Thursday, July 7, 2005

The Preacher’s Corner
By Rev. Dr. Milton Winter

Traditional Mississippi summer drought

We seem to be having our traditional summer drought. There was a little rain on Sunday afternoon awhile back, but the weatherman says we are behind and there will likely be much more dry weather before the season is done.

When we grew cotton, all the hot, dry weather was useful to the crops. Now, most of us wish we could dispense with the summer excesses of our otherwise temperate Mississippi climate.

It was not always so. I remember a particularly dry summer about 1970 down in the Mississippi Delta.

Things were so bad that one of the farmers in our congregation at Cleveland decided we ought to pray for rain and so introduced the topic at our church’s Wednesday night prayer meeting.

The farmer said he had been reading in the Old Testament how a drought was sent upon the people because of their sins. He said, “I believe it is because of my sins that the rain has not come.” This was a statement of great humility, but his buddies were not so forgiving.

One said to the minister, “Preacher now that we know why the rain has been withheld, why is my field dry when it was the other man’s sin?” Before the minister could sputter an answer, someone else quipped, “Well, leave my field alone. I have all the water I need!”

As the story told above indicates, the members of our congregation who came to prayer meeting were not all pious.

And truth to tell, the prayer meeting could sometimes degenerate almost into a gossip session.

Once as I drove home, I realized that under the guise of prayerful concern the group had carried on a ten-minute discussion about my Sunday school teacher’s prostate. Are there some things of which the Almighty does not need to be informed?

Prayer meeting may be a distant memory for all except Baptists and the Churches of Christ, but Presbyterians and Methodists used to have them, too.

Our minister would always give a meditation on one of the Psalms, and since there were 150 Psalms he had plenty of ground to cover. There was no food as enticement, only a twenty minute lesson and about ten minutes of extemporaneous praying.

Many of our members had remarkable ability in the wording of prayers and it was uplifting to hear them weave current concerns with the promises of scripture (always phrased in the cadences of the King James Version). Children were brought to prayer meeting, and it was impressive to hear our fathers and mothers speak out loud to the Almighty on others’ behalf.

I miss Wednesday prayer meetings. So valued were the church’s prayer meetings in my home town, that Mr. I. A. Kamien Sr., a prominent Jewish merchant posted a sign that all employees who desired to go to their Wednesday prayer meetings would be excused early from their duties, so that they could fulfill this purpose.

Although there are still many occasions in which church members pray with and for one another, there was never anything quite like the Southern prayer meeting.

It was long considered THE index of a congregation’s strength and soundness, and many’s the minister who would say that it was the most satisfying aspect of the church’s week. Certainly the prayer meeting was a practicum for “applied Christianity,” and there the members learned to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

Church folk seem very busy now with all sorts of responsibilities. It is less and less easy to get together, especially without some highly structured program or activity to bring us together. But every time it gets dry in the summer, I think of the old prayer meetings in the Delta.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it hurts to pray for rain.

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