|Jerry Stewart, John Cook, Prentiss Smith|
The United Pentecostal Church, International, being the organizational glue that connects like-minded churches across the nation, divides America up into districts, and within each district are smaller administrative groups until one finally gets down to the organization of a local church. There are men’ groups, women’s groups, seniors’ groups, young married groups, single young people’s groups, youth groups, kiddie groups…you name it…all designed to foster a comradeship and spiritual bond of fellowship.
My group is the SODWAOTHs…Senior Old Dudes Who Are over the Hill. OK, OK, I sort of made that up on the spur of the moment, but there really is a group called the South Texas District United Pentecostal Church Men’s Fellowship. (I think “fellowship” is the last word in the title.) This group of men, led by an administrative staff, meets once a year for a South Texas Men’s Conference…although calling it a “conference” is a bit of a stretch. It really isn’t a conference, but rather lots of music and lots of preaching. There are no conference committees, no issues to be discussed, and no seminars to attend…just some heavy duty preachin’.
Actually, the more I think about it, there is a local group called the SODWAOTHs, and we meet every Friday at our local Denny’s Restaurant to solve the issues of the day. We never gossip…everything we talk about is absolute fact. We determined a few weeks ago that we would try visiting the upcoming South Texas District Men’s Conference one more time. Our last visit to San Antonio had been…shall we say…disappointing (See my blog “The Concert” http://www.bobdowning.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-concert.html ), and we had pretty well written off ever going back. I mean, the last place I heard music like that, they were serving hard liquor.
But this time there was a powerful incentive to go back to the “conference.” Our own beloved pastor, David Fauss was to be one of the speakers, along with a Reverend Jerry Dean, a minister who visited our church about a month ago and delivered one of the most astute (and ignored by most ministers) sermons I have ever heard. We decided that with proper preparation (heavy duty ear plugs, a backup iPod with decent music, and an escape plan, if needed, in the conference auditorium, it would be worth the effort to go hear what we knew would be at least two outstanding sermons. The meeting was to be Friday night and Saturday, May 15-16, 2015, so we made hotel reservations and prepared to head west. In the final head count, there were four of us: Brothers (spiritually) Jerry Stewart, John Cook, and his father-in-law, Prentiss Smith, and myself. I was glad Brother Smith was coming along because he is a long standing member of Bethel Tabernacle and a board member of impeccable credentials who would give us instant respectability in case we got ourselves in trouble.
Whatever was to happen on Friday, it had to happen after our Denny’s breakfast, so it was not until around 11:00 that we finally headed out Interstate 10 toward San Antonio. We were in Brother John Cook’s Honda Pilot. Just as an aside, I sold Hondas from 1982 until 1994 and I must say Hondas have come a long way. I still have enough gasoline in my blood that I instinctively appraise every car I get in, and the Pilot was a very nice vehicle indeed. We four guys and luggage had plenty of space and were very comfortable for the trip.
Brother John Cook probably was the most uncomfortable one of us, mainly because he was doing the driving and it was raining buckets…all the way to the Drury Inn at IH-10 and Loop 1604. We arrived there around 3:00 p.m. and in short order were on our way to our rooms: John and his father-in-law in one and Brother Jerry Stewart and I in the other. The Drury Inn is a very nice place…immaculately kept, handy to the church, with free breakfast, and free snack goodies from around 5:30-7:00 each evening. Of course, at the price we paid we should have gotten free filet mignon dinners, but in the comparative price scheme of things, it was a good deal. The hotel did not disappoint.
Since it had been a long time since breakfast and it wasn’t 5:30 snack time yet, we decided to visit the attached Applebee’s for a late lunch, and we enjoyed the usual outstanding Applebee’s chicken salad, burgers, and whatever else the other guys ate. By the time we finished we had just enough time to run upstairs and don our ties and jackets and head back down to the car. The church, Hope Community Center, pastored by Brother Randy Scoggins, was only a couple of miles away, and we arrived about 7:00 p.m. After standing in line to register and get our identification badges, we took our seats….close to the door (escape route, remember.)
