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Full text of "Reaching for my halo : the life and times of a United Methodist minister"

ReacriiMG 

FOR tAY 

HALO 




R.eV. ToM SWoTFoRd I 

I 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2013 




http://archive.org/details/reachingfornnyhalOOswof 



Reaching 
For My 

Halo 



The Life and Times 
of a 

United Methodist Minister 



Thomas Hoyle Swofford 



The author and his wife 



11 



Dedication 



To my wife Ida, who was there. 



I 



111 



Reaching For My Halo 

His training on the church construction came in handy when 
he and Ida built their summer home in the mountains. Tom 
called this R &: R and they cherish the memories of the visits of 
their grandchildren at the "mountain home". 

Reaching for My Halo captures the humor (whether it be bitter 
or sweet) that the listeners heard on those summer nights — truly 
some wonderful stories lived by a wonderful couple. 

Helyn G. Lowery 



VI 



Preface 



o VER the years, I have had the rare opportunity to listen to 
this "preacher boy" spin his yarns and tell his tales of his many 
years in the ministry. 

Whether sitting in his yard with neighbors on a hot sultry 
summer night, or a neighborhood picnic in the back yard, or his 
house or mine, he could always entertain the old and amuse the 
young with his experiences. 

Ida and Tom are dear to all of us on Owens Drive because 
through the years they have been our landlord, counseled us 
through problems, baptized and married our children, and 
remained our friend and "good" neighbor. 

Tom has been reluctant to write a book because, as he said, 
"that would be professional suicide". It wasn't until after the 
"man of cloth", as neighbor Zeb affectionately calls him, stored 
his robe (that means he took it out of the car for the first time in 60 
years and placed it in the closet) did he consent to record some 
selected memoirs for other "preacher boys" and avid readers to 
enjoy. 

Tom should have majored in architecture instead of theology, 
because it seems the good Methodist Bishop (whoever he was) 
always found "the call" for Tom where a new church needed to be 
erected. Instead of a "Bible toting" preacher, Tom was a 
"hammer and nail toter". Could be a reason for early 
baldness — trying to please all the "sisters" in the church with just 
the right colors and fixtures. 



Acknowledgment 



I AM deeply indebted to the members of the congregations I 
have served for their support and encouragement. Their 
strength where I was weak, have combined to make it possible for 
these lines to be written. 

To Rhonda Davis and Paula Walkers of Isothermal Communi- 
ty College who transcribed these chapters, thanks and apprecia- 
tion for long hours of labor. The author has never met them but 
has been aware of the important role they have played in the 
preparation of this manuscript. The coordinator of this work was 
Mrs. Helyn Lowery. Her persistence and direction caused me to 
begin this manuscript in the first place. My beloved granddaugh- 
ter, Avon Swofford did days of editing and putting these chapters 
together. Then to my wife, Ida, who has walked with me 62 years 
and shared these experiences with me, I bow in gratitude. 



vn 



Chapter 
1 



Sit down and relax and I'll tell you how some of this 
happened. 

I have always had an aversion for anyone who thought that 
people would be interested in what had been done or who did it. I 
regarded an autobiography as 98% ego and 2% pride in 
achievement. I still have that opinion. Many people, well, perhaps 
two, have asked me to set down on paper the joy and the laughter 
of 62 years as a Methodist minister. I approach this task with a 
keen sense of my inadequate qualifications. I an not an author, 
although I have written millions of sermons, most of which 
mercifully have not been preached, and will never be inflicted on 
a congregation. You do not have to continue; you may lay this 
aside without damaging your intellectual growth, or taking 
anything away from society's progress. In short, this is done for 
fun. 

There is nothing in the background that would indicate that 
one day I would be sitting by a window in a retirement home 
writing and reliving my experiences. Methodist preachers were 
no novelty in my family. For 180 years the record shows that there 
was a Swofford preaching in the Methodist churches in the area 
of western North Carolina, and from about age 141 felt that God 



1 



Reaching For My Halo 

wanted me to be a preacher. I saw no way to go to college but one 
night walking home from a job in a cotton gin, I said to myself, as 
well as a prayer to God, that if I could go to school and prepare, I 
would be a minister. The emphasis on education was a reaction to 
some ignorant preachers who often came through our communi- 
ty with no gospel except their own biased opinion and no 
command of the English language. As far as I'm concerned, they 
succeeded in making fools of themselves and this I would not do. 
But there seemed to be no possible way for me to get through 
high school, much less go to college. There was no high school 
nearby and I couldn't afford to go to boarding school. Soon they 
added the eighth and ninth grade to our two-room school and I 
eagerly entered the eighth grade. When I finished the eighth 
grade, my brother, the Rev. A. C. Swofford, invited me to come 
live with him. He had recently moved to Mocksville, North 
Carolina and wrote that there was a good high school there that I 
could attend. So I entered my sophomore year of high school at 
Mocksville. This was a great life for me, not only was it an 
opportunity for future school, but it gave me a warm family 
surrounding for which I have always been grateful. My brother's 
congregation was perhaps the leading congregation of that small 
county seat town and, I came in contact with an element of society 
that I had not encountered before Hollis community in the 
1920's. 

I confess that during the seven months that I spent in 
Mocksville, I learned more of the English language than in prior 
years. I spoke a version of the English language that was 
prevalent in Rutherford County at that time. It was difficult to 
adjust to speaking correct English. I tried very hard and came 
through with few embarrassing moments. About this time I 
revealed for the first time to my family my desire to be a minister. 
I had hesitated because I was afraid there would be no 
opportunity for education. I do not want this to appear that I was 
a poor, deprived, son of the soil, struggling to reach the light. 
Poor, I was; struggle, I did, but deprived — never! For surround- 
ing me was a caring, loving family from which I drew strength 
and encouragement as well as high ideals and commitment to 
service. 

In the summer if 1923 I found a job painting houses at Cliffside 
and lived with my brother, Charles. He asked me to stay on and 



2 



Reaching For My Halo 

go to high school there closer to home. I could work at painting 
on Saturday, played the piano for the silent movie on Friday 
nights and Saturday afternoon and evenings. In this way I 
managed my personal finances. The first week of school the 
principal of the school called me in to the office and informed me 
that if I continued the grade level it would be possible to graduate 
in one year. So with two English courses and two Latin courses, 
and the other required courses I dug in and graduated in 1924. 

Soon after going to Cliffside in the summer of 1923 I met Ida 
McCurry at the youth Group of the Methodist Church. We 
became interested in each other and spent much time together. 
She was one of the six beautiful daughters of Mr. and Mrs. U.S. 
McCurry. She also had two brothers - five of the girls names 
began with the letter I. They were; Ila, Ima, Ida, Ina, Iris and the 
younger sister, Melba. We were soon planning our future 
together. Had we been more mature we might have waited for 
marriage. 

On Saturday February 9, 1924 we drove with another couple to 
Shelby and were married in the Central Methodist Church by the 
Rev. A. L. Stanford. It was a cold, rainy day. Ida had a reaction to 
a smallpox vaccination and had a temperature of 103°. The 
Register of Deeds refused to accept our health certificates 
because they were from another county. I found a doctor who 
was in his office on Saturday afternoon and got the health 
certificates at a high price. I later had to borrow $3.50 from Ida to 
pay the minister. We also had to borrow a ring from my 
sister-in-law, Estridge, but we finally got married about 4:30 p.m. 
Our families knew of our wedding, but we told no one else until 
just before high school graduation. I invited my class of seniors to 
a theater party as my guest and the announcement of our 
wedding was flashed on the movie screen at intermission. 

