Thursday, June 21, 2012
‘From the Gipsy Tent to the Pulpit’
By CHARLES SMITH
When Gipsy Smith Jr. came to Holly Springs on May 30, 1926, it made local headlines.
He was to conduct a three-week revival in a tent under the auspices of the Holly Springs Ministerial Alliance, which was headed by George L. Bitzer. Even though this was his first and only time in Holly Springs, Gipsy was no stranger to the Delta. He had held previous meetings in Jackson, Hattiesburg, Leland and even Corinth.
Originally born in England, Gipsy was the eldest son of the famous British evangelist, Gipsy Rodney Smith. Gipsy Sr. was born in true gypsy fashion in Epping Forest, England, on March 31, 1860. He was an internationally known evangelist who had preached on five continents and before thousands upon thousands of crowds. Gipsy Sr. never preached in Mississippi.
Even though Gipsy Jr. was born in England, it was through a series of events that brought him and his family to Noank, a small fishing village in Connecticut. It was during his beginning in the ministry that he worked as a soloist for the Presbyterian evangelist, Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman, and by 1911 Gipsy Jr. began holding his own revivals and traveled extensively through the United States and Great Britain. He attended the Crozier Theological Seminary in Chester, New Jersey and graduated in 1914. He was also ordained at that time into the Northern Baptist denomination.
Having been in the ministry for 15 years when Gipsy came to Holly Springs, he would “feel” the spiritual pulse of the people and preach “off the cuff” to the needs of those in the pews. He certainly was not a fly-by-night evangelist or theologian, but was sane, rational and reasonable as he gave the Good News from the pulpit underneath the tent on the grounds of the Holly Springs High School.
Gipsy Jr.’s father once told him, “You have got the most important message in the world – clothe it in the purest language,” and this is what he did.
Gipsy Jr. never announced his sermon topics ahead of time, but always had an element of surprise when he preached. His topics ranged from repentance to the new birth and many heard these messages under the tent. It was on Sunday night, June 26, that the tent was filled to capacity.
It has been said that both father and son, Gipsy Sr. and Jr., had the power of “natural oratory” and could reach the hearts of men, women, boys and girls and win them to salvation.
One of the most powerful sermons that Gipsy Jr. gave when he came to Holly Springs was the sermon titled, “From the Gipsy Tent to the Pulpit.” This message was a discourse of the history of his people, the Gypsies, and the conversion of his father, Gipsy Smith, Sr. As Gipsy Jr., preached this message he would bring out some pertinent facts about the race of the gypsies. Such as, “language of the gypsies is older than that of the United States language; there is as much difference between a gypsy and a tramp as there is between a gentleman and an imitation; it is the only race under the sun that never had an accredited minister sent to them; 85 percent of them have Biblical names but do not have Bibles; gypsies are scrupulously clean; customs have been handed down through the centuries; gypsies never travel on the Sabbath (Sunday to them) nor do they work on that day.”
“One of their worst faults is profanity,” Gipsy Jr. declared, but hastened to add, “But you’re no better off.”
And jokingly he would say, “Gypsies are good finders, occasionally they find an old piece of rope – with a mule on the end.”
Gipsy Smith Jr. left Holly Springs on June 21, the day after the revival ended, but the people of this great city would never be the same since he visited. He really did bring heaven down to them, as many walked down the sawdust trail.
(Editor’s Note: Charles Smith of Fort Smith, Ark., has done numerous research on the life and ministry of the Gipsy Smith family. He requested this article be published in The South Reporter, especially since it happened 86 years ago, to the month. He has had four other articles published about this family in the United States, one in Great Britain and one in London, Ontario, Canada.)
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