Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Pistol Swinging Preacher

This is my LifePoints column which appeared on the front page of the Faith & Values section of The Huntsville Times on July 9, 2010. It was accompanied by this picture in front of present-day Genesis UMC. The eye-catching title read "Pistol Packing Preacher Tames Town Bootleggers."

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled a Chicago ban on handguns as unconstitutional.

While I do not expect this to affect most gun control laws regulating availability, I imagine it will lead to some interesting debates.

I am generally in favor of gun control, and shots ringing close to home this past year have confirmed my beliefs. Yet I can not forget a story from my family history in 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 churches.

One year, he was sent to the community of State Line, on the border between Alabama and Tennessee north of Huntsville. 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 this disruption, so Grandpa drew things to a close and asked everyone to come back the following night. But in the morning, he went to Huntsville to be deputized. When you were deputized in the 1920’s, you were given a badge and two pistols.

On his way back to State Line, the bootleggers had set up a roadblock to keep religion out of their town. But after Grandpa Hamby swung his pistols around, they moved 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.

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 our family tells 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. 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. The fire in his soul was

stronger than the fear in his heart.

Present-day Genesis UMC. To see the article electronically published by The Huntsville Times, click this link.