About 7:30 the first event took place which caused me to have a very unexpected flashback. The lights dimmed slightly, and a large video screen lit up, and the first words we began to see along with ominous music and a gruff voice were “revolutionaries,” “overthrow,” “resistance,” “non-conformance,” “the status quo,” “giving our life to the cause.” The video presented the message that we were to be revolutionaries in a hostile environment, fighting the status quo, and resisting every influence of the Evil One. The message itself was no doubt sincere and in its hyperbole encouraged us to stand firm in the faith, but the terminology reminded me of 1966.
In 1966 I was serving in the United States Air Force Security Service and responsible for various intelligence gathering activities in West Berlin, Germany. In that year I was with a group of intelligence analysts who had gained access to several Communist Party recruitment movies. Designed to fire up a disgruntled populace, these videos and movies used the very same terminology as the video I was seeing at this men’s conference. Don’t get me wrong, the message for us Christian men in the video was probably good, but whoever produced the video, I suspect, had no sense of history. To some, being a revolutionary does not mean being a devout Christian. But in all honesty, I’m sure the producers meant well, and I did not find it offensive, just really interesting.
Well, anyway, we got through that without raising the red flag of revolution, and sure enough, the next event was an explosion of sound from the pulpit as we were primed and charged in preparation of this awesome, life changing evening. Then the music started, and the second surprise fell into my lap: we were not deafened by a cacophony of thundering sound. Oh, it wasn’t my kind of music, and I will argue to my dying day that it was not even “church music,” but it was at least bearable and at an acceptable volume. The music was what I term concert music…entertaining, religious oriented, designed to get you out of your seat with its rhythm, joyful, even stimulating. I will be the first to admit this style of music is conducive to enthusiastic praise, but, like when Houston Rockets player Dwight Howard slams home a thunderous dunk, there may be a jolt of excitement, but it is shallow and quickly fades. Our churches have forgotten how to worship…a totally different concept of communication with God. (See blog “Praise…or Worship?” http://www.bobdowning.blogspot.com/2010/05/praise-and-worship.html ) Our services now are measured by the amount of movement and decibels that are created.
There was a lead singer, stylishly dressed in some kind of jean-looking pants and either dark sneakers or boots, with his shirttail hanging out underneath his sport jacket (no tie), along with five or six women backing him up. Well, anyway, to get away from the negativity, we survived the music and were happy our ear plugs stayed in our pockets.
Brother Jerry Dean, however, did not make the conference because of a death in his church, but as a substitute we had South District Texas Superintendent Ken Gurley…not a bad substitute, indeed. To Shirley and me he is Kenny because he grew up with us in our church in Baytown. He is a few years behind Shirley and me, and of course, to teenagers, a difference of seven or eight years is like an eternity, so we did not associate with the Gurley boys very much, but we are well acquainted with their parents, whom we love and still admire to this day. But Kenny…excuse me…Brother Gurley has been very successful in the ministry and has become a powerful preacher and pastor and very influential in the Texas District. Over the years, every time I have heard him speak, his message has been powerful and memorable. Friday night was no different.
Zombies, interestingly enough, were his subject, and he tied their existence to the church and gave examples of spiritual zombies…alleged Christians who go through the motions of viable church members, but are spiritually dead and unproductive. I won’t attempt to re-preach his sermon here because I don’t have the talent, but the message was to the point and applicable to each of us; attending church is not enough…we need to be living, productive workers for the kingdom of God. Needless to say, he had his audience on its feet, and much rededication and recommitment was offered by us listeners after his sermon.
I was sorry to miss my good friend and old Wyoming hunting buddy, Juan Rodriguez in service tonight. I asked his pastor, Brother David Caruthers, of his whereabouts and he said Juan “had church duties this weekend.” Maybe next time…. After church services there is (I think) a rule that all Pentecostals must go somewhere and eat, so we went back to the hotel and into Applebee’s and enjoyed a late snack. Well, a little more than a “snack,” but we were hungry.
Saturday morning we were dressed and packed by 7:45 and headed downstairs to the free breakfast, which was quite complete and very good. These two days are playing havoc with my Nutrisystem diet plan, but I will recover next week…I hope. By 8:30 we had eaten, checked out, and were heading to Brother John’s Honda to drive to the church. As we were loading up the car with our luggage, Brother Fauss came gliding up in his recently purchased Corvette, a gorgeous 2004 convertible with a candy apple red paint job and tan convertible top. I think I lost some of my “street cred” with my pastor when I traded my ‘Vette for another car a few weeks ago, but, what can I say? The ‘Vette was good for looking cool and going fast, but not too comfortable and I’m getting (choke) more…um… mature and prefer more creature comforts. He greeted us, roared off, and we headed to the church…arriving there about 8:45. At least for a change it was not raining, though it was a bit foggy.
