I was thinking just today about Homecoming at Midway Baptist Church when I was a child.
The men of the church would start cooking Saturday afternoon, roasting chickens and pigs and whatever else crossed their minds or their path. They'd cook through the night preparing for "dinner on the ground" (although we ate on makeshift tables) Sunday after the morning service.
The service itself was memorable. We'd skip Sunday School and the evening service (Homecoming and Easter were the only two Sundays of the year we'd cancel--such a strong word that it evoked much emotion at the monthly Conference where the church had to vote whether to do it or not--evening services.
The discussion about CANCELING the evening service centered around whether some lost soul would come to Midway that particular Sunday night, find the church CLOSED, then die on the front steps. Which would put their eternal fate on the consciences of those who voted to CANCEL the evening service.
The church voted to call off the evening service. I don't think anyone was ever found dead on the front steps, but those who voted against canceling the service were secretly hoping they'd be justified.
So Homecoming Sunday came, complete with a guest preacher and a Southern Gospel group whose name ended in "-aires". The Gospelaires, Southernaires, Freedomaires, Frigidaires...you name 'em, they sang at Midway's Homecoming at one time or another.
The most memorable Homecoming Preacher was Brother Franklin Farbreath, who brought with him his Great White Throne Choir, famous for their original compositions "I'll Be Behind You When You Fall (At The Great White Throne Judgment" and "There's No Ice In Hell (Only Hot Water)".
Needless to say, Homecoming was always interesting.
Brother Franklin preached, cried, exhorted, exclaimed, cajoled, implored, shamed, disgraced, and entreated for an hour. Then he said that phrase all good Baptists wait to hear at any service: "In closing." Which meant we were in for at least another thirty minutes.
Did this man not know there was food waiting just outside? In addition to the scorched barbecue pork and brunswick stew, there would be fried chicken, ham, macaroni and cheese, fresh vegetables, pies and cakes galore.
If only he would shut up.
I leaned over to Mama and asked, "Ain't he about done?" Daddy answered, "Son, I think he's just getting warmed up."
Thankfully he was close to the end of his sermon. I knew this the moment he uttered, "Now, while every head is bowed and every eye closed..." Every effective Baptist Preacher used this line at one time or another. But I had a preacher-friend who did just the opposite; he'd say "With every head up and every eye opened..." I guess he figured Jesus was right when he said if you were ashamed of Him here He'd be ashamed of you There, so why take a chance?
Anyway...Brother Franklin asked for those who wanted to be saved to raise their hand, "No one's looking around" (thankfully he didn't know I was), then those who wanted to rededicate their lives to the Lord to raise their hand, then those who wanted prayer to raise their hand...I just wanted somebody to do whatever it took to get us to the food the fastest.
Then I heard The Great White Throne Choir begin to hum the strains of the first of two hundred and forty-seven verses of "Just As I Am" and knew it would be at least two o'clock before we ate. Mama knew this too, and handed me another stick of Juicy Fruit.
I chewed away with my eyes closed, dreaming of cooked pig, fried chicken, and sweet tea.
What I wouldn't give to be back there, one more time.
Sitting between Mama and Daddy. Hearing them sing and pray and say "Amen". Feeling secure as they had their arms around me.
I'd just about give up fried chicken from now on for that. Just about.