Meeting the First Televangelist When I Was Just 11
This narrative does not deal with explosive exposes, racy black and white photos captured by powerful men and women--politicians, power brokers, gamblers, and drug kingpins who were, if only in the time of a sneeze, surprised for the secret lives they tried to hide. This is simply a first-person, (me), view of what happened on one night, Sunday, Aug. 9, 1964 when I was 11 at New Hope Church for a night-time revival service and the guest speaker, a "Rev. Fredderikk," a blunt-spoken man of God who might have, in that two-hour worship service, paved the Way of The (Mostly) Prosperous Televangelists. I could not remember his real name. But the rest is pure truth. (Kenneth).
The night was hot. Inside the church building was hotter. Sweltry--I watched silently and slowly as sweat surfaced and began to trail down the backs of what pretty and upstanding Christian women were in that Aug. 9, revival service. At 11, a person's Sense of Humor is blowing by on Auto Pilot, no matter what I saw or heard in that service caused laughter to suddenly boil inside my guts. And if I were to snicker, oh God, have mercy! The hard looks alone from my dad and those Mote Pickers would have been the death of me.
Jesus taught the difference in a Beam and a Mote when he said, "behold the beam (plank of lumber) in your own eye rather than try to remove the Mote (small particle of sand) in your brother's eye." Now with that New Testament Upgrade, I can move on.
I remember well, the night of Aug. 9. I was angry most of the time. My dad had moved my family and I to one of the many available rented houses where he could make a living as a sharecropper. I begged him, I remember, please, daddy. Get us a nice house in Hamilton, (Ala.,) and let a big company give you a good job. I might have used different words, but dad understood what I was begging him to do.
On that very night, Aug. 9, there was a week-long revival service going on at (a) church named, New Hope, on highway 129 north of Hamilton. It angered me when dad informed my mom that "we" were heading to this church service. I couldn't grow any angrier. I could, but I might be sent to Reform School if I lashed-out and broke a few empty jars that I found underneath the rented house where we were currently living.
My dad, like his dad, was extremely afraid of the Civil Law--Police, F.B.I., and State Troopers. For one of these officers to look at you meant certain trouble for an adult. If an officer of these fine categories were to look at an 11-year old, it would be worse for them. The Law, in my day, 1964, was very suspicious. Not really of any living, breathing 11-year-old's, for most of us were being raised by upstanding American parents. But the Law had rights and more than enough authority to ask anyone about anything. This was before Lawyers became the Good Guys with White Hats. Remember who stood up for the messy things that The Law swore that Eldridge Cleaver did? Just his name alone, the early leader of the Black Panthers was enough to get him hanged in broad, open daylight--by his name that fueled bigotry and racism in our country. And you think that 11-year-old's like me stood a chance in 1964?
I got carried away while back in 1964. I do that frequently whether I am writing or not. I might have to someday, before my demise, pay an expert hypnotist to help me face and solve whatever problem I caused (or lived through) back then. There might have been a few woolly monsters lurking around some bush tracking me down. It might be well worth $1100.00 cash. Wel'll see.
When homework was over, I was still angry at having to go with my parents to this revival service that started on Sunday night, Aug. 9, and ran through the next week until Friday night. In my day, the rural south had revivals almost every month. Some even ran in daytime back when all that had jobs were farmers. When the crops were hoed and weeded-out, the farming families hitched-up their mule and wagons and started out to attend a Daytime Revival. I didn't say there was anything wrong with these events. I really think that the people who were responsible for these early revivals did a lot of good for a lot of people.
The reason that I was angry was not entirely because I had to go with my folks to that revival that I was told to attend. The better reason was because things were not going smoothly in my fourth grade level. The math was tough. The teacher, Mrs. Rosa Bowling, rest her soul, was tougher. She pulled a fast one between our first and second semesters. When she left one Friday afternoon after school, she came back married. She was now Mrs. Rosa Simmons. She was a widow. But she made a grand transition from living as a widow to being a married lady. I am tempted to share an ugly story about her laughing at me (along with the class) for not knowing how to do something--but why? She has went to Heaven. I think I will let her rest.
Walk with me, please, as we get out of my dad's 1955 Chevy pick-up truck. I loved that truck for I secretly lusted for it. I thought for sure that when I grow up, dad will reward me for not being arrested and thrown into the slammer. Maybe I should use hoosegow, huh? Adds drama to this piece don't you think?
He didn't. Instead he traded the nice truck for a engine trouble-riddled 1960 Chevy four-door Impala--my mom's nephew, a Master Mechanic in 1964, was always having to work on it and this angered my dad for making such an ill-advised trade. But things work out sometimes. He took the 1960 Chevy and traded it for a slick, slightly-used 1964 Impala, four-door with a 327 cubic inch engine and had an automatic tranny. (Yes, gear heads. I still think of you).