We spent the summer working and preparing for college. We 
canned vegetables, peaches, blackberries, scrounged in barns for 
cast off furniture and one August day we put all of our things on a 
two-horse wagon and drove the forty miles to Rutherford 
College. This was a Junior College operated by the Methodist 
church located in Burke County. We moved into two rooms of 
what had been an empty house. This was located on the campus. 
It was rent-free and the President of the College said we could do 
anything we wanted to do to fix up the house to make it livable. 



3 



Reaching For My Halo 

The other two rooms of the house were soon occupied by another 
couple. They were older than we were and he was trying to 
finance his education by selling a home-made pain killer. He 
would cook his ingredients on his cookstove on Thursday, bottle 
it Friday, and go wherever he could find a crowd on Saturday and 
sell it. His was the only authentic medicine show I ever saw and his 
pain killer financed his college work and he became a prominent 
minister in the North Carolina conference. 

We had been given permission to upgrade this old house and 
the only way that it could have been upgraded was to set it afire. 
This was done when we moved out to a summer campground 
nearby. This too was rent-free if I would seal the two-room house. 
My brother bought the lumber and Ida and I did the work and 
had a nice comfortable home for almost two years. There were at 
this campground six couples. All ministerial students, they lived 
in summer houses on the grounds. Most of us were hard-pressed 
financially to go to school. We enjoyed each other and made 
lasting friendships. All have died except one. But the fun and 
fellowship we knew was a lasting memory. The only one of the six 
that had money and the only one of the six that was unpopular 
was called Catfish, because his mouth was bigger than his brain. 
Another student had two girls, age 3 and 5, and was very dramatic 
in his talk and preaching. He would go preach on the streets of 
Hickory or Lenoir, or wherever he could find a listener. He asked 
me to go to Henry River to hear him preach one Sunday night. I 
sat on the back seat. He was very dramatic when he described his 
deathbed. He was grey and stooped and called his little girls to his 
bedside and laid his hands on their head and gave them some 
instructions. I didn't know what his instructions were because I 
got to snickering at the idea that those two little girls would never 
grow up. Then the climax of his sermon he described Noah 
loading up the ark with two of everything. The small animals 
went in very well, he had a little trouble getting the giraffe and the 
elephant in the door and complained that he should have made 
the door wider and higher. Then the fish entered and when he 
marched two catfish up the gangplank to keep them from 
drowning, I hid behind the seat and suffered. I was shaking with 
laughter when he suddenly stopped and called on me to pray. I 
prayed, but the Lord don't know what I said, because I think the 
Lord was laughing at the same thing I was. 



4 



Reaching For My Halo 

Those were fruitful years for both of us. Schoolwork was hard, 
but enjoyable. My freshman year I began the study of Greek 
under a Waldensian who was fluent in several languages. I 
continued my Latin studies for the fifth year. The classes were 
small and we got to know personally the faculty. I was an eager 
student. Ida took a lighter load of studies but enough to keep us 
busy. Financially we were having a difficult time. I worked at 
whatever jobs I could find farm work, brick making, house 
painting, selling dry goods at a Belks in Hickory were a few of the 
jobs I recall. A few days before commencement both Ida and I 
were in a competitive speakers contest. She did a "reading" and I 
delivered an original oration on patriotism. We both won gold 
medals. I suppose this was the high point of those two years. Some 
honors came our way and at the end we were confident that we 
would some way or another get on to Duke which was our goal. 
After school was over, we went to Shelby. I got a job helping paint 
the new cotton mill called the Ora and on Saturday I worked at a 
grocery store that was operated by my brother, Charles. Two 
weeks later, I received a letter telling me that I had been awarded 
a $200 scholarship to Duke for outstanding grades at Rutherford 
College. They also directed me to pick up the check from the 
Chairman of the Trustees in Hickory. I lost no time in getting to 
Hickory. That was the most money I had ever had at one time. 

August, 1926 found us at 915 Buchanan Blvd. in Durham. We 
rented a large upstairs room from the Tilley family. We set up 
housekeeping prepared for the opening of school at Duke. 
Across the hall were two students whom we knew and we 
arranged for them to take their meals with us. Ida's role was to 
cook the food, I did the buying of the groceries, the boys washed 
the dishes and we split the cost of the groceries three ways. I still 
have the old record and the cost for the four of us. It averaged 
about $8.50 per month. This gave us a financial break and 
worked out well for the four of us for about a year. I got a paper 
route with the Durham Morning Herald. I got up at 3 o'clock in 
the morning, went downtown and walked five miles on this paper 
route. I got home about 5 o'clock and studied until 8 when the 
classes began. I made about eleven or twelve dollars a week. I 
have been an early riser ever since. I did janitor work for a small 
church and felt that I was in the money then! 

The academic work at Duke was fairly easy for me. I had five 



5 



Reaching For My Halo 

years of Latin studies behind me and two years of Greek, so I 
dropped Latin and continued the Greek New Testament. I had 
been a lab instructor at Rutherford College in Chemistry and 
Physics and it was natural that I was interested in the Science at 
Duke. I took Botany, Zoology and Chemistry. In my senior year I 
was offered a fellowship to study for my Ph.D. and a place on the 
Duke faculty upon graduation. This was a tempting offer as Duke 
was expanding rapidly at that time, but the call of the pastorate of 
the church dominated. My senior year was a thrilling year for us. 
Ida was pregnant with Betty and we moved to 907 Buchanan 
V Blvd. where we had a ground floor apartment. 

I changed jobs, sold shoes afternoons and Saturdays in a large 
downtown department store. 

I left Ida in Durham in October, 1927, and with a $20 bill and a 
little change in my pocket, I hitchhiked to Asheville to join the 
Western North Carolina Conference of the Methodist Church. I 
stopped off in Hollis to spend two days to visit my parents and 
then went on to Asheville. The meals were furnished by the 
conference and at night I stayed with Ila and Martin Bridges who 
lived in Asheville. When I left Conference it was with a Methodist 
pastor at Chapel Hill. We got to Chapel Hill at midnight and I 
caught the last bus running for Durham. I got home with the $20 
bill intact. I had been gone eight days and spent five cents for a 
trolly fare and twenty cents for a bus ride from Chapel Hill. 

January 11, 1928 Betty was born in the Watts hospital. I waited 
and walked the halls of the hospital all day, I was teased by the 
nurses for being so nervous, and about 5:20 in the afternoon a 
nurse brought Betty out to me and put her in my arms and said, 
"Now what are you going to do with a baby?" I didn't know, and if 
there had not been a bench there in the hall, both of us would 
have ended up on the floor. There is no way I can express the joy 
that came to me as I held that child; I cried. The nurses gathered 
around me and laughed at me. Spectators were wondering what 
was going on in that cluster in the hall. I felt the weight of the 
world on my shoulders. Only Ida could share it with me. Durham 
was a long way from home and we were homesick and now this 
great thing had come into our lives. Although it was a cold night 
and the streetcar ran right by our door, I walked the two miles 
home to be ^lone with my thoughts. 

About the time Betty was born, the pastor of Lenoir circuit died 



6 



Reaching For My Halo 

and I was offered the job. The four months that I could not serve 
were to be filled by a local man. I spent a couple of week-ends 
visiting Lenoir and generally looking over the place. June came 
and with it graduation and now we were ready to do what I had 
wanted to do and tried to prepare myself to do. I chose to take my 
theological work through Emory University in supervised 
studies, seminars, and summer sessions. This was a provision that 
the church had provided for us. There was no degree offered but 
it was a four year's study, so it was on Ida's twenty-fifth birthday 
we started for Lenoir and moved into the parsonage at Littejohn 
Church on June 7, 1928. 
c 



7 



Chapter 

2 



A HE FIRST parsonage was located at Littlejohn's Church 
about seven miles west of Lenoir. We arrived at the parsonage at 
11 a.m. on June 7, and found the house spotlessly clean and a 
warm meal on the table and groceries on the shelves. By present 
standards, the parsonage lacked many things. There was no 
telephone. There was no electric power, no modern plumbing. A 
well was at the kitchen door. A path led to the necessary house at 
the back of the lot. The congregation had prepared a vegetable 
garden that on that June day was glowing with promise. The only 
guest room we had had a shuck mattress, the first I had ever seen. 
Our nearest neighbor was one-quarter of a mile away. There was 
a salary check from the newly formed Duke foundation waiting 
for me for $125.00. With this I bought a Ford Coupe of many 
years of service, and also rotten tires. This literally was all the 
money we had and yet Ida and I felt a joy and confidence that we 
were at long last ready to be a productive part of society. We had 
our five months old Betty, and a home and for the first time, 
transportation, and I was pastor of five churches in Caldwell 
County. 

