by Earl Trevathan
This is not about the history of my church during my childhood days; rather it is a flash-back of activities and events that still linger in my mind. Some such memories may have influenced my life in favorable ways. But really, this is a fine opportunity for me to reminiscence. I’ll call this “Rambling in the Faith.”
The year 1924, at age 6 months, I was baptized in Howard Memorial Presbyterian Church in Tarboro. Our minister was Rev. Daniel Iverson. He also wrote one of our favorite hymns, “Spirit of the Living God.” My dad was so proud that he wrote a description of events of that day. The minister charged my parents to raise me in the faith. They accepted the pledge. My parents loved their two sons, and we were raised in the faith.
My wife, Ruth, wrote her definition of Faith several years before she died and it seems fitting to read it now.
With faith comes the ability to love, the greatest treasure of them all. If you are able to love, then you will be loved. It is like breathing in and breathing out–a simple spiritual love. You can’t buy it, you can’t demand it, you can’t even expect it. You must give love without being afraid, in order to receive it. Love, once given, never disappears.
In those earlier days of my youth we often had the visiting preacher as our dinner guest. Mother would get out our best china, put flowers in the dining room, and Stella in the kitchen would get a fried chicken dinner ready for a feast.
Today, I arrive to do a speech and I’m promised a tomato sandwich. There’s a message here?
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In January 1931, my family–mother, father and younger brother “Blacky”–moved to Fountain to live, at the height of the Depression. We took up residence with Uncle Hardy Johnson, his sons, Dwight and Gibbs. Aunt Capitola had died the year before, leaving my cousins without a mother.
Our new home was in the shadow of that large red brick church next door, Fountain Presbyterian Church. The church was built on a lot about the same size as the building and had no off street parking space. Our streets had not been paved so they were our “play grounds” for dodge ball, baseball, hide and seek. I remember when Norman Gardner chip-shot a golf ball through a stained glass window at the front of the church. We boys were shook up over that.
Between our new home and the church building, in the middle of the street, was the largest sweet gum tree you ever saw. One day Mr. Bass and a town worker came over to the tree with a cross-cut saw and spent the day swing that monster down. It fell safely in the middle of the street and afterwards we had more open space to play.
Our minister was Rev. Wilson and we were paired with Farmville Presbyterian Church. He would serve our church on every other Sunday and bring his son with him. Preacher’s children were accused of being naughty and this kid was no exception. Seems like we boys got in a lot of trouble with him. At this time on alternate Sundays we would go to the Fountain Baptist Church. Their minister was Rev. Newman and he was a stem winder in the pulpit. Whereas Rev. Wilson put us to sleep, Rev. Newman would scare you to death with his rising voice and fist coming down on the rostrum. Nobody went to sleep. I recall when the Baptists had communion, it was for their members only, so on the last hymn we outsiders would get up and leave. Something about Baptists being the real children of God.
Our church had a big iron stove over in the right front corner. The flue went out the top and Uncle Hardy would would build a fire every Sunday morning that we had services. He would get up early, take an arm load of stove wood over to the church, and start the fire. Later, he would add coal and the sanctuary would then get warm. In summer we had two large electric fans on stands up front that kept the air circulating.
Hot or cold, Mrs. Lydia Fountain would be sitting on the back choir row fanning like mad with one of those Farmville Funeral Home fans. She was too old for menopause, just hot natured, I guess. Uncle George Jefferson would sit midway on the right side with his family. Just above him hung a brass chandelier with that saber like metal point hanging right over his head. It was a distraction for me for I would ponder, Suppose that chain would break. Poor Uncle George.
We had a nice mix of congregation members. From the country came the Cases, the Parkers, the Dildays, and Newtons. The school principals, Mr. Mayo and Mr. Guy, and several others joined our church. They taught Sunday School and led the singing. Miss Rapp sang solo. On one occasion she started singing, abruptly stopped and said her voice was not up to singing. I don’t remember the song but I remember a shocker like that.
My brother reminded me that once I took a green snake in my pocket to church. When it crawled out of my pocket, it caused a couple of ladies to drop their song books. I wouldn’t doubt that happened, but fortunately, I had forgotten it.
We had a large group of young people. Our next minister, Rev. A.G. Courtney, was just the man for us boys. He was Canadian, liked the out-of-doors, and traveling. In 1938, he took Owens, Jim Jefferson, Gib Johnson and me on a summer trip around the Great Lakes and along the southern border of Canada. It was primitive camping. It was hot. Even in the middle of the day, Mr. Courtney would stop at a business and get a cup of hot, black coffee. The ice cold lakes of Canada were a relief. I thought Mr. Courtney was good in the pulpit. He was well liked by all our members. The boys were the Gays, the Owens, Johnsons, Peeles, Gardners, Fountains, Jeffersons, we Trevathans, and more.
By this time our membership and finances had grown such that we installed heat and air conditioning, and Mr. R.A. Fountain had gifted us with an electric organ. The great pleasure of having Aileen Higgins playing that instrument was one of the most memorable delights of my attendance here.
Every summer we had a week of Bible School. It would last the morning and was a valuable time to learn scripture, practice speaking on spiritual matters–and not having to go to the farm and work!
I remember one period when we did pack the church, other than for funerals or weddings. I believe we divided the adult congregation into two teams, the red and blue. Each group was challenging the other on who could bring the most guests to Sunday Services. This went on for a month and the team that brought the most guests was fed a barbecue dinner by the losers. Something about food that always encourages church attendance to this day–even when it’s tomato sandwiches.
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Once a year we had revivals. It was in summertime. No more black suits and neckties. Mr. Peebles led the singing and when we did “Bringing in the Sheaves,” I thought we’d lift the roof off. It was nighttime and we always sang “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus,” while usually sitting down. Mr. Peebles had only three fingers on his right hand, from an accident while working on the East Carolina Railway. He would shake while bellowing out the song and it looked like that song book was going to fly out of his hand.
At the end of the emotional service, preacher pleading to “give your life to Christ,” we would sing slowly, “Just As I am.” I was pulling for him. Finally, on the last stanza, James Norville came forward and the preacher placed his hand on James’s head and gave a prayer. It was serious stuff.
Tent revivals were another story. It was like a big party. Usually the crowd would fill the tent. Only thing about those services I remember was when Chief Bryant, some distance away, fired his pistol three times. All the men left the tent. That was a fire alarm, all volunteers. There was a house fire in town, and it broke up the service.
Many years later when the membership at the Fountain Presbyterian Church was over a hundred, I learned from my father that the Church had the highest per capita giving of any church in Albemarle Presbytery. I was always proud of my home church for that level of benevolent giving.
Over the many years the church has been fortunate to have had outstanding ministers. They have been well educated, effective in their pastoral work, good citizens, and friends. It is a worthy institution and played a valuable role in my early years of growing up.