When you walked into New Hope Church, did you happen to notice the parking lot almost full with cars and trucks? In 1964 church attendance was on the upward scale. Now as it is in today. Somehow I have this theory: when America's Prosperity Boom let go, we saw church and church-related things start to decline--especially with huge factories now working three shifts and some working seven days a week. I saw it. Never did it. My dad did work. My mom worked. But they did not, I give them credit, worship Prosperity.
Did you smell the many aroma's that hit you once inside the church building? Women in this time loved perfume, hand lotion, and some other female things that put American women on the forefront of Modern Society. I truly believe this. I don't blame them either.
As we made our way to sit down, did you feel the many eyes of the people who were sitting patiently and chatting to friends and neighbors before service started? This time was allocated for the Song Director and Pianist to line-up the choice of songs to fit this service. It was a serious job. This also gave the Guest Evangelist, a "Rev. Fredderikk," sit on the Pulpit in a high-backed wooden chair with his Bible open--surely studying God's Word. Well? That's what this 11-year-old was thinking.
You could hear a good many sounds in a nightly revival service. This night was no different. I heard men and women's shoe soles scuffing on the wooden floor, the coughs, sniffles, and people yawning from being in their fields all day long. I got to give folks like this in my day who were willing to sacrifice their rest to just hear and retain the Word of God spoken by a Man of God. New Hope was just one of the many churches who had nightly revivals. Not like that now.
I have to include this ditty: if you were to discreetly-look over the crowd, you might see the Southern Fashion Plates, the married women and young single women who were being groomed by the married women on the "How's," "Why's," and "How Come's," who were all afire asking wisdom about Life, Household Work and Marriage--mostly Marriage. Both age classes of women were trained like a Red Tailed Hawk with razor-sharp eyes to check-out, in a flash, what some other woman was wearing and how much she gave for it. This wasn't a sideline thing for these gals, but a Southern Way of Life--and the husbands of these gals dare not start trouble at home after church about what some woman said about another woman looking whorish for wearing a dress that was an inch too short. I tell you. I witnessed this many times.
The menfolk on the outside were busy talking about the ladies inside the church--single and married, and most were smoking cigarettes or chewing some good old home-grown tobacco. These guys knew exactly when the service started because they could hear the first notes of the song that the Song Director had lined-up. I got to be honest. Some of these guys were noted for sharing their Off-Color jokes that were for only men to listen to and get a good laugh. Men today are, in my estimation, a bit more tame.
With the sun now going down, the heat index inside the church building was not any cooler. Most of these women were using those famous Funeral Home Fans and these were in full-use by these fashionable ladies. Do you really think that a Southern Lady who is prideful about her appearance is going to let a few sweat trails ruin her dress? No, sir. She would sooner fight than to put down her funeral home fan. And while I am at it. I give the Southern-based funeral homes a lot of credit here for having the wisdom to include the names of their funeral homes printed on their hand-fans that were printed and handed-out free to the church congregations who wanted them. Novel thinking, guys.
The first notes of "I'll Fly Away," a rural Country Gospel standard started with the sharp notes by the pianist followed by the Song Director who did not miss a lick in singing this song for his main job was to pump up the crowd. It's the truth. I'm sure that the Song Director if he was worth his salt, prayed about every song selection. The song service ran from 7 p.m. until around 7:45 p.m. giving the Guest Evangelist, a "Rev. Fredderikk," get ready and studied-up to bring a searing sermon to change the path of sinners and bring Christians closer. This was the job of an evangelist. "Preach The Word," the Word states. It might pay you to remember these three words before we dismiss
Oh, remember me sharing about me being angry? Still that way. Had not said much since we climbed into my dad's truck and set out for this revival service. I may not be able to do a lot of things, but hold anger and resentment, I am a Giant! This will really put the icing on the cake. Although I was angry, this was in the time when we had NO TV. Just an AM Wizard radio that my dad bought from Western Auto, Hamilton, Ala., probably paid all but $11-dollars tax included. The only radio station then was WERH, a Country station, but signed off around 4:30 or 5 p.m. That was fine. Dad liked to run the dial before he retired for the night--he loved WSM, Nashville and those that he could get on the radio. Not mom. She loved her rest. Me? I wanted sleep too, not The Grand Ole Opry. I was not even angry for missing dad's radio station-dialing. What I was angry for was this: at 11, I thought that I was big enough to be a man. And a man should not be made to attend church. School, that one was for the jury. But church was my main reason for not being treated as a man.
When the Song Director and Pianist finished, the Song Director called on someone in the audience to lead prayer before Guest Evangelist, "Rev. Fredderikk," took the pulpit. Another thing that was now on my Angry List was the man who led the prayer. He must have been a retired auctioneer for I give you my word, that prayer lasted what I thought to be half an hour. I didn't mind praying at 11 years of age, but why include every need of everyone in church, the neighbors and all of the people in Europe? Okay. I was a bit smart alecky. I am sorry.