My Sunday schedule was usually this: Preaching at 11:00 at one 
church, getting a bite to eat and preaching again at 3:00 in the 



8 



Reaching For My Halo 

afternoon, often going without supper until after the third 
service in the evening. The same sermon was used at all three 
churches. I had no supply of sermons I could use. The second 
Sunday as a pastor is unforgettable. I preached in the South 
Lenoir section and was invited by a man to have dinner. His wife 
went on ahead to prepare dinner and he rode with us to show us 
where he lived. We finally arrived at his house, the surroundings 
were deplorable and when we got inside the house it was so dirty 
Ida was afraid to lay Betty on their bed. Apparently the lady of 
the house was a bit upset at her husband, perhaps for inviting us, 
I don't know, but after a long wait, the lady called from the 
kitchen, "Preacher, come and get it!" The four of us filed in the 
dining room that was so small we all had to sit down at the same 
time. When we were seated, the husband asked me to say the 
blessing, I closed my eyes and bowed my head just as the wife 
shoved a platter of potato salad under my face, so that I buried 
my face in the potatoes, I dodged back to see what was going on 
and the husband said to his wife, "Shut your damn mouth until 
the Preacher asks the blessing." I made the second attempt and 
she blurted out, "Good Lord, he'll learn that we're not used to no 
such as that." Eventually I said a blessing and got the potato salad 
out of my eyes and nose. That meal was the first, and the worst 
meal I've eaten with a parishioner. 

The husband had promised to go with me to show me where 
my members lived so the next week I drove to their house to pick 
him up. They operated a little store about 8x10 that had some 
staple food supplies on the shelves, a community convenience 
store. Just before I got to the store, the husband ran out of the 
building followed by a lot of flying sardines and pork and bean 
cans that landed in the street. The wife quit throwing things when 
she saw me and the husband came back after I had entered the 
store. What had precipitated the explosion, she had asked him to 
do something and he told her he didn't have time, that he was 
called to a fire, that Tar River had caught fire and burned in two 
and he had to help put out the blaze. She rushed to the telephone 
to call the neighbor to tell them of the Tar River disaster and then 
she realized that rivers don't burn. I thought it was hilariously 
funny, but this boy preacher tried to counsel with this 
middle-aged couple on how to live together in peace. I helped 
them gather the cans from the street and the gutter and peace was 



9 



Reaching For My Halo 

restored at least until I left. I could fill this chapter of funny 
episodes of this couple, but I must add that they reared three of 
the finest children of that town who later made outstanding 
citizens. 

This was my second week as a pastor and the shots came thick 
and fast. About Thursday morning I was working in the 
vegetable garden that members of my congregation had planted 
for us when a man came and said they wanted me in about 20 
minutes at the Littlejohns Church to conduct a funeral. I had 
never read the burial service. I suppose I had thought maybe 
sometime I would conduct a funeral, but I had paid absolutely no 
attention to it. I dropped my gardening, ran to shave and dress. I 
told Ida I had to go to the church for a funeral. While I was 
shaving someone came to the door and told Ida I was wanted at 
the church for a funeral in about 20 minutes. She told them I 
knew about it and was getting ready for it. 

I put on my suit, the only one I had was a heavy wool suit, 
grabbed the Methodist Discipline and ran through the woods to 
Littlejohns Church. I arrived just as the hearse was backing up to 
the door of the church. I did not know a soul of the large crowd or 
the family. I found a woman who could play two songs "Nearer 
My God to Thee" and "What a Friend we Have in Jesus". The 
crowd packed the church. I sweated profusely, sang these two 
songs, read the ritual for the first time and moved out to the 
cemetery. While we were waiting for the grave to be filled as was 
the custom, I saw another funeral procession winding its way 
toward the church and it dawned on me that this was the second 
funeral that had been called for. Neither the knowledge of the 
Greek New Testament, nor the study of Christian Theology had 
told me what to do with two funerals in a strange church when I 
did not know either person being buried. The congestion of the 
parking space with the two funeral outfits there, each not 
knowing the other, gave me time to pronounce the benediction 
for the first funeral and run to the church in time to lead the 
second procession into the building. I asked the undertaker what 
he had in that box and he told me an old woman and he had 
forgotten her name. I found the same lady who knew the two 
songs, we sang them. I read the same ritual, and finished with the 
funeral. 

After the crowd got the traffic straightened out and left, I 



10 



Reaching For My Halo 

started back to the house, my clothes were soaked with 
perspiration and I felt weak so I sat down on a log in the woods 
and told the Lord that I didn't mind learning, but I was a slow 
learner and not to throw the whole book at me in a couple of 
weeks. As far as I know no one of those in the crowd knew it was 
my first funeral, and several expressed appreciation for the 
shortness of the service. 

The summer of 1928 was a summer filled with exciting events 
for both Ida and 1. 1 was pastor of five churches in West Caldwell. 
The presidential campaign between Al Smith and Herbert 
Hoover added excitement. We had a responsive people who 
accepted us and endured my shortcoming. They went beyond the 
call of duty in making us feel that they were glad we had come to 
be their pastor. They paid me money for what I would have 
gladly done for free, discretion kept them from knowing about 
this. The salary was set at $1300.00 for the year, I actually 
received $1613.00. Our biggest expense was the operation of the 
Ford we called the "Puddlejumper." When it wouldn't run, which 
was often, we called it other names unlawful to utter. 

One of my congregations was Olivet Church in Mulberry 
Creek section. I had only a few members. They had service at 
three on Sunday afternoon, two times each month. The last week 
of July each year was set aside for their revival services. Afraid, 
but determined, I planned to do the preaching for the six nights. 
In the morning I wrote the sermon to be preached that night. 
The church was packed every service. Five people made a 
profession of their faith. I was pleased and began to feel that I 
had established my credentials. One of the converts was a young 
man about eighteen years of age. He was asked why he wanted to 
join the Methodist church since his family was of another 
denomination. He said well; "I joined the Adventist church, later 
I joined the Baptist, and still later I joined the Lutheran church, 
and now I am joining the Methodist and if all of you can't get me 
to heaven my Goose is cooked." For the next fifty years he was a 
strong leader of Methodism in that section, often representing 
the Charge at the annual conference. He was one of the most 
unpromising members I ever received into the church which 
demonstrates that God can use stumbling efforts of an immature 
preacher to accomplish his work. 



11 



Reaching For My Halo 

The fall came and I went to Charlotte to Conference and 
personally made my report. I was proud of it. I returned for the 
second year to the Lenoir circuit. This was one of the hardest 
years of my ministry. A building project at South Lenoir to care 
for the growing Sunday School was underway. I began working 
with Boy Scouts, I established a regular service at an old 
abandoned church near Whitnel. This grew and a church was 
organized and built that year. This required time and effort. But 
at the end of the year Collier's was a church of 85 members with a 
new church free of debt. During this year the "Puddlejumper" lay 
down one day and died and we got a new four door Ford Model A 
car. It cost $721.00. To add to the hardships, Ida was sick almost 
all winter with one case of flu chasing the other. Help was hard to 
get, both medical and domestic, so I asked my superintendent 
early in the Spring for a new pastorate. 

