Southern gospel tent revivals
by Ruth Baker
Oct 09, 2011 | 1787 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ruth Baker
Ruth Baker
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I want to start another theme to get you reminiscing. How many of you remember the Gospel Tent Reviv-als? Every community in Walker County at one time or another had tents set up and revivals held. Usually, one church sponsored the event. All at once, a tent would pop up like a mushroom after a rainy spell. A car would go up and down the roads with a loudspeaker set up on top and a man announcing the start of the revival.

I have heard a good bit of denouncing other churches, and other preachers over the loudspeaker. Hellfire and damnation was the theme of many of the speakers. If a sinner could not be broken with sermons on the “love of God,” then they would be scared into repentance by the message on hell.

The length of the revivals depended largely on the response of the people. Most of them were two weeks long. One week was hardly worth the hard work of putting up the tent and setting up the site. Many times, the meeting would last 3-5 weeks. Following the meeting, a baptismal service would be held in a nearby creek.

Well-known traveling evangelists would often be brought in by larger churches. They would have a larger tent and more equip-ment. Good music would draw the crowds and the reputation of the speaker would also attract audiences.

We must remember that these revivals were also social events. In the 1900s to 50s, few people in rural area were driving a distance for anything. The whole community came together and supported each other. A church name was not as important then as it seems to be now.

Face it — the gospel preached was not all that much different.

The old-timers shouted up and down the aisles and hearty amen’s echoed to the rafters. Children were asleep on the pallets and teenagers were whispering sweet nothings into willing ears.

There was always a mourner’s bench or altar where people were not afraid or ashamed to fall on their knees and weep their way to an experience that changed their life and behavior. Many times when I was a child, I have seen ministers from the different churches stand at the front and receive members into the various churches represented there.

I have even seen the town drunk stagger forward to pray with a bottle stuck in his back pocket. I have seen liquor bottles, packs of cigarettes, snuffboxes left on the altar when people went back to their seats.

I have also seen teenage boys gather down in the woods after a meeting and gather the tobacco thrown away there.

This was a part of life.

Why not remember it as it was instead of dressing up the memories?

One of the favorites of those early years was the Willcutt Tent Revival. C.C. Willcutt and B.C. Willcutt still have decendants scattered across Walker County. Recently, the Willcutt Reunion was held at Gibson Hill just over the line in Fayette County. The Willcutts also had a radio program that was broadcast for years. These men were highly respected and the revivals drew great crowds.

Rev. Margaret McClesky came into Walker County as a young minister just out of college. She held a tent revival on the spot that Townley Church of God now occupies. After starting the Memorial Park Church of God in 1953, she conducted revivals in many areas of Walker County. People drove into Jasper from those revivals. She was well known and respected in her ministry. There were very few women in ministry at that time. These were mostly found in the Nazarene and Churches of God.

As I have said, the meetings sometimes kept going much past the announced dates. That is the reason the name “protracted meetings” was often used instead of the name “revival.” I mentioned before that a baptismal service was held following these meetings.

Every community has a revered spot where these were held. The Turtle Hole on Wolf Creek was one in this area, and another was Lost Creek in several places. Large crowds gathered on a Sunday afternoon and singing would be heard for a ways off. “Shall We Gather At The River” was a favorite hymn as was “Where He Leads Me I Will Follow.” I suppose the all-time favorite hymn in the Christian Church would have to be “Amazing Grace.”

There have been tragic accidents at these big gatherings and there have been funny happenings.

I am not advocating doctrine, power of choice, or any other debatable issue of religion. I am only remembering the facts of the time and this is a part of our heritage. I have strong personal beliefs of my own, but would never force them on another.