We started off with another video, not quite as in your face as yesterday’s, and the light-their-fire music started again. I was surprised that there was only the male singer who-would-not-qualify-as-best-dressed singing…there were no backups at all. A keyboard and a drum set (do we REALLY need anything else these days?) provided the music, (there may have been a bass player…I can’t remember) although the guy on the keyboard did have a microphone, so he may have backed up the lead guy some. Anyway, they did their thing, and then we got to the preaching.
Our own Brother David Fauss was the first speaker, and in venues like this, he carries on the family tradition proudly. His dad, Brother O. R. Fauss, was, hands down, the best camp meeting and conference speaker I have ever heard, but I’ll tell you his son, Brother David Fauss, can fill his dad’s shoes pretty well. He preached on the story of Elijah and Elisha, and the mantle that Elijah left for Elisha when his translation took place. His message to ministers and saints alike: “Pick up the mantle!” Like these two great prophets, we need to pick up the mantle given to us and use the power that we have been given.
By the time Brother Fauss threw his coat (mantle) into the air, the place was rocking, and some guy ran up and caught his coat on the fly and put it on. I was beginning to wonder if Brother Fauss was going to get his coat back. Then there was the guy who bounced up and down the center aisle flailing his coat on the floor like he was putting out a grass fire. I think that was supposed to be his mantle, but I couldn’t figure out what he was supposed to be doing with it. Two or three other guys were up around Brother Fauss shouting (literally) and waving about as he was attempting to preach. I fully expected Brother Fauss to stop and say something like, “OK, let’s settle down a bit….” Here’s a minister who will stop his sermon in mid-sentence if your cell phone goes off during a service. But he kept preachin’ and the people kept shoutin’ and we all had a grand old time. Toward the end of his sermon, he emphasized the need for the youthful ministers and saints to listen and heed the wisdom of the elder ministers. At the very end, he asked all ministers over fifty years old to form a line at the front of the auditorium. He then instructed the men under forty to walk by these senior ministers and be prayed for, and a long line formed for that purpose.
Except we didn’t fit into either line. So there we four guys stood…nobody within 30 feet of us while everyone else was either praying or being prayed for. We felt hurt, and alone, and our self-esteem was shattered! We started tearfully to go ask Brother Fauss, “Don’t we count at all?” Had we become “disposable saints?” Now, before you get all bent out of shape, we were laughing when we talked about this afterward. We understood the point of Brother Fauss’s actions and appreciated the message he had delivered. It was an outstanding sermon, which is what I fully expected when I signed up for the conference.
I would not have wanted to follow Brother Fauss in the pulpit to minister, but Brother Roger Blackburn, Men’s Fellowship Director for the South Texas District, did and preached, and preached, and preached a good sermon about rededication. By the time he had finished it was 12:15 and it was decided to take a ten minute break, so we walked outside.
We had been in our seats since 8:45, and, although Brother Randy Scoggins, the host pastor, was scheduled next to preach, the old adage was realized again, “The mind can absorb only what the end can endure.” We were pretty well preached out, and someone mentioned maybe we should head back home. A vote was quickly taken, and in five minutes we were pulling back onto Loop 1604 heading east.
The weather had turned sunny and we had a good trip home, stopping in Seguin at a Chili’s for lunch. I had another good fajita chicken salad. I also ordered a hot chocolate melting cake dessert…only because it was my favorite dessert on the Carnival Magic cruise ship and I wanted to, you know, compare them. The one on the ship was just right for one person, but when this one was brought, there were four spoons in it, and it was enormous! And wonderfully good. Fortunately my brethren saw my plight and volunteered to help me dispose of all the cake.
The rest of the way east on IH-10 was uneventful. We dropped Brother Jerry off first, and then I said goodbye to the two remaining friends about 4:45.
The conference was worth the trip because of the ministry…but it was thoroughly enjoyable because I got to spend it with some of the greatest guys I have ever been privileged to know.