I suppose I appeared pretty cocky to some industrialist who 
wished to buy enough of the South Lenoir Church property to 
build a water tank for fire protection. They met with me out on 
the ground and patronized me so much that I was disgusted with 
them. They picked out what land they wanted and asked me the 
price. I told them that it was $500.00. "Hell," one of them said, "I 
can buy land in New York City for that price." I said, "Well, in that 
case build your water tank in New York" and I walked off. I drove 
out home and the next morning the men came out to see me and 
were a little more considerate of me, but during the night, strange 
to say, the price of that property went up to $750.00 and I got it. 

One incident that gave me humor and anxiety. I had four 
persons who wanted to be baptized by immersion. I had never 
done this, but had seen it done at the churches near HoUis. The 
service was planned for Saturday afternoon in the baptism part of 
the Yadkin River. One lady was short, but very large and fearful 
of water. The river was swift and I realized that if she got loose 
that she would float off to the nearest dam. So I baptized her 
husband first and placed him on the other side of his wife to help 
if I needed him. I led her out into the water up to her chin and 
other than panic for fear of water we had no trouble. A Baptist 
minister told me, "It was not effective since I had not been 
immersed, none of us would go to heaven." I told him that I was 
willing to risk it, and I hoped no one would object. I really was 
happy when it was all over. 



12 



Reaching For My Halo 



1928 conference was at High Point, North Carolina. Ida and 
Betty went with me and we stayed with friends we knew from 
Duke. 

We had received more than a hundred new members, added a 
new church, added some Sunday School rooms in South Lenoir 
church, made minor repairs to the parsonage. I made my report 
and Sunday was ordained deacon in the Methodist ministry. 
When the appointments were made, I was assigned to the Smyre 
Methodist Church a place of which I had never heard. 
Information from my brother that it was a model, mill village on 
the outskirts of Gastonia with only one church to serve, and it was 
small in membership. Salary was to be $2,000.00 so we returned 
to prepare for moving. This was no easy move. Ida and I learned 
the depths of sorrow on breaking ties that had been happy and 
profitable. The church was thriving and we had been too busy to 
see how deeply the folk loved us. We learned the hard way that it 
was not good to break a pastor relation for a trivial reason. 



13 



Chapter 

3 



w HEN we moved into Gastonia in November, we had an 
almost new brick home with modern equipment located beside 
the church. I had swapped 600 members for 104, all of them were 
within 5 minutes walking distance, travel was at a minimum. 
Instead of all West Caldwell county I had a few blocks to cover my 
parish. Ours was the only church in the village and I was literally 
the pastor of the village rather than of the church members. I 
became a Scoutmaster and looking back on my four years work 
there I perhaps did nore good with those boys than I did 
elsewhere. Several made outstanding citizens in later life. One 
became a congressman, one a university professor and others 
made outstanding citizens. 

The people were only working two days per week and life was 
hard for them. There were only two automobiles in the village. 
There was a taxi and mine. I spent lots of time and money taking 
people to doctors and families to funerals of their kins folk. One 
day a husband asked me to go to Charlotte Hospital for his wife. 
We went to the Presbyterian hospital and as the nurse rolled the 
patient out to the car the doctor told me she would have a baby 
before the day was over. I hurried off and was speeding 80 miles 
per hour on the Wilkinson Boulevard when I saw a motorcycle 



14 



Reaching For My Halo 

cop down ahead of me. He prompdy stopped me and I told him 
that if he didn't want to deliver a baby in the back seat of the car 
that he had better let me go. He asked me where I was going and I 
told him. He was no more anxious than I was for the job. He set 
the siren going through Belmont and Lowell at 60 miles per hour 
and we arrived an hour before the baby was born. 

We managed to save a few hundred dollars during the 1930s, 
1931 and 32 but managed to lose it all in the bank closings of 
1933. I had brought our first electric refrigerator three days 
before the banks closed and I salvaged $334.00 of the money we 
had in the bank. When the banks were liquidated I got a check for 
$1 1.32. I had $320.00 in the building and loan. Years later I got 
$60.00 of that back. We considered ourselves fortunate 
compared to many we knew. We had a job, the salary was paid on 
schedule and it was adequate. During this depression the prices 
were so low I could buy a suit of clothes for $20.00, gasoline was 
selling for nine and ten cents per gallon, real butter was nineteen 
cents a pound, eggs were fifteen cents a dozen, three pounds of 
stew beef could be bought for twenty-five cents, coffee was twelve 
cents a pound, milk was thirty-two cents a gallon — delivered to 
the home. Speaking of costs, early spring of 1933 we decided to 
make a trip to Washington, I have kept a record of the trip and 
the costs. Geneva, my sister and our family of four visited some of 
the Civil War Battlefields in Virginia and stopped at Washington 
Hotel located near the Washington Monument for five days. We 
went on to Baltimore and to Gettysburg and back through the 
Shennandoah Valley to our home. We were gone eight days, 
spent a total of $39.40. We did not cut corners, motel rooms could 
cost $1.00 or at the most $1.25 per night. 

On this trip to Washington, Ida and I left the children with my 
sister Geneva one morning to go to the White House. We drove 
up to the front of the house, parked and went in the front 
entrance. We were welcomed by the doorkeeper and escorted to 
the elevator and to the second floor, and only when we got to the 
Oval Office did they discover that we were tourists, and did not 
have an appointment with Mr. Roosevelt who was the President at 
that time. The guards were red faced, but showed us the upstairs 
as well as the usual tourist rooms. That afternoon I tried the same 
stunt with my sister but we were not parked before they directed 
us to the visitors parking and we were not taken upstairs this visit. 



15 



Reaching For My Halo 

A man from the hills of North Carolina had come to Gastonia. 
He seemed a bit odd, one afternoon in routine visiting I stopped 
in to see him. I knocked on the door, he called from the kitchen: 
"Come in preacher, I'll be through in a minute." I went on into 
the kitchen, and he was vigorously pulling on a cloth that was 
attached to the back of the door. "What are you doing?" I asked. 
"I'm milking off a curse put on my cow. If I don't get it off, she is 
going dry." The lady down the street, he said, was a witch. She is 
supposed to have killed his turnip patch, and now had a "spell" on 
the cow. The milking of a dish cloth on the new of the moon was 
supposed to counter the power of the witch. I couldn't prove it 
didn't work because the cow continued to provide milk. 

In 1933 a bizarre and sad event both amused and shocked me. 
A neighbor pastor who was at that time pastor of the largest 
congregation of that denomination in North Carolina came to the 
parsonage and wanted a confidential talk with me. I invited him 
to the study, he appeared ill at ease, he inquired if Ida could hear 
through the walls. I assured him she was in the back part of the 
house. So he got up and locked the door on the room. He was a 
fifty-two year old man and his problem was a hernia. His church 
did not believe in modern medicine, they expected to be healed 
by prayer. He had consulted a local doctor who told him; "He 
could pray until hell froze over and it would not cure the hole in 
his belly." The doctor sent him to me for advice. I told him I 
would go and have it fixed. He asked me to recommend a 
surgeon and go with him. So I took him to Charlotte to a Dr. 
Scruggs that I knew. I waited in the waiting room during the 
examination. The nurse came for me when he refused to make 
plans for the operation until I had o.k'd them, and promised to be 
with him. The date was set and before daylight one Monday 
morning I took him to the Presbyterian Hospital. He refused to 
go into the operating room unless I went with him and held his 
hand so I put on a white jacket and a mask and off I went to the 
operation. Just before he took ether he pulled me down and told 
me, "Don't tell anyone where I am, I told my congregation 
yesterday that I was going to Mississippi for five weeks in an 
evangelistic campaign." Well, I stood and watched the operation 
wondering how a man could think it's a sin to have repair work 
done on his body and could lie to a congregation that he was 
supposedly leading in rghteousness. The man recovered and I 



16 



Reaching For My Halo 

brought him home after dark. He stayed indoors with shades 
down until the five weeks was over. He told his congregation of 
great success in Mississippi and he worked so hard that he had lost 
fifteen pounds. 

