Living on the West End: Worship time!
Editor’s note: This is a reprint of a Bill Shepard column that was published last year.
By Bill Shepard
When my dad moved with his family to the mill village in Darlington in 1922, there were no churches on the mill village where he lived.
It would be 10 years before a small group of worshipers would come together and organize a church and erect a small church building on Phillips Street in Darlington. That church, known as The Church of God, grew and later moved to its present location on Smith Avenue in Darlington. In later years, the words “of Prophecy” were added to its name.
The first Sunday school that I can remember attending was held inside an empty store building on Phillips Street in Darlington. The owner had moved into a new building and allowed a church group to use the old building for Sunday school. The children looked forward to each Sunday afternoon when the teacher would come to the village and teach the children about Jesus.
I was a little boy and I could hardly wait for Sunday afternoons to come. I don’t recall anything happening at these times, no singing or preaching, just the kind little gray-haired lady telling the children about Jesus. I don’t recall ever going to a real church by that time.
The teacher would hand each of us a card with a picture on it. At the bottom of the card were the words “The Golden Text.” Of course, I did not know what they meant. One Sunday, she read the Golden Text to us and asked us to read it with her. Then she asked us to memorize the verse we had just learned to read. She said if we would memorize it, she would give us a candy sucker.
I did and she gave me a sucker at the next Sunday school. Not many Sundays later, the owner of the building had come back to his old building; his new one had burned. We were without a church again! Years later I wrote an article titled “All that I need to know about God, I learned in Sunday school.” I was thinking of the little old lady who gave me that sucker. Someday I hope to see her in heaven!
On another part of the village on the far end of West Broad Street there was a Pentecostal Holiness Church. It was and is one of the oldest churches in Darlington. It was a flourishing church with a large attendance. When I was old enough to go to church alone I went there sometimes.
Especially at Christmas-time, I would make certain that my name was written in the book where the teacher kept the names of her students. That would mean I received a large sack of fruit for Christmas! If a person had perfect attendance for the year, they would find an extra gift inside the sack of fruit.
I never found a surprise in my sack. I have a picture of that church showing the large crowd in attendance that day. I still remember the names of many of those who attended there throughout the years. I remember the names of some of the early preachers who preached there.
Some of the things I learned at that church have followed me through the long journey since. One of my childhood friends, and later an older friend, was a lasting influence on my life. Charles Bradshaw introduced me to Emmanuel College, where I in later years attended.
We had no churches on our village in the beginning, but twice each year I could expect the traveling evangelists to show up. They would erect a large tent at the end of Phillips Street and hold a camp meeting that would sometimes last for weeks.
That would be an exciting time on the village. Weeks before the meetings would begin, the village would be busy preparing for the event. It would be talked about wherever there was a group gathered. The children would make posters and nail them on fence posts and tree trunks.
There were no telephones and no Facebook in those days, but the word would get around. The men on the village joined in and helped the preachers prepare the ground where the tent would go up. Sawdust would be hauled from the sawmill and spread over the area where the tent would be placed. Rough benches would be built, also a place for an altar where mourners could kneel and pray. No large choir loft was needed as the entire congregation would do the singing.
After days, even weeks, of preparations, the opening night would be set and the long-awaited meeting would begin. They came, yes, they came! The tent would be filled each night and as many more would be standing and sitting outside. This writer would have his seat at the edge of the tent and near the front. In the early fall, the nights would be chilly and I would hide my bare feet under the sawdust where they would be warm.
Sitting there, near the front, I could see and hear all that was going on. There would be singing and shouting, hand-clapping and weeping all at the same time! The things I saw and heard have remained with me to this day.
The preacher would preach about Heaven and Hell, and when he was finished, an invitation was given for the sinners to come to the altar and repent of their sins. I watched hardened sinners fall on their faces and cry as they prayed for forgiveness. No doubt but there are some in Heaven as I write who found forgiveness in some of those meetings.
When the revival finally came to an end, there was a baptismal service held at a millpond near the village. Another time of rejoicing and worship was held. It would be a day to be remembered!
It was from the results of some of those meetings that the first church on the village was born. The year was 1932.
And that’s the way it was on the village when I was a boy.
Columnist Bill Shepard just celebrated his 98th birthday.