Thursday, October 15, 2009


Our Family in 1956 - Ten Children and Two More on the Way

When I was a teenage evangelist, traveling and preaching in the Church of God, people seemed to enjoy hearing my childhood stories more than they did my sermons. I traveled during weekends, school breaks, and summer vacations to churches over much of the United States, from South Dakota to South Carolina, and from Washington State to Washington, D.C.

Everywhere I went people would ask me to tell them stories of how I grew up. No doubt their interest was aroused in part because of the size of our family. I was born third in a family of twelve very bright and energetic children.

But that's not the only thing that piqued folk's interest. At that time my father was serving on the Church of God Executive Committee. I think many people liked to feel they were getting the inside scoop, at least from a kid's perspective, into life in Cleveland, Tennessee, a virtual Vatican of Pentecost. Many people referred to Cleveland as the Holy City, and not all of them meant it tongue-in-cheek.

In Cleveland I attended the North Cleveland Church of God, the oldest continuing local Pentecostal church in America - and perhaps the world. I lived either across the street from or within two blocks of the North Cleveland church, the Church of God International Headquarters, the Church of God Publishing House (Pathway Press,) and Lee College (now Lee University), the oldest and largest church-related Pentecostal institution of higher education in America.

However, not all of my experiences were made in Cleveland. Dad traveled extensively preaching at churches, camp-meetings, and other church gatherings throughout the United States and abroad, and he was very good about taking us children with him whenever he could. Then by the time I was 16-years-old, I was traveling and preaching on my own.

Frankly, being the son of a prominent minister didn't make me feel very special, since I often traveled by bus, hitch-hiking, or bumming rides from one meeting to another. My entire preaching wardrobe consisted of one dark green J.C. Penny "$16-Special" suit, a second-hand tweed sports coat, two white shirts with skinny dark ties, and a pair of black wing-tip shoes which had cardboard covering the hole in the bottom to keep my socks from showing through. I never thought of us as being poor. We lived like most people I knew back then.

Very often I remember staying with pastors of the churches where I was preaching and sitting up late into the night as they asked me to tell them "just one more story" of my childhood. Many encouraged me to publish those anecdotes in a book. In 1977 one of America's leading non-denominational Christian publishers also asked me to write a book about my experiences in growing up, after he read an article I wrote for Billy Graham's Decision magazine. I turned down that opportunity because at that time, as a young pastor, I was having a personal struggle with many of the doctrines and practices of the Pentecostal church. I felt I needed to be further removed from it to write with any degree of objectivity.

This book is not a history of our family. Each of us has our own story to tell, and although the experiences may overlap, each of us has his or her own personal viewpoint. Also, with an 18-year span between the oldest and the youngest, each of us grew up in a slightly different household. I have many more memories with my older siblings than the younger ones simply because of our age differences. I started traveling in the ministry the same year that my youngest sister was born.

So this is my story - as I remember it. Many of these recollections are reinforced by conversations with family members, as well as diaries, letters, photos, mementos, and clippings that I have kept over the years. As with all personal memoirs, this one cannot be written with total objectivity. However, I shall make it honest and true to the best of my ability.

As I write these words I am no longer a practicing Pentecostal, albeit still a Christian. As a post-Pentecostal I will always continue to cherish my roots and hold a deep appreciation for the Pentecostal church. I hope this volume will help preserve a small slice of the life I once knew. Also I trust it will serve as a remembrance of what the classical Pentecostal movement was like in the mid 20th century.

The Church of God as I knew it then no longer exists. It is now a larger organization, and many of the old practices and attitudes have changed - some of them for the better. I trust there will be many readers who are reminded of their own heritage, and perhaps others who will get at least a small glimpse and better understanding of what it was like growing up Pentecostal.


In the photo above, circa 1958, there were only ten children in our still growing family. On the couch are, LtoR: couch: Mom holding Bruce, Mark, Dad, Cathy. On the Floor, LtoR: Philip, Sara, Stephen, Sharon, Camilla, Paul, Raymond. Jeffery and Melody were yet to be born.

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