There is a sequel to this story, I learned that he neither paid the 
surgeons, nor the hospital bill. Years passed and during the 
World War II, I was in Presbyterian Hospital and met Dr. 
Scruggs in the corridor, we talked a bit and he said, "By the way, 
your friend is in Mississippi again for evangelism. He is in the 
third room down, I took his appendix out yesterday." I never 
learned if this last bill was paid or not. 

This incident profoundly affected me. I was shocked to say the 
least. I was and am very zealous of the honesty and integrity of the 
Christian ministry and I could not reconcile an absence of ethics 
under the pretense that he was trusting God for his physical 
needs. 

An amusing instance took place here. I told the congregation 
on Sunday morning, "Since I came here I've heard a lot of 
"gossip" that is hurting the community. Tonight I'm going to 
reveal the source at the evening service." I was preaching on "The 
Devil", but one of the community's worst trouble makers became 
frightened and in the afternoon told her employees: "If I called 
her name, she wasn't guilty." The church was packed that night 
and no one's name was called, but the frightened lady got the 
message. 

These years jobs were scarce and once a job was lost another 
was hard to find. An executive of a firm and a member of my 
church was for some reason fired. He went from firm to firm but 
no job was found. He brought pressure on his old firm to rehire 
him. He held one man responsible for his problems. One 
morning I went by to see him and found him standing on the 
ground at the edge of his porch whetting his knife, an illegal 
switchblade knife. He had it so sharp it would shave the back of 
his hand. "Don't try to stop me because I'm going to kill Mr. So 
and So, this morning. A man has to do what he has to do." I didn't 
argue with him, but told him that I would go with him to the office 
where the murder was to take place. When the knife was 
satisfactorily sharpened he said, "Are you ready to go?", I 
answered "Ready to go?" I was stalling for time, but I didn't know 
what I would do. I stepped down from the porch and he stopped 



17 



Reaching For My Halo 

me with this, "Preacher, this is a serious matter and would you 
lead a prayer before we go?" He didn't know I had been praying 
all the time. We knelt down on the sidewalk and I prayed for 
guidance and justice. This is one prayer when I kept my eyes 
open. When I had finished, he handed me the knife, then a small 
pistol, then a large pistol in a shoulder holster, then a loaded 
night stick and some steel bands with cleats to wrap around the 
hand that he said would make barbeque out of Mr. So and So's 
face. He gave me the bullets for both of his guns, so I marched 
down the streets of the village carrying the armory with me. I 
stored them for several days. Incidentally, this man got a good 
position with a firm in South Carolina and as far as I know never 
had any more trouble until his death several years afterwards. 

Another incident involving a job loss came in 1932 during the 
worst of the depression. A man quit his job saying "before I'll run 
that machine I'll make me a wooden bill and eat with the 
chickens." He couldn't get another job and his family was hungry. 
I got involved when I carried them a basket of groceries. The man 
was desperate and was begging me to use my influence to get his 
old job back. The former employer agreed if I would come in to 
the office with the man. I did and we sat for awhile and the 
tension grew before the employer said, "The bill didn't work, did 
it?" The man denied saying it in the first place. The employer told 
him he didn't want him around, but because the preacher was 
having to support his family the boss would put him to work on 
the streets until the man could get out of town. 

The four years we spent in Smyre village were years of maturity 
and growth. Our son, Thomas Jr., was born July 14, 1930. The 
doctor that delivered him told me that he had a slim chance to 
live. We had a touch and go situation for several years with his 
asthma and frail body. The joy he provided overwhelmed us so 
that his struggles were forgotten. Now the children became the 
central focus of our lives. Their care, education, and pleasure was 
never far from our thoughts. When we prepared to leave Smyre 
in the fall of 1933, we were leaving a church whose membership 
had almost tripled in the four years, the management of the 
textile company offered Ida more than they had been paying me 
to stay on as a community worker. This humbled me because I 
thought I had worked pretty hard myself. 



18 



Chapter 

4 



X HIS IS a short chapter in this story, not because it was dull or 
inactive years, but because of the brevity of the pastorate. My 
district superintendent told me in conference on Sunday 
afternoon that I was going to go to Aldersgate Church in Shelby. I 
went home that night very pleased with the prospects of living in 
Shelby where two of my brothers lived. I got the shock of my life 
on Monday morning when I heard my name read as pastor of a 
new charge. It was composed of two churches. Thrift and 
Moore's Chapel in the western edge of Charlotte. Hardly had I 
gotten home to tell the news to Ida when the new superintendent 
of Charlotte district called to tell me of a last minute mix up in 
appointment and that he would see that I wasn't hurt next year. 
We moved into an adequate parsonage located beside the Thrift 
Church. The children were growing and took a lot of our time. 
The congregation responded to my ministry with warmth and 
full support and we gained some friends that we have cherished 
since. 

One of the best remembered events of 1934 was a strike in the 
local textile plant. Some members of a Communist group 
infiltrated the work force and called a strike. The mill shut down 
and after three weeks there were some people getting hungry. I 



19 



Reaching For My Halo 

tried to talk the management into starting the mill but they were 
afraid it would cause trouble and someone would be hurt or 
killed. They told me if I would distribute the food, they would pay 
the costs. We opened the basement of our church and brought 
large amounts of flour, beans, sugar, oil, and potatoes and milk 
for the children. The bakeries furnished us with day old bread. 
Everyone thought that the Methodist church was furnishing the 
food and I couldn't tell them that the folk they were condemning 
were feeding them. Each week they would mail me a check to 
cover costs and asked for no record of what I bought. This lasted 
for six weeks and the mill opened with no trouble at all. 

An amusing incident took place during the strike. Ida was 
giving a dinner party for a new bishop and some other important 
guests. We were at the table in the dining room near the front of 
the house when the doorbell rang. I answered the door and a lady 
with a voice that could be heard by our guests asked me, "Are you 
the man that gives milk to little babies?" I agreed that I was, and as 
long as that bishop was here, I was the man that gave milk to little 
babies. 

The year 1934 was the last year of the Chicago World's Fair. 
After the labor trouble was over, the management of the local 
plant, in appreciation of my help in feeding their people, paid 
our expenses for a trip to the World's Fair. We had been married 
for ten years and had no real honeymoon, so Ida and I parked the 
children with my parents and went to Niagara Falls across 
Ontario to Chicago, from Chicago we boarded a Lake Michigan 
ship for a cruise. We were gone for 14 days and we count that one 
of the high spots of our travel experience. 

Betty started to school at Thrift. She had been in school for a 
couple of weeks and she announced one afternoon to her 
mother, "Mother, I've got me a boy." We were amused and asked 
why would she have a boy. Well, she explained that every girl 
must have a boy because that is the way it is done in the modern 
age. She made an effort to educate her backward parents on the 
relationship between boys and girls. She was six years old at the 
time. 

The task of a minister is often frustrating. He cannot measure 
the contributions to the kingdom by rule of thumb. He may raise 
a lot of money and preach to crowded churches or become a 
leader in the community and do little to help folks fmd a Saviour. 



