One thing about the South in the summertime, its revival season. Methodists, Baptists and Pentecostals, don’t forget the Pentecostals. If you have never been to a good old Southern revival, you owe it to yourself to go at least once. It has been a tradition as far back as anybody can remember, fried chicken, cornbread and a traveling evangelist “bringing the word.”
Cherokees were southerners long before there was a “South” in the metaphorical and cultural sense, and summertime religious gatherings were a Cherokee tradition long before the arrival of white men in what would later become “The South.”
Thanks to the incessant work of missionaries such as Worcester, Butler, Jones and Bushyhead, and thanks to the inherent adaptability of traditional Cherokee spirituality, by the early 19th century most Cherokees professed Christianity. But the old practices and methods of observance did not actually change that much. The old religious celebrations were called gatherings and were centered around the agricultural calendar and involved family, food, spiritual teaching and celebration. The new celebrations were called revivals, and they were centered around the agricultural calendar and involved family, food, spiritual teaching and celebration.
Among Cherokees it seems, the Baptist persuasion was and is the most prevalent. The credit for that they say, goes largely the Jones boys and to the legendary Rev. Bushyhead. They were all Baptists and Bushyhead was of course Cherokee. The Joneses were white, but they were more involved with the Cherokee culture, learning the language and being involved with the community in a way that other missionaries did not.
Pentecostalism also took root among the Cherokees to a certain extent. Perhaps that should be expected given the propensity for active spirituality found in Pentecostal theology.
My own grandmother was raised Baptist, but later converted to Pentecostalism, received the “Holy Ghost Baptism,” and became a fire-breathing, tongue-speaking Pentecostal. I went to a number of revivals with her as a child. Some of these revivals lasted all night, with the children sleeping on blankets under the pews, or maybe in truck beds in the parking lot. The all-night ones usually involved several evangelists working in shifts. More often the revivals would last several days with preaching taking place more or less on a schedule. Schedules in a Pentecostal setting are only suggestive of course, as everything depends on “how the Spirit moves.”
Depending on the denominational persuasion of the sponsoring organization, a southern revival experience can be varied. Very reserved in some cases, very lively in others. Most of the ones I attended with my father and grandmother were on the very lively side, with the clanking of tambourines, ecstatic prayer and some occasional dancing “in the Spirit,” not to mention the showmanship of the evangelist.
And then there was the music, we must not forget the music. Songs and hymns that fed the Southern gospel music genre, some of the most beautiful poetry ever written, in my opinion. Songs such as “Precious Memories,” “Shall We Gather At The River” and “Over In Gloryland” being some of my favorites. At the time, I didn’t think much about it. Going to a revival or prayer meeting was as much a part of a visit to Grannie’s house as food and drink, no alcohol of course.
If you have never been to a Southern revival, you owe it to yourself to go. At least once. For some people it is a life changing experience. For others not so much.
Grannie has been gone “over the river” for a long time now. I miss her. The revivals we attended together are indeed “Precious Memories” and I look forward to the day I’ll see her again, “Over in Glory Land.”