About Revival Meetings
By Bill Shepard
Ah, to be in a revival again! Like the revivals I attended as a boy! Nothing could stir the village folk up like the announcement that the traveling evangelist was coming! The old and the young alike came alive with excitement; the coming revival would be the topic of conversation wherever there was a gathering. The women talked about it over the wash benches where they washed their family’s clothes. Men talked about it when they sat at the benches at the village store, and at their work places. Children looked forward to its coming as pure entertainment, there were no TV’s, telephones, and computers in those days.
Posters would begin appearing on fence posts, light posts, and in available store windows. The excitement would begin as the time fore the tent to arrive drew near. Preparation for the arrival of the big tent would begin days before its arrival. Sawdust would be hauled from the lumberyard and scattered over the area where the tent would stand. Rough slabs, furnished by owners of the lumberyard, would be used to build benches to sit on. No padded pews in those days! There would be mourner’s benches, where the sinners would kneel to pray, and a platform where the preacher stood to preach. All to be done before the tent arrived. Men of the village volunteered to see that the work was finished when the tent arrived.
This writer had a ringside view of it all from start to finish. The house where I lived was just over the railroad track from where the tent was erected. I would sit on the track and watch the progress in motion. When the meeting would begin, I would take a ringside seat, sitting on the ground as near the front as I could without being under the tent. I would be near enough that I could bury my bare feet underneath the sawdust. Crowds would gather nightly from all over the village. They came to worship and worship they did! They came prepared to stay late, often until nearly midnight! It was not unusual to see the benches filled with people, and others lined outside, and still others sitting on the railroad track.
I recall one big preacher that came every year. He played lead guitar and had a voice even louder. He would pick and sing, and then preach. At the end of his sermon, sinners were invited to come to the mourner’s bench and repent of their sins. And they came! After repenting of their sins, the new converts would arise from the mourner’s bench and join the others in singing and rejoicing. All of this time I spent spellbound, trying to understand what I was seeing and hearing. Those old preachers preached about hell fire being so hot I knew I did not want to go there! I would see folks fanning and I couldn’t tell if it was because of the sermon about hell fire, or the weather! The fans from Kistler’s Funeral Home sure came in handy!
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. Signed copies of Mr. Shepard’s books “Mill Town Boy” and “Bruised” are available for purchase at the News and Press office. He has been sharing his tales of growing up in Darlington for decades, and we are delighted to share them each week.