20 



Reaching For My Halo 

There is an unseen grace that is often at work and the minister 
never knows the result. On the last Sunday I preached at Moore's 
Chapel I met a young lady who was a stranger. I welcomed her 
and thought no more of the incident. Some weeks later I was 
called from the Mercy Hospital to see a dying woman who had 
asked for me. She told me of a wasted life that she had not been in 
church since she was a girl until that last service at Moore's 
Chapel. She had come in a rebellious mood and the warmth of my 
welcome had led her to Christ and forgiveness. I baptized her and 
gave her the vows of the Methodist Church there in the hospital, 
three days later I conducted her funeral. Her wasted life is not to 
be recommended but I wish all Christians would extend to the 
lost a warm invitation to the Christ. Over the last 62 years I have 
had many instances where something I said or did produced 
results that were gratifying much later on. 

I fully expected to stay on as pastor of those two churches when 
I went to conference at Greensboro the fall of 1934. The charge 
was organized and the people were congenial and requested my 
return. My salary was $ 1600 for the year and they increased it the 
next year to $1700. I did not ask to be moved and I was sitting in 
the balcony at the auditorium of UNC-G when I heard my 
appointment was to be Chadwick's Church in Charlotte. I would 
have to move only four miles. With me was a dear layman, F. A. 
Wilkinson who never would believe that I was as surprised as he 
was. It was very difficult to go home and prepare to move and 
convince the people that we were not running away from the job. 



21 



Chapter 

5 



It is an unwritten rule among Methodist ministers to prepare 
for a change of pastors, church affairs are left in good order and a 
welcome for the new pastor is arranged. Neither of these was 
done in this change. There was no welcome and the church 
affairs were in a deplorable condition. The Great Depression was 
in its fourth year and had been devastating to the part of 
Charlotte that I would be serving. Unemployment was high. 
Wages were low. The homes had been without repair for years 
and people were weary and discouraged. All of this was reflected 
in the church and parsonage. Here I had a congregation of about 
500 with the church building needing repair and in debt. The 
parsonage was poorly furnished and had a bad roof. We did have 
assets however. We had an excellent choir and a small group of 
dedicated laymen. These members who had little income held the 
church together and saw it through the darkest days. I think of 
Charlie Campbell, Wriston Helms, Issac Dotson, Beulah Smith 
and Eugene Grimes. These were people who at great personal 
sacrifice saved the church. There were others but these leaders 
came to mind as I recalled those days. The salary of the previous 
year had been reported as $2100. I found when I got there that 
$400 of that had been paid by the minister himself which is not 



22 



Reaching For My Halo 

according to the Methodist procedure. The official board 
refused my suggestion to set the salary at an honest $1700 as they 
had paid before. But they insisted that it remain at $2100 for my 
benefit and they would make it honest. This they did and it not 
only helped me but it raised the morale of the entire membership. 

With this stumbling start, I began what perhaps were the best 
years of my ministry to that date. The church building was 
packed for the 1 1 o'clock service and an evening service was well 
attended. There were a lot of people who were members of other 
denominations that joined us on Sunday evening. One such lady 
told me at the close of service one Sunday night that the Lord had 
sent her a message for me. If I would come to her home at 4 
o'clock on Monday she would deliver it to me. I wondered why 
the Lord felt it necessary to go through Mrs. Yarborough to get to 
me. I tried to keep an open mind to him, but to please a neighbor 
I went to hear what message she had. She told me that the Lord 
wanted me to preach three sermons on three consecutive Sunday 
mornings. The first was to be on the sin of women wearing silk 
hose, the second was to be the sin of women wearing short 
dresses, the third was to be on the sin of women smoking 
cigarettes. I made a remark that the Lord seemed to be picking on 
the women, and tried to ease myself out of the house and the 
interview without hurting the feelings of what appeared to be a 
very sincere person. I couldn't get out that easily. She demanded 
that I promise to preach these three sermons. I knew very well 
that I wasn't going to make a fool of myself by preaching such 
stuff, so I told her that I couldn't do that. She asked me to explain 
why. This placed me in a tight situation and I decided to be blunt 
about it. I tackled the evil of silk hose saying, "I am not an expert 
on women's clothing and if they want to wear silk hose to look 
nice, I see nothing wrong. The answer would be the same about 
wearing black cotton stockings. It is not a moral question with me. 
That makes it one sermon I will not preach." Regarding the 
second sin of women wearing short dresses, if God gave me a pair 
of shears and told me to cut the tails off the women's dresses at the 
proper length I wouldn't know where to start or to end, and I 
would be a fool to get up in the pulpit and pretend I knew how 
short the dress should be to not be a sin. As to the third sin of 
women's smoking, "I don't like to see a woman smoking. Matter 
of fact, I don't like to see a man smoking. But the women are 



23 



Reaching For My Halo 

smoking, they got ahead of me and I am trying to persuade them 
not to chew tobacco. My wife doesn't smoke, but if she used 
tobacco in any form I would rather she would smoke than dip 
snuff." Mrs Yarborough had her mouth full of snuff at that time. 
She was digusted with me and could think of nothing worse to say 
than, "You've turned out to be a durned old modernist." She 
continued to attend our church, but if she had any other message 
from God for me, she failed to deliver them. 

Of all the thousands of people that I have preached to, only one 
ever tried to tell me what to preach. This was a man who had a 
well paying job in the depression and felt like he could dictate to 
the congregation and the preacher what should be done. The 
Sunday night before we were leaving on vacation the next 
morning, he came up after the service and complained about my 
preaching. "I come to church seeking comfort and your 
preaching tears me up so much that often I cannot sleep that 
night." I thought that was complimentary. He needed that kind 
of preaching. Then he threatened me by saying if I didn't change 
my sermons he would have to ask for my removal come 
conference. My indignation and independence were aroused. I 
told him, "I didn't get my call to the ministry from you, and until I 
hear from someone higher than you I will continue the same 
way," and furthermore, "I didn't ask to be sent here and when I 
return from my vacation I'll go with you to the district 
superintendent and we can make the request unanimous." That's 
the last I heard of that. He continued to come to church but with 
less enthusiasm. 

Sometimes I did things on the spur of the moment and often 
wondered whether I had a right to do what I did. The following 
story illustrates this tendency. In the Lakewood section of 
Charlotte were many unchurched people, and I was called quite 
often for funerals and weddings and sickness when they wanted 
or needed a minister. I often suspected the reason I was called for 
funerals was because I had short funeral services. A lady who 
lived alone died. She had several married children. They were 
divided and opposed anything suggested by another child. They 
had no church connection. I spent two days trying to get them to 
agree on a funeral plan and then had to go ahead and ignore the 
family. After the burial, I went by the house as a courtesy, and 
found the two daughters holding a quilt, trying to wrestle it from 



24 



Reaching For My Halo 

the other and screaming obscenities at each other. Their 
husbands behind them with a stick of firewood threatening each 
other if they helped their wife. I got the quilt, got the family 
seated and told them I was taking control. The house was going to 
be locked for a week to let them cool off. I instructed them to 
come at 10 o'clock one week later prepared to act civilized, and 
divided their mother's things fairly. They surprised me by 
leaving without further trouble. I directed some neighbors to 
take some leftover food away. I locked up the house and took the 
key with me. One week later they gathered and divided the 
household belongings wisely, and as far as I could see fairly. All 
agreed that the quilt went to another sister who had not claimed it 
at all. I overheard one of the sons tell a sister; "Don't get that 
damn preacher mad again or he'll lock it up." I probably did a 
service for the family, but what I did was illegal and I've always 
tried to be law abiding. 

