A Pig in a Poke
By Bill Shepard
The little church where I began my pastoral ministry more than sixty years ago proved to be the most rewarding challenge of my life. I wrote recently that on my first Sunday at the little church only one person showed up for the Sunday morning service! I also wrote that I made a commitment to that person that I would show up for service regularly to preach. It seemed she had been disappointed often and after walking to church would return home without having a pastor to show up.
Word spread throughout the area that the little church had a new pastor and services were held regularly every Sunday morning and night, even on Wednesday nights. His name was Bill Shepard and he played the guitar and his wife played the piano. I had seen an old piano pushed up against the wall on that first Sunday I was there. I could tell by the dust that had collected on it that it had not been in use for a long time. Neither of us were professionals but in those early times we proved to be an asset to the church service.
Nearly every Sunday there would be new faces in the congregation and there was never another Sunday morning when the attendance was like that first one!
It was too far to drive back to Darlington after the Sunday morning service, then return for the night service, so the young preacher and his wife and children would be invited to someone’s home for Sunday dinner. After the meal, the rest of the afternoon would be spent visiting the homes in the community. If there was something special going on at a local church, I made an effort to attend. As a result, I was becoming known to the folk in the surrounding area. The little church was growing and that lent encouragement to the new preacher and to the congregation. The Lord was indeed at work in his life.
Revival meetings in those early times would often continue for weeks at a time. Never would a revival meeting be announced for under two weeks, and often one might continue for three or four weeks! What a contrast with those of today! Recently someone asked if I would preach a mini-revival for his church. “What is that?” I asked. “Sunday morning and Sunday night,” he answered.
Looking back, I often question as to how I was able to hold up to the challenge that I had accepted. My job was not an easy one. I worked as a lineman for the REA) Pee Dee Electric) in Darlington, having received training for that work while in the military. The work was hard; the hours were long, and all outside. The pay was $1.25 per hour, not bad for the times! It was hot in the summer and cold in the winter. I was self-supporting and that was a good thing; it allowed me to give of my service to the little church.
It would be hard for some to imagine the poverty that existed in small rural communities in those times! Not one person in that little church held a job that offered a weekly or monthly paycheck! They were poor sharecroppers, dirt farmers, trying to plow a living out of another man’s dirt! I was able to understand their plight; my Dad had been in that position before moving to Darlington to work at the mill there. I had heard their stories.
The people loved my young family and me and did all they could to show it. They shared what they had, I could not expect more than that. Their vegetable gardens were mine, their chickens and eggs were mine, when they butchered a hog or calf, and they shared the meat. Sweet potatoes and pork were plentiful in the fall and winter months! Their love and appreciation was priceless! Seldom a weekend would pass that I did not return home on a Sunday night without a car loaded with food they had given me.
On early spring night after service, I went to my car to return home. I noticed a group of young men huddled together near my car as though waiting to see me off. There was nothing new about that. I opened the back door of my old car, and as usual, there were sacks lying on the back seat. That too, was common. Then I heard a noise, and there on the floor was a burlap bag and inside was a live pig! The pig was grunting, and the men were laughing! They had been waiting to see what my response would be. I leaned that one of the men’s brood sows had birthed a littler of ten piglets and I was receiving the tithe!
That pig grunted in that poke all the way home to Darlington. I was glad I did not have car troubles on the way home that night! My Dad furnished a pen for the pig, and the following winter we had a big fat hog!
The story of the preacher who found a “pig in a poke” brought many laughs as the story was told to various congregations where I would be in attendance.
I was among the richest poor folk I have ever known, and to this day I feel indebted to them for the two years that I served as their young pastor.
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. He is the author of “Mill Town Boy” and “Bruised”. He has been sharing his tales of growing up in Darlington for decades, and we are delighted to share them each week.
His mailing address for cards and letters is: Bill Shepard 324 Sunny Lane, Piedmont, S.C., 29673