"Rev. Fredderikk," took the stand. Cleared his throat. Looked across the crowd with a serious scowl on his face while leafing through his Bible. Bingo! He zero'd on the nightly text which I recall was the first chapter in Genesis. And I give him credit, he did the Bible and Preaching well. He took off with reading a few verses and bam! He was gone out of the gate faster than the famous race horse, Man O War. He had to remove his glasses for the sweat running from his forehead. Then without missing a lick, off came his suit coat. This man was really called to the Ministry. No Hollywood or Vaudeville actor could beat him. I even heard my dad say, amen, a few times, and dad never did that. This guy was a pro.
The crowd was mesmerized. Both men and women were raising hands, clapping, and shouting, yes, Lord! Amen! Preach it as loudly as any human being could yell. I even believe that if there had been any opossums or raccoon's outside the church, they were shouting amen as well. Like I said. This man was a pro.
Some in the crowd wiped sweat from their faces. Some with the funeral home fans were fanning like there was no sunrise the next morning--and their eyes were fixed on this "Rev. Fredderikk," for they did not want to miss one word. And now as a 63-year-old, I cannot blame them. And I don't. Revivals all the way back to 1964 were loud, spirit-filled and don't be offended, but in my day, Religion Was a Big Thing. As it should be.
Then . . .just like Haley's Comet about to pass over the building, it happened and when it happened, the crowd went completely silent. A few songbooks were dropped to floor. Some of the Southern Fashion Plate Ladies cut a few sharp looks at each other in dismay. One or two of the men slapped their knees--a sure sign that this Guest Evangelist had screwed-up and in a Royal Way.
What he said could not have been worse if he had disrobed in front of everyone while preaching. Because in our day, when these words came from his mouth, " . . .ohhhh, yeah, brothers and sisters, we can talk all night about the Israelites and Moses leading them from bondage in Egypt to the Land of Canaan, and I tell you, friends, not one of these Israelites were lacking in money! They carried gold and silver in their oxen and donkey carts. Yes, amen. No Israelite was a poor man or woman, no, sir!"
Poor guy. He made it worse by going backward to try and explain what the words, Prosperity and Wealth really mean, but like I've said, in my day, 1964, in the Rural South, church-going people did not buy into this doctrine of Chistians having wealth. Many earlier preachers, (Circuit Riders) preached that "money was the root of all evil," and for years, I heard that too. It was not until I got the Bible down and traced that one verse out to check the validity.
The Word of God says, "the LOVE of money is the root of all evils." Not money itself. But to compound "Rev. Fredderikk's," chagrin, he would not let it go. He went into the study of The Patrioic, Abraham, who the Bible said, " was very rich," and he went deeper to say, Abraham was very rich for he gave and gave . . .to the church and preachers. God sees these gifts of giving, friends.
He left the worst for last: "Rev. Fredderikk," said, "if YOU want to be like Abraham, you will dig deep and deeper each time Sunday rolls around and give everything that is due to God and you will be RICH."
Poor "Rev. Fredderikk," his white shirt was sticking to himself saturated with pure, honest sweat. Not decent prespiration, but good, old, rural SWEAT. You cannot say it any plainer.
By now, the crowd of Rural Church-goers were standing and walking toward the back door as "Rev. Fredderikk," was finishing up his sermon that had to be one of the boldest sermons this 11-year-old Southerner had heard in many days. I went home with my parents still a bit angry, but not as much earlier in the night. I just sat and dwelled on all that "Rev. Fredderikk," said in the last of his sermon and what he might have meant
Years and years, (one more) years from then. I was sitting at home on one sunny summer Sunday morning when I was watching the Schedule for NFL Football to be broadcast on that Sunday afternoon along with the rest of American guys. Time to relax and enjoy this game. My wife and baby daughter were at church--where I should have been. (I knew that you were thinking it.)
Then it happened again . . .there was this guy on TV, I forget the channel, and he was teaching primarily the very same thing that a "Rev. Fredderikk," had taught to me and my folks on that sweltry Aug. 9 Sunday night revival service. I won't mention his name, but he was one of the first to use similar words: "And if desire riches, just send $25.00 to me and my ministry, and God will bless you with riches untold!" And smiled when he said this over the airways.
Do you think that on that hot Sunday night of Aug. 9, 1964, at New Hope Church, when we heard a "Rev. Fredderikk," teach primarly the same message?
I admit this to you. When I heard the words from this Televangelist, I sat on my couch and said nothing. I just sat there and wondered.
And today, I still wonder.
© 2017 Kenneth Avery