SUNDAY, APRIL 2, 1916
Many life-changing experiences transpired before Mother and I arrived at the white frame Nazarene Church building on the corner of Third Avenue and Robinson Street in Paden City, West Virginia, in the 1930s. The congregation, organized in the 20s, met in store buildings and conducted many tent meeting revivals.
For months his Aunt Sylvia Van Camp prayed at the altar in the old Methodist Church in the Van Camp community for the conversion of my uncle, Robert Long, after she climbed through a window of the church. Her holy life and intercessory prayer lay heavily on his heart. He was miserable, causing even greater concern to his parents and community. Seeing holy lives lived before him made it difficult to walk past their homes as he strayed aimlessly with his friends.
One evening he decided to attend a Nazarene tent meeting in Paden City. The tent stretched across bottom land within the city limits between Robinson and Main Streets. The sides opened to everyone. Between the chairs lined up facing the platform, shavings and sawdust covered the ground. Bare light bulbs illuminated the scene.
The holiness gospel filled the tent and exuded to the surrounding streets. There were no microphones, only happy unamplified voices singing heartily with piano accompaniment. An evangelist preached the blessed gospel message humbly, modestly, and respectfully, his voice extending well beyond the circumference of the tent. Glorious praise was heard on every side.
Appealing and appropriate demonstration from humble people filled with the Spirit saturated the tarpaulin to its very peak.
Special singing accompanied by a guitar and accordion raised the spirits of the modest Paden City pottery workers attending the meeting. They were sincere, not ostentatious. Their lives backed up their worship. Many were Methodists from nearby rural communities; their local churches had been closed with the advent of automobile transportation to the city. Here they found refuge where the gospel was preached in its fullness as it had been decades ago in their country communities.
Like Saul, in his 1916 Sunday School card which he had received as a child, Uncle Robert was miraculously converted that night with his Aunt Sylvia right there praying with him. He abandoned former associates and habits. That night he literally tossed his pack of cigarettes over the hill as he made the three-mile trek from Paden City to the Long home on Bernan Hill in the community of Van Camp. Attending church, praying, and reading his Bible became his passion. He adopted the Nazarene people as his friends and family.
In his many attempts to tell of his conversion, he could never fully explain what happened that summer evening during the Depression Era. No doubt his friends followed him to the tent's entrance where they remained to be entertained. The power of the gospel drew him forward and down the "sawdust trail." Later in his sermons he declared that when he met Christ he became a new creature and everything changed, even the trees and streams along the way home.
Soon he began studying for the ministry. He met Aunt Helen Mayhew Long in a Wheeling, W.Va., revival meeting where she was the song evangelist. When she saw him enter the tent, she knew he was God's choice to be her husband. They entered the ministry of the Church of the Nazarene on Sunday, September 9, 1934, at Shadyside, Ohio, on the Ohio River. Coincidentally, this was the Sunday of my birth.
I lived with my parents and grandparents, the Longs, on the Bernan Hill in the Van Camp community of Pleasant Valley about three miles from Paden City. In a year or so Leona Dell was born to the Robert Longs. A little later the three of them visited my family on that remote hill in Wetzel County. They practiced singing the inspiring religious songs accompanied by Uncle Robert's guitar and Aunt Helen's accordion. As a very young child I was frightened at the exuberant singing. Bernan Hill was normally a quiet place otherwise.
After a few days it was time for Uncle Robert, Aunt Helen, and Leona Dell to depart to another evangelistic appointment. They knelt on the worn linoleum beside dining room chairs in our sparsely furnished home. Uncle Robert prayed like a bishop. In clerical tones he prayed for everyone individually. Eventually his prayer of praise and petition came to me. I was looking at Uncle Robert kneeling on one knee and holding a freshly blocked hat. His sharply pressed suit, recently laundered shirt, matching tie, and brightly shining shoes represented a change of monumental proportions. All was well appointed for a new revival meeting.
As the West Virginia country bungalow filled with a renaissance upon the Longs' arrival so it emptied upon their departure. My family and I watched them descend the steep Bernan hillside to their car parked in the Van Camp community far below. Mother and Grandmother lingered tearfully on the front porch as the new family disappeared into the distance.
SUNDAY, JUNE 6, 1937
The glorious story of the 1916 Sunday School card continued. I received one of my many Sunday School cards on June 6, 1937.
Mom, Grandma, and I knew what Uncle Robert and his family were all about. It wasn't long until we started attending the Nazarene Church in Paden City. Often Mom and I walked the same three miles Uncle Robert had walked after his conversion.
The long walk took us along a gravel and dirt road to Paden City's Third and Robinson Streets. Sometimes tired from our long walk, we were greeted by two of Uncle Robert's and Mother's former one room school teachers, Ada Van Camp and Sam Evans. Both families cherished their Methodist beginnings. They could have been prominent members of that respected and established congregation, but they chose the church which started in store buildings and tents along the Ohio River. They wanted to live holy lives of consecration to their Savior within their community where they were active citizens.
How fortunate Mother and I were to be involved in this new congregation in the pottery town of Paden City, W. Va. As we entered the building I pulled back on Mother's hand reluctant to enter the Sunday School opening exercise. We found our seats after being greeted by loving Van Camp friends then living in Paden City.
I sat swinging my short legs from the pew. After singing two hymns like "Bringing in the Sheaves" and "Heavenly Sunlight," the congregation read the devotional part of scripture responsively from a single page leaflet. We read the Golden Text in unison. One verse of another hymn provided the transition from opening session to Sunday School classes. Mother took me to my basement classroom where Ressie Morris hugged and kissed me at the door. This shy country boy took his seat among rambunctious city kids. The lesson began as Ressie greeted everyone with positive personal comments.
She was an inspirational teacher; a smile accompanied every expression. Ressie emphasized the love of Jesus, the blessedness of the Word, and the happy experience of becoming a Christian. Her favorite expression was, "Wouldn't you like to be a Christian?" She asked many questions requiring one word answers. She also asked open questions associated with the lives and interests of children of that day. This was my first experience at being with a group of children. It was a good time to learn about Jesus. My heart was open to the gospel.
A prayer for each child in the class led to dismissal. We ascended the stairs to find our parents for the closing Sunday School session in the sanctuary.
The purpose of the closing session was to hear the Sunday School secretary's report, which included attendance and offering statistics. Banners were given to the classes with the highest attendance and offering. Cradle roll announcements were made of babies recently born. Hanging from the sanctuary wall near the front, a cradle roll display held the names of each new child.
On Mother's Day the oldest and youngest mothers were honored. On Children's Day, Sunday School scholars gave special recitations to the adults eagerly waiting to listen. If Sunday School members had birthdays during the preceding week, they gave a penny for each year in the birthday box on the altar in front of the sanctuary. "Happy Birthday" was sung to the celebrants.
Encouraging everyone to attend next Sunday, the superintendent dismissed Sunday School. During dismissal the pianist played a familiar hymn and worshippers regrouped for the Sunday morning worship service.
Years passed before I made my own profession of Christ at an altar of prayer after Aunt Sylvia, then somewhat older, entered my pew inviting me to be saved. There amid the dim lights of a home mission church I repented. Christ was and is my personal Savior.
Now husband, father, and grandfather I recall fondly those exciting times of Sunday School 1937 Style. Having worshiped in both chapel and cathedral, my fondest memories return to Paden City Sunday School where my journey with Jesus began.
Jack Wayne Furbee is professor emeritus of education at Olivet Nazarene University.
Holiness Today, 2013