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Preaching and “spit-boxes:” what worship was like in Baptist churches of antebellum Mississippi

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

    What was it like to worship in a Mississippi Baptist church in the years before the Civil War? A survey of church minutes from various churches around Mississippi tell the story. Sunday services were commonly referred to as “divine worship,” “divine service,” or simply “preaching.” Many Mississippi Baptist churches in this time only had a “preaching” service once a month, as their pastor often had to preach at other churches on the other Sundays during the month, and sometimes they had to adjust their schedule to that of the pastor and his other churches. For instance, in 1855, after calling a new pastor, Hephzibah Church in Clarke County voted to move their monthly worship was “from the second to the fourth Sabbath.” Likewise, in 1853, after Bethesda Church in Hinds County called a new pastor, they changed their monthly meeting for the first Sunday to the third Sunday, and “we grant him the privilege to preach for us one Sabbath each month.”1

   Baptism was generally done in a natural body of water near the church building. For example, Hopewell Church in Lafayette County recorded in their minutes in July 1857, that after their business conference, they “adjourned and repared [sic] to the water to attend to the Ordinance of Baptism and Sister Sarah Couch was Baptized.” Bethesda Church in Hinds County constructed an outdoor baptismal pool at a natural spring not far from their meeting house, and built a “dressing house at the pool” that was 10 by 12 feet. A member also furnished a “suit of clothes” to wear for baptisms.  Not only was baptism only for believers by immersion, but the Landmark movement influenced Baptists to reject “alien immersion” by non-Baptists. In 1853, “Phebe, a servant of Francis Martin” wanted to join Bethesda Church in Hinds County. Phebe had been immersed as a believer by a Methodist minister. The examining committee was “satisfied with her Christian walk” and recommended that her “former baptism” be accepted, but the church rejected the recommendation at their Saturday business meeting. The next day, after the Sunday preaching service, Phebe was accepted as a candidate for baptism and the congregation “repaired to the water and Phebe was baptized.”2

    The Lord’s Supper was usually distributed by deacons. Clear Creek Church in Adams County served the Lord’s Supper every three months. Sarepta Church in Franklin County also observed communion about once every three months except when something unusual caused a postponement. They used real wine during that time. Bethesda Church in Hinds County recorded expenditure of $2.00 for a gallon of wine in 1851. They also considered it a duty for every member to partake of the Lord’s Supper “when not providentially hindered.” Besides the Lord’s Supper, foot washing was also commonly practiced. Sarepta Church’s minutes in August 1846 referred to “the duty of foot-washing” to be observed the next month in worship. Although foot washing was called a “duty,” only baptism and communion were referred to as “ordinances.” 3

   Music was important in Mississippi Baptist church life. The very first entry in the minutes of Sarepta Church in 1810 said they “opened by singing and prayer.” The Pearl River Association mentions closing their meeting “united in singing a hymn.”  Hephzibah Church ordered a “dozen hymn books (Dossey’s Choice) for the use of the church and congregation to be paid for by voluntary contributions.” The hymnal they referred to as “Dossey’s Choice” was The Choice: in two parts, compiled by William Dossey, and published in 1833 by Charles De Silver & Sons in Philadelphia. It was called The Choice: in two parts, because it offered a choice of two types of songs. Part One contained traditional hymns, such as “O, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” and Part Two contained songs based on the Psalms of the Bible, set to rhyme, such as one based on Psalm 46 which began, “God is our refuge in distress, a present help when dangers press…”   Bethesda Church voted to get a new hymnal, and ordered 24 hymnals called “Psalmody,” but also “earnestly recommended that the present practice of lining the hymns be continued.”  This likely means they ordered The Baptist Psalmody: A Selection of Hymns for the Worship of God. This was a 794-page hymnal published in 1850 by the Southern Baptist Publication Society, edited by Southern Baptist leader Basil Manly. The practice of “lining the hymn” meant that a song leader chanted or sang a line of the song a capella, and then the congregation repeated the line, and this continued through the song, line by line.4

   Mississippi Baptists were a praying people. Church minutes frequently made mention of prayer meetings and times of fasting and prayer. Ebenezer Church in Amite County met on a Monday in 1846 to “fast and pray to the Lord that he would send more faithful Laborers into his Harvest, and Call their Pastor.” In 1847, Ebenezer Church met on a Friday “to fast and pray for the peace and prosperity of the churches.” Throughout the 1840s, it was the practice of Hephzibah Church in Clarke County to meet for an hour of prayer before having their Sunday worship service.5

Some practices that were commonly accepted then would be considered unusual today. For example, it was normal for Baptists to chew tobacco while sitting in worship. In fact, in 1850, Bethesda Church in Hinds County voted to put 71 “spit-boxes” (spittoons) in their meeting house, at a cost of 3 cents each.6

SOURCES:

1 Minutes, Hephzibah Baptist Church, Clarke County, Mississippi, January 27, 1855, June 27, 1857; Minutes, Bethesda Baptist Church, Hinds County, Mississippi, October 1846, December 1852, January 1, 1853.

