Saturday, November 22, 2014

Grandpa: Pistol-packing preacher

Pictured is Rev. Charles P. Hamby, Sr., my grandfather.

This column appeared on the front page of The Arab Tribune on Saturday, November 22, 2014. As I posted this, I realized this appeared on my mother's birthday! She would have been delighted.

A version of this column also appeared on the front page of the Faith & Values section of The Huntsville Times on July 9, 2010. It was accompanied by the picture in front of present-day Genesis UMC, included below.

It seems like issues related to gun control lead to endless debate. I am generally in favor of appropriate restrictions, and shots ringing in schools and public places over the years have confirmed my beliefs.

Yet I can not forget a story from my family history in nearby Madison County that inspires me when I need some courage.

My grandfather was the Rev. C.P. Hamby, a fiery preacher who spread the gospel under the banner of Methodism. In the 1920’s, he was appointed as "conference evangelist” in North Alabama. His assignment was to lead revivals and start new churches.

One year, he was sent to the community of State Line, on the border between Alabama and Tennessee, north of Huntsville. Now, in those days, State Line was a bootlegging town.

There was an old, white clapboard church building there that had been vacant for years, and he was sent to start it back up.

After visiting in the community for a week, he held the opening revival service. With windows open in the heat of summer, a small congregation gathered. But as soon as the service began, the town bootleggers drove their cars up to the windows, revved up their engines, and laid on their horns.

The service could not continue with all this disruption, so Grandpa drew things to a close and asked everyone to come back the following night. Would you believe that the next morning, he went to the county seat of Huntsville to be deputized?

When you were deputized in the 1920’s, you were given three things: a pistol, a badge, and ... another pistol, of course.

On his way back to State Line, the bootleggers had set up a roadblock to keep religion out of their town. They knew where he'd been but apparently not what he'd been up to.

After Grandpa Hamby swung his pistols around, they had no choice but to move out of his way. By the time of the revival that night, half the county had heard about the pistol-swinging preacher!

The little place was packed. There were people outside the windows looking in.

A man of small stature, Grandpa walked slowly into the church as a hush fell on the congregation. One woman by the middle aisle said in an audible whisper, "No short preacher’s going to change this town!"

He ignored it.

As my mother always told it, Grandpa got up to the front, reached into his leather satchel to pull out his Bible, and thumped it down on the pulpit. After a dramatic pause, he got one of his pistols and thumped it down on the right side of the pulpit.

Then he reached down for the other pistol, thumping it down on the left. You could hear a pin drop.

He began, "My name is C.P. Hamby and I’ve been sent by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South to lead a revival and start a new church. And I heard what you said lady!"

He pointed to the woman by the aisle.

"This short preacher can’t change this town, but God certainly can," he continued. "And if you don’t believe me, I have two boys up here, and each of them speaks six times. I’d be glad to have a conversation with you!"

Later that week, thirty bootleggers professed faith in Christ, and the church has been going ever since. It is now called Genesis United Methodist Church.

Times have changed since the 1920’s. I certainly would never mix guns and religion. But when I get discouraged, I remember Grandpa Hamby. He risked his life for a gospel worth dying for.

Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician and writer who pastors Arab First United Methodist Church. His blog, "Musings of a Musical Preacher," can be found at

Steve West in front of present-day Genesis United Methodist Church in State Line, Alabama.