Sweet fellowship at Rutledge Homecoming

Published 4:45 pm Thursday, May 7, 2009

“On the Rock of Ages founded,

What can shake thy sure repose?

With salvation’s walls surrounded,

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Thou mayst smile at all thy foes.”

The small black songbook contains no musical notes, no lines, no treble clefs. It contains only words—words of pure poetry.

“Round each habitation hovering,

See the cloud and fire appear,

For a glory and a covering,

Showing that the Lord is near.”

When Mrs. Clara Turner asked me to help with the singing at Rutledge’s Homecoming services on Sunday morning, April 26, I was hesitant. Hardly anyone knows much about the Lloyd Hymn book, and after they look at it and see no notes in it, it becomes rather confusing.

“The tunes are in my head,” I told the packed little wood-frame church that morning. People were leaning in the windows and standing in the doorways of Rutledge Primitive Baptist Church, something I hadn’t seen happen in many years, if ever.

I grew up attending Rutledge Church as it was one of the many Primitive Baptist churches in our Association. Many people have told me their memories of attending it or other Primitive Baptist churches as a child.

“I remember having to sit a long time before we could finally eat.”

That’s something I’ve heard quite a bit—I know it’s true, but I was accustomed to it. If there is a special association or district meeting, two or three preachers (we call them “elders”) can be heard before the noon hour, only to be followed by two or three more after lunch, if that many preachers were present that day. Sitting on those hardwood benches can be difficult as a child, but you learn to get used to it. I like to think it teaches one patience.

But those who traveled near and far didn’t have to sit that long during the Homecoming services on April 26. Rutledge Mayor Joe Dexter Flynn welcomed everyone; I had not seen Mr. Joe Dexter in quite awhile, so I was really glad to see him. Pastor Flinn Gregory of Bluffton, Ga., spoke to the congregation before Mr. Jack Solomon showed a grainy 1970s film of a foot-washing held at Rutledge Church.

I was sitting with Sister Eleanor Dixon, who joined Sweetwater Primitive Baptist Church in 1957. Even at 94, she’s still sharp as a tack.

“Can you see anybody?” she asked me. I strained hard to see the cloudy faces of days gone by, hoping to catch a glimpse of my grandparents or my mom. But it wasn’t meant to be.

“No, Ma’am; it’s not clear enough,” I told her.

The concept of “foot-washing” is foreign to many people; it’s downright intolerable to others. But to me, kneeling at the feet of my fellow brethren has been the most humbling experience of my life.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

When I led “Amazing Grace” for the congregation, I “lined” the song first, or at least attempted to. Many churches of long ago would line songs—the original purpose in the 1700s and 1800s was to repeat the words to the people since there usually weren’t enough song books to go around.

“There aren’t enough young people coming up to keep these traditions alive,” Ella Shaw of Crestview, Fla., told me. She is the great-granddaughter of Gip and Exia Mahone; we began talking after my Sacred Harp singing lesson that Saturday evening at Rutledge Town Hall and we became fast friends. We now email each other to keep in touch. She can’t wait for next year’s Rutledge Homecoming.

I was really nervous about teaching a Sacred Harp, or “Fa-Sol-La”, lesson; Pastor Bob Brown kept taking pictures of me with a bright flash.

“Now I know how you guys feel when I’m around,” I said, laughing.

To Billy and Clara Turner, Beth Rogers, Rita Brown, Mayor Flynn, and to everyone who worked so hard to put the entire Rutledge Homecoming weekend together, I say thank you for a job well done. I truly believe all the hard work paid off. You had two wonderful days of arts and crafts, music, pictures of days gone by, and a full reunion Sunday at the church that was the icing on the cake. Speaking of cake, I don’t know when I’ve seen that much food spread out for dinner. It was unbelievable. Again, thank you to everyone who participated that weekend. The “little town with the big heart” is already planning for next year’s big Homecoming.

“Your company’s sweet, your union dear,

Your words delightful to mine ear;

Yet when I see that we must part,

You draw like cords around my heart.”