2 Minutes, Hopewell Baptist Church, Lafayette County, Mississippi, July 1857; Minutes, Bethesda Baptist Church, Hinds County, Mississippi, October 1851, April 1853, December 1854.

3 Minutes, Clear Creek Baptist Church, Adams County, Mississippi April 10, 1847, July 26, 1847; Minutes, Sarepta Baptist Church, Franklin County, Mississippi August 1846, June 1847, September 1847, December 1847; Minutes, Bethesda Baptist Church, Hinds County, Mississippi, December 1851; September 15, 1860. Grape juice that did not ferment was not invented until 1869.

4 Minutes, Sarepta Bptist Church, Franklin County, Mississippi, October 1, 1810; Minutes, Pearl River Baptist Association, 1860, 9; Minutes, Hephzibah Baptist Church, Clarke County, Mississippi, August 28, 1851; “The Choice: In Two Parts,” accessed on the Internet on 25 April 2022 at http://hymnary.org/hymnal/C2P41833?page=6; Minutes, Bethesda Church, Hinds County, June 15, 1855; The Baptist Psalmody: A Selection of Hymns for the Worship of God, review on Goodreads, accessed 8 May 2022 on the Internet at https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/50587023-the-baptist-psalmody.

5 Minutes, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Amite County, Mississippi, November 14, 1846, October 16, 1847; Minutes, Hephzibah Baptist Church, Clarke County, Mississippi, June 1847.

6 Minutes, Bethesda Baptist Church, Hinds County, Mississippi, August 1850.

10 church sayings and what they really mean

TalkingInChurch

Copyright by Bob Rogers

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Matthew 27:46, ESV

 

From time to time, the Bible quotes a phrase, and then explains what it really means. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we did the same thing with what people say in church? Here are ten common sayings heard in church, and what they really mean:

 

Original language:

“We really appreciate the sound crew.”

Translation:

“The sound crew messed up again. Let’s stare at them together.”

 

Original language:

“I need to share a private prayer request.”

Translation:

“I’ve got some gossip to tell you.”

 

Original language:

“Can I get a witness?”

Translation:

“Since nobody clapped, will somebody at least say ‘Amen’?”

 

Original language:

“We are naming it and claiming it in Jesus’ name.”

Translation:

“We are using religion to try to get what we want.”

 

Original language:

“If it ain’t the King James Version, it ain’t the Bible.”

Translation:

“Don’t make me think; just tell me what to believe.”

 

Original language:

“Let me pray about that and get back with you.”

Translation:

“I don’t want to do it, but I don’t want to tell you to your face.”

 

Original language:

“When are we going to sing some hymns?”

Translation:

“The music is supposed to be about my wants and desires.”

 

Original language:

“All the preacher ever talks about is money.”

Translation:

“I don’t want the preacher to ever talk about money, because I feel guilty for being stingy.”

 

Original language:

“The Lord laid it on my heart to tell you…”

Translation:

“I want to use God to lay a guilt trip on you.”

 

Original language:

“Finally, brethren…”

Translation:

“This sermon is just getting warmed up.”

Tweeting Alien Hymns

Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers
AlienSinging
Twitter is becoming a hotbed of holy humor these days. One can find some crazy characters with names like “Unappreciated Pastor,” “Church Curmudgeon,” “Back Row Baptist,” “Lloyd Legalist,” and “Bad Chruch Secretary” (deliberately misspelled).
Recently, they all came out of the woodwork when one of the top trends on Twitter was #AlienHymns.
For the Twitterless and clueless, let me explain. Twitter uses hashtags with the pound symbol (#) to allow people who don’t even know each other to join in a discussion of the same topic. This is often popular at conventions and during top TV shows, as people can go to the same hashtag and discuss what is going on while it is happening. Sometimes a hashtag gets repeated so much that millions of people are using it, and it becomes a top trend. That’s what happened to #AlienHymns.
In honor of the U.S. government admitting there really is a secret zone called Area 51, “Back Row Baptist” speculated what would be the name of some hymns if they were sung by space aliens. Here were some submissions that erupted on Twitterland:
“It is Well with My Hans Solo”
“Klingon Me, When You’re Not Strong”
“Swing Low, Sweet Mothership”
“Let’s Break Warp Speed Together”
“I Beam Thee Every Hour”
“Amazing Space”
“I Come to the Garden a Clone”
“Just a Lunar Walk with Thee”
“Zoom By Ya”
Okay, enough already. You get the idea. While this sort of silliness may be entertaining for a season, the fact is that hymns and spiritual songs aren’t designed for space aliens; they’re designed for you and me. As the apostle Paul said, “Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you… singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16, HCSB).
So grab your hymnal or project your PowerPoint, and lift your voice in praise to our God. After all, He is out of this world!