this church die.” They got to work.
Fifteen months after arriving, the membership had climbed to almost three hundred. They celebrated with a Christmas Pageant initially attended by more than four hundred people. The little chapel couldn’t hold them all, so, at my mother’s suggestion, my father asked a local musician if he could borrow some sound equipment, like fast! Speakers were set up in the beds of pickup trucks. Microphones were placed in the chapel, and the service began. Nearby neighbors, as well as passers-by, who heard the music came to investigate, and stayed. By the time the last note was sung, and the last Amen pronounced, more than a thousand people were on the property. It was a wonderful moment that we will never forget. I, myself, have a never-give-up attitude. It’s easy to see where it comes from. Amen? ……..Amen!
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