Holy Roller Country
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Holy Roller Country
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West Virginia

UkuleleThe Rector from Longview Church in West Virginia liked to hold open-air meetings in Holy Roller Country. West Virginia is a state in the Appalachian mountains of the Southern United States. It is significant for its logging and mining industries. Unfortunately, on this occasion, only the clergyman and I were willing to go out and as he insisted on observing the crowd's reaction at first hand, so I had to stand alone. With a beautiful jeweled processional cross in one hand and my ukulele under my arm, I marched to the center of the town. I propped the awkward cross against a telegraph pole and strummed "Onward Christian Soldiers" to the painful accompaniment of my broken voice. New courage seemed to come to me "to do the work of the evangelist." As I spoke, many stopped and stared. Some were curious, others astonished at this strange sight. All the time the Rector in the background was noting their reactions.

Holy Rollers

War West VirginiaI was myself astounded years later in the nearby coal-mining town of War in West Virginia, by what I saw. Young people, filled with holy joy, rolled down the aisle of the church during the service. This was "Holy Roller Country!"

Shotgun Reaction

Fiddle and Guitar PlayersMuch of our time in War we visited door-to-door. We were warned that some mountain folk could be very aggressive. Once as we were approaching a gray-haired old lady sitting out on her porch in her rocking chair, she suddenly lifted a rifle out of her shawl and warned, "Don't come too close, or I'll shoot!" Most mountain folk in War went out of their way to welcome us. When they came to our mission services, those who were familiar with the Old Time Revival Meetings were soon at home. Beginning each night with a Gospel Hymn Concert led by an accordion, mouth organ, guitar, and pipe organ, things soon warmed up. On the first two evenings, the service was very informal, full of lively singing and hand clapping. On Wednesday, we used part of the Prayer Book for the worship. Beginning in own mountain music, they responded from their hearts in the Prayer Book's ancient language.

Open Jail Doors

Texas Oil FieldsCaptain Ray Lewis was to open jail doors for young people in trouble in the Texas oil fields and argued on their behalf in court before the judge. From Nashville, Texas, the Church Army moved me to the expanding oil fields of Eastern Texas. Churning wells were flowering all along the horizon and making new towns like Longview, Marshall, and Gladewater in frontier days fashion. Arriving by train at Longview, I hurried to the boarding house.

Life in A Boom Town

Suitcase Destination StickersStanding alone in the muddy street, it seemed a gloomy prospect in the yellow glow of a solitary street lamp. The warped screen door opened with difficulty and I peered into the darkness of a front room. The moonlight streamed through makeshift curtains, highlighting two beds, one with two men in it the other with one! This was life in a boomtown! I crept in on tiptoe. The boards creaked and a lumpy body turned over, coughing huskily. Undressing quickly, I lowered myself gently into bed beside this fellow I had not even met. As I did so, he suddenly raised himself for a moment, stared at me through slits of eyes and then slumped down again yanking the covers over to his side!

Vagrancy Charge

Lots of MoneyThe next morning, I began to wonder why on earth I was here, for every one was busy except me! Down by the jailhouse, a young fellow was hauled off by the Sheriff. He was being charged with vagrancy because he had no money. I was reminded of another time when I rode from New Jersey to California on a motorcycle and the police arrested me on the same charge. The Lord's words sprang to mind, "I was in prison, and you came to me." In court, I pleaded for the release of these young fellows into my care until their case was heard. I was called "the guy who opened jail doors."

Longview Snake Charmer

Snake CharmerThe Longview snake charmer who was also the Rector's friend meets the Women's Guild in holy-roller country in Virginia. The Rector of Longview Church in Virginia also had quite a reputation as a colorful character in the community. While still at the seminary, he had worked in a traveling circus performing tricks on horseback and in the process befriended the snake charmer. He often welcomed back former artist friends to his home, including an enormously overweight woman, a fire eater, and a particularly attractive Longview snake charmer. One day, this Longview snake charmer friend called into the Rector's house and he decided to take her to the Woman's Guild meeting that evening.

Delicate Ladies

SnakeAfter introducing her briefly, this vivacious blond slipped off her robe and produced two writhing snakes that slithered and wound themselves around her glistening body. This was too much for the delicate ladies! "She may be the Rector's friend and a very good person," they muttered, "but bringing those snakes into our Guild Meeting, well!" Despite this, the Rector still stuck by his circus friends.

"Holy Roller Country"
by Ron Meacock © 2019

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