Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Chapter 4: Mama was a Beauty

My mother, originally Edna Louise Minor, grew up in Alabama where her father, William Morris Minor, was an accountant and telegraph operator for the L&N Railroad. Her mother, Cuba Adkins Minor, was a devout and talented Christian woman and the mother of five children: Morris Jr., Edna, Frank, Robert, and Mary.

Edna's earliest memories centered around Warrior, a small community along the railroad tracks a few miles north of Birmingham, where the family lived for a few years. There was a deep ravine behind their Warrior home, and on the other side of it stood a little white frame church, the Warrior Assembly of God. It was one of the earliest Pentecostal congregations to be established in Alabama.

My grandmother, Cuba Minor, who got her first name by being born during the Cuban War, was a deeply spiritual woman with many talents. She was drawn by the joyous music she heard echoing across the hollow behind their house, and began walking the path through the woods to the Warrior Assembly, her five children in tow.

The message Cuba Minor heard at the Assembly of God appealed to her more deeply than did that of the Baptist church to which she was accustomed. She became "filled with the Holy Spirit," with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, and fully embraced the Pentecostal faith. Cuba became the church pianist and took an active roll in leading worship services.

But the message preached at the Assembly of God was a hard one; the church rules were very strict. Young Edna was reluctant to make a commitment to the Lord. The railroad transferred Mr. Minor to El Paso, Texas, at his own request, because he thought the dry climate of the southwest would be good for his asthma. However, after a short tenure in El Paso, the family was homesick and he took them back to Alabama. This time they lived in Decatur, a larger town in North Alabama on the Tennessee River.

There was no Pentecostal church of any kind in Decatur, but my grandmother soon found two other ladies who were also Spirit-filled believers, and the three of them began holding "cottage prayer meetings" in their homes. Because the Minor house was more spacious, it became the primary venue for their services.

These two other ladies had ties to another Pentecostal denomination, the Church of God. Since there was no significant difference in the doctrine and practice of the two churches, Cuba acquiesced to her friends and the three ladies founded what was perhaps the first Pentecostal congregation in northern Alabama, the Decatur Church of God. It soon outgrew the Minor home so the little congregation bought property on Sherman Street and built a new church.

To her mother's dismay, Edna was indifferent to church and Sunday School. When she became a teenager and was no longer required to attend services, she dropped out altogether. Edna was a chaste young woman with high principles, but she was also an uncommonly good dancer, and liked going to the local swimming pool with her friends. She also enjoyed enhancing her natural good looks by wearing a little make-up, had a stylish cut to her hair, and had no qualms about seeing a movie at the local theater.

Dancing, mixed bathing, movies, make-up and cutting your hair were only a few of the many practices that were strictly taboo according to the rigid Holiness standards of both the Church of God and the Assemblies of God. Edna would have no part of it. This indifference toward religion troubled her mother, but being as wise as she was godly, Cuba relaxed the reins of parental control while still praying privately for her strong-willed daughter.

When Edna was 20, a young single evangelist, James L. Slay, came to conduct a revival meeting at the Decatur Church of God. In the evangelist's party was also the LeFevre Trio from Atlanta, Georgia: Eva Mae, Alphus and Uriah. The four of them all stayed in the Minor home for the duration of the revival. Edna had no way of knowing that James L. Slay would one day become a prominent church leader, and “The LeFevres” would gain popularity as one of the pre-eminent Gospel singing groups in America.

At the time, Edna had graduated from Decatur Central High School and was working at a public job in town, though still living at home. She enjoyed the company of the evangelistic team, all of them near her own age, but she never went to church to hear them preach and sing.

Many years later, James Slay would recall how Edna sauntered past the evangelistic team on her way to the swimming pool, bathing suit slung over her shoulder, as they were leaving for church. Even though Edna did not spend a lot of time with the evangelists, they did become casual friends. One day they all enjoyed a picnic together, and no doubt the evangelists made a far greater impression on Edna that any of them realized.

Later that same summer, Edna decided of her own accord to attend a Sunday service at the Decatur church. At the close of his message, the pastor invited all who wished to pray to come to the altar. She went forward and knelt, asking Jesus to forgive her sins and come into her heart. It was August 20, 1939, a day that she celebrated for the rest of her life as her spiritual birthday. Mom has told me that the experience was not an emotional one for her, but simply a decision she made to become a Christian from that point forward. It was a firm commitment from which she never wavered.

Edna's dad was not as involved in church as was her mother, but he was a good man and a devoted father who wanted the best for his children. He encouraged Edna to go back to school to make a better future for herself. The fall term was starting soon at the Church of God Bible Training School, commonly called BTS, located in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in Sevierville, Tennessee.

At that time, BTS was just a Bible School, not a degree granting institution. (As the school grew over the years it evolved into what is now Lee University, in Cleveland, Tennessee.) With financial help from her dad, and carrying his own personal Bible which he loaned her to use while at school, Edna took the train to Knoxville. There she caught a bus to Sevierville, and never looked back. Among her classmates were all four members of the evangelistic team who had made such a positive impression on her: James L. Slay and Eva Mae, Alphus, and Uriah LeFevre.

No sooner did Edna arrive on the BTS campus than she was spied by a young man, a new student from Atlanta, Charles W. Conn. Charles was smitten immediately. He says that he fell in love with this tall, statuesque brunette from Alabama the moment he first laid eyes on her. So enraptured was he by the sight of Edna standing there on a staircase, a stream of light from a high window casting a halo over her, that he later wrote a poem to celebrate the moment. Dad is a good poet, but of all his works this is the one I have always enjoyed most. I've heard him quote it a hundred times:


I thought she was an angel
When first my eyes espied her,
Standing there on the staircase
With charm and grace beside her
Or else a queen from some old, forgotten story;
But no! She moved; she smiled -- she smiled at me,
Oh, glory!

I lost my heart that moment
To whatever she might be:
Angel, goddess, queen or maid,
She bound my heart eternally.
Ah! This bondage brought no pain or sad lament,
But love, sweet love, in which my heart has found
Glad content.

Naught had I to give this maid,
No fame and no possession;
Yet to win her heart became
My dream and my obsession.
I gave my love, my dreams, my hopes -- I gave my life;
And with these gifts I made her mine -- my best friend
And my wife.

1 comment:

  1. This is soooooo precious.... wonderful work dear Stephen... thank you for this touching tribute to your mom... it is beautiful!!! Angela of TX