Then there was the time I wanted very badly to beat up one of 
my members. "It was a dark and stormy night", literally. A spring 
tornado-like storm was moving across Charlotte, and rain was 
falling in torrents. Tom, Jr. was very sick with measles and it took 
one of us to care for him. I was called out at about 10:30 to a home 
where the husband was missing. The family was distraught and 
suspected suicide. We organized search parties. A city policeman 
and I teamed up and we faced the wind and the rain and the 
darkness. We stopped in at our house to check on Tom from time 
to time. We were soaked, water in our shoes, but we went through 
the night searching. The eight search parties came together at 
daylight at the man's residence. We sixteen men looked like 
drowned rats as we assembled. Then the hunted man walked up 
dry as he could be. He said that he was in a boxcar nearby for 
protection. He also said that he had heard my voice about 1 a.m. 
looking for him, but that it was raining too hard to come out in it. 
I wanted to beat him up for putting us through a night of torture 
and anxiety. To have knocked him about may have been against 
the law, but at that time, I felt it was no sin. But I said and did 
nothing, leaving the tongue lashing to the police officials. I was 
informed later that it was adequate. 

The congregation slowly pulled out of this crisis, caused by the 
Depression, bills were paid, a roof was put on the parsonage, 
furnishings added. Betty began taking piano lessons and 



25 



Reaching For My Halo 

advanced rapidly. Tom, Jr. started to school and had difficulty 
keeping quiet. He was active, talked a lot and so when his report 
card came with a notation that his conduct rated a C he was 
downcast. No one mentioned the C to him. When he was saying 
his prayer that night, he included the usual request then paused 
and said "Lord, there's no need of a C on my report card, we must 
change that next month." Well, it was done, with or without 
divine help, but no one ever mentioned it to him. 

While in Charlotte I was twice elected president of the 
Methodist ministers of Charlotte. I was often called to hold 
conferences for the district superintendent. I helped organize 
the District Mission Society that would in the next ten years 
establish 22 new Methodist churches. I could have stayed at 
Chadwick Church longer, but I liked to move to new situations 
and new challenges. I was deeply involved in the annual 
conference of 1938. It was meeting in Charlotte and as President 
of the Methodist ministers I had to arrange many of the details of 
the session. I knew we were moving but little had been said as to 
where. We were surprised to be assigned to the Polkville Charge 
in Cleveland County. 



26 



/ 

c 

Chapter 

6 



The appointment to the Polkville Charge was a shock to 
say the least. This was a shift from a thriving city church to a 
circuit of six churches in upper Cleveland County. It was a radical 
change from the city environment of Charlotte to a rural setting 
with an agricultural economy. On top of that I would now be 
serving as pastor to people that had known me all my life. Many of 
them were my relatives. Also, my children who were doing well in 
the Charlotte city schools would be in a rural school where two 
months of the term was in the hottest part of the summer and the 
rest of the term came after the cotton was picked. 

Ida and I went to Polkville to see the parsonage. We found it a 
filthy wreck. After a few minutes inspection we got into the car 
and drove a few hundred yards, then parked in order to get 
control of our emotions. We knew that there was no way we would 
live in that house as it was. We drove up to my mother's at Hollis, 
six miles away, to ask if we could stay there until we could get a 
place to live. She agreed so we drove back to Polkville, saw a few of 
my new members, and found that they were aware of the damage 
that had been done to the parsonage, no people we ever served 
did more to welcome us than the people of this charge. 

When we arrived on moving day we found thirty-five men and 



27 



Reaching For My Halo 

women working with mops and paint and burning the furniture. 
They threw out everything except the dining room table and the 
kitchen stove. I think one iron bed was also saved. We did not 
have to live with my mother after all we now had a newly 
furnished parsonage. When we moved in, the folks of these six 
churches showered us with food, especially fresh pork and 
poultry. 

The children settled in school and I set out to find where my 
people lived. There wasn't a foot of pavement on the road except 
the blacktop road to Shelby. I wore out two Ford cars on those 
washboard roads in three years. I found my people, all 1100 of 
them scattered from Lattimore to Casar. They were the cream of 
Cleveland County society. The Stameys, the Covingtons, the 
Edwards, the Griggs, the Crawleys, the Elmores and the Jenkins, 
all were families of stability and character. It was a joy to serve and 
count them as friends. I could name many others that fall into this 
category, for man to man, I have not found a better group for 
sincere goodness and character. 

An embarrassing moment happened a few days after we 
moved into our house in Polkville. A large family invited us to a 
Sunday dinner in was an effort to get acquainted with the new 
minister and his family. The parents, the grandparents, a sister 
and their children all were included. We were gathered around 
the table, and food was being passed when Tom, Jr., aged eight 
spoke up. He made a hole in his mashed potatoes to hold his 
gravy. The gravy had overflowed and run out in his plate. In 
disgust he called out in a loud voice, "Oh, Mother, my dam thing 
broke." We knew what he meant, but we were not sure the others 
understood the the new preacher's son was not using profanity at 
the table. Ida was red-faced for a couple of days and Tom, Jr. 
learned that the word had other connotations. 

The first Christmas that we were at Polkville, we tried to attend 
all of the Christmas programs at the six churches. One program 
will be remembered always. It took place at Clover Hill Church. 
They had a pageant and distributed treats to everybody. They 
gave presents of candy and fruit. Everything that could go wrong 
went wrong. The angels halos were sideways and the players 
forgot their lines. Two of the little angels got into a shoving match 
that was less than angelic. The baby Jesus in the crib kept pushing 
his head up to see what was going on and Mary had to spank him 



28 



Reaching For My Halo 

before he would lie down in the straw. All this transpired as the 
Wise Men and the Shepherds tried to say their lines. Then gifts 
were distributed to the folks from the Christmas tree. The last gift 
given out was for the minister. It was a 22 pound turkey gobbler, 
alive, and protesting the entire proceedings. It was a cold and 
rainy night, the children were sticky with candy and Ida had to 
drive the six miles home while I wrestled that 22 pound turkey in 
the back seat of the car. He had not been house trained; when he 
gobbled he frightened the children. Ida couldn't tell what was 
happening in the rear seat. Had she known, she might have 
thrown us all out. We got home alive, the turkey made a 
Christmas dinner, and by spring the car was clean. This story 
sounds flat unbelievable, but you have my word that it was the 
funniest thing of my entire life. 

The farm people I served depended on the sale of cotton for 
their living. As a result, they only had money in the fall of the 
year. Little of the pastor's salary was paid until then. In the spring 
and summer, the collection plates were sometimes unfortunately, 
empty. I had an insurance policy with a premium of $45.00 due 
April 6. The day before the 30 days of grace had expired, the 
collection was $1. 13 at the first service at 10:00. We were going on 
to Casar for the second service. Just as I left the church, Colon 
Edwards stuck an envelope in my coat pocket and said "This is a 
tithe of a calf I sold yesterday." I was telling Ida as we rode along 
that there was no way I could pay that premium when Betty, 
curious as to what was in the envelope, opened so she took it out 
and opened it up to fmd the three hundred dollar check. I would 
have been happy if Mr. Edwards could have sold a calf every 
Saturday. 

In 1939 we bought a house in Shelby and rented it. We fully 
expected to live in Shelby upon retirement. We had to do some 
repair work on the house, but we gained a little as the rent paid 
the building and loan payments. The house was sold in 1945. Also 
in 1939 came the first loss in my family. My brother Charlie died 
at the age of 42 years. He left one daughter Beth. This disrupted 
the entire family. He was a favorite brother, a good citizen, and a 
churchman. Many of us felt that he would have made a 
wonderful minister had World War I not disrupted his life. 

At the end of my first year at Polkville, I told my district 
superintendent that, because of the school situation, I wanted to 



29 



Reaching For My Halo 

move. I felt guilty as things in the church were going well. 
Conference was in Greensboro that year. An hour before the 
appointments were read, I learned I was to go to the first church 
of Murphy, North Carolina. If we were to go to Murphy, I would 
be following the same minister that had left the Polkville 
parsonage a wreck. I had never before refused to go were I was 
appointed, but this time I went to the Bishop and told him my 
reasons for refusing to go to Murphy. He said "It's too late now, 
the appointments are made." I told him that either he change it 
not or conference. The Bishop was peaved at me but he called a 
meeting of the cabinet and sent me back to Polkville. I learned 
that the man they sent to Murphy found the parsonage unlivable 
and only stayed one year. 

There are many amusing things that happened during church 
services. A minister is prepared for infants crying or sudden 
illness, but recovery after something funny happens is very 
difficult. Once at Polkville, our pianist was jazzing up the Prelude. 
She almost had that piano hopping around on one leg. Abruptly 
she stopped playing and from the audience came the clear voice 
of a farm woman who was discussing some canning. "I always put 
mine up in molasses," she said loudly. I might just as well 
pronounced the benediction right then as far as the service was 
concerned. Folks all over the church couldn't stop snickering and 
trying to suppress laughter. We never found out what was 
preserved in molasses. 

One of the high points of my years at Polkville was the building 
of a new church at Rehobeth. They had talked of a new church 
for a generation but had never made a move toward building. I 
persuaded two Baptist laymen to give the church a couple acres of 
land across the road from the church cemetery. This was the 
incentive that broke the way open to build. The building 
committee elected to use some of the material in the old church to 
frame part of the new. The old church was torn away. The Sandy 
Plains Baptist church invited us to use their building while the 
construction was in progress. During the winter of 1939-40 we 
accepted their gracious invitation and had our services in this 
church building. The building of Rehobeth Church was a happy 
event. The congregation was united in the project and the 
anticipation of the new church brought excitement. They 
accomplished much more than they had possible. The first 



30 



Reaching For My Halo 

Sunday we worshipped in the new sanctuary, many people had 
tears of joy flowing down their cheeks. 

The churches, all six of them, usually had a week of revival 
services during the summer months. One year the Stewards 
asked me to do the preaching for all of the services. Mt. Harmon 
and Lee's Chapel elected to have a combined service. That left 
five. I felt flattered that they would want me since they had been 
having prominent ministers visit them and do the preaching. I 
scheduled the meetings to move from one to the other and 
preached twice each day for five weeks. For most of these weeks 
we ate two meals a day in the congregation's homes. These meals 
included the family. We ate more chicken and hot rolls than the 
law allowed. I was a comparatively young man then, but I was so 
tired that I was not thinking or preaching well by the end of this 
period. I've dodged that kind of stress since. Who said preaching 
was easy? I was as near a breakdown as I've ever been. 

One Saturday, I had a wedding in the parsonage living room. It 
was a couple of neighbor children. They were only about 18 years 
of age and had invited their families. We had counseled with 
them and they were familiar with the ritual. We expected a simple 
ceremony. Things began to go wrong when one member of the 
family was late, and they all wanted to wait for Joe. When the 
ceremony began, the bride was vigorously chewing gum and 
giggling. We came to the groom's part of the service where the 
groom is supposed to say "I will". He was so tense and frightened 
that he nodded his head and couldn't get the "I will" spoken. 
When I came to the close of the ceremony, I heard a thump on the 
floor and the groom was stretched out on the rug in a dead faint. 
The bride looked down at him, giggled and said "What are you 
doing on the floor." I got the poor fellow up, led him into an 
adjoining room and sat him down on a kitchen stool after shaking 
him to help him recover. He fumbled for his billfold and about 
$200.00 spilled out on the floor. I started picking up the money 
off the floor when he said, "You just take that for your fee." I 
stuffed it back in his billfold and put it pack in pocket. I don't 
suppose he ever knew that he paid no fee for his wedding. 

When the union of the MP's (the Methodists/Protestants) and 
the Southern Methodists churches was pending, I was invited to 
preach in several of the Methodist/Protestant churches. It was a 
get acquainted effort with each other. One of the churches where 



31 



Reaching For My Halo 

I spoke, was within two miles of where I was born. After the 
service we had a picnic meal under the trees in the church yard. A 
leader of the church asked me where I was born. I told him, "up 
the river about two miles." "Well", he said, "from your speech I 
knowed you were not from this country". This taught me that you 
can be a foreigner, even close to home. 

The day we moved to Polkville, we met James and Norma 
Riser. A friendship developed that has blessed the Swofford 
family for 47 years. They have remained close friends. We have 
shared laughter and sorrow; we have traveled thousands of miles 
together. We have stood on New England's rocky shores, we have 
followed Lewis and Clark's route to explore the Northwest, we 
have tried to find the Ladies room in Quebec where only French 
was spoken. We walked on the shores of the Pacific where the 
Columbia river joins the ocean. We checked on Old Faithful to 
see if it still erupted. It did. We saw the buffalo herd in the Black 
Hills and walked where Custer died on the Little Big Horn. These 
bonds of love still bind us as we grow older. 

A World War was raging in Europe in 1941, and it seemed 
inevitable that we would be involved. We were asked to consider a 
move to Salisbury to Park Avenue church. The salary was the 
same as what I was receiving at Polkville, but we chose Salisbury 
because of the school, especially High School. Conference was in 
Winston-Salem. Ida came for the closing session. We received the 
expected appointment and returned by Salisbury to look over the 
church and the parsonage. 



32 



Chapter 
7 



We MOVED to Salisbury on November 1941. The children 
settled into their new school with no major difficulties. Betty 
made the orchestra playing second violin and Tom began his 
band studies playing a french horn. Betty enrolled in piano 
studies with a Dr. Rich at Catawba College. For five years we had a 
pleasant and profitable association with Catawba College. Our 
congregation was warm in their welcome and worked to make us 
comfortable in the old house used for the parsonage. 

I followed a minister whose wife told him he was a great 
preacher. He apparently believed it for he preached long and 
loud, often continuing until 12:30. In order to suggest a shorter 
service the congregation had placed a large clock on the front of 
the balcony. That clock stared the preacher in the face. I, 
however, have no trouble getting to the end of a sermon in 22 
minutes. The clock irritated me. One day I went over and moved 
the clock off balance. It promptly stopped. The old gentleman 
who took care of the clock started it the next Sunday. Again, I 
moved it an inch and it stopped. For about 3 or 4 weeks we played 
this game although he did not know he was playing. He said to 
me, "Would you mind. The clock refuses to run and I'm going to 



33 



Reaching For My Halo 

take it down." I was perfectly willing. That was the last of the 
clock. I never told him that the trouble with the clock was a 
minister who stopped on time and didn't want to watch the clock. 

This same old gentleman was greatly loved by all the 
congregation. But about 25 years before he had planted a tree 
near the church that had grown until it was discoloring the wall 
and leaning against the church building. No one would suggest to 
the man who had planted the tree that it should be removed. A 
neighbor said to me one day, "If that tree were to die, would you 
tell who killed it?" I promised not to tell. He bored a hole a few 
inches below the soil level and filled it with salt and buttermilk. I 
don't know what the buttermilk did but a few weeks later the tree 
was dead. The old gentleman lamenting the death of the tree 
said, "I guess the new sidewalk killed it." Some wondered why the 
stump didn't sprout. But I never told them. 

Park Avenue church was located only a few blocks from 
downtown Salisbury and only two blocks from the train station. 
Many of my members were railroad men. I had to learn a new 
vocabulary to be able to talk with them. I quickly learned the 
hierarchy of the railroad. The elite were engineers and 
conductors. The repair crew of the freight cars and the coaches, 
the machinists and the boiler makers were each proud of their 
particular craft and would set you right if you classed them in the 
wrong craft. There was friction in the home often since the wives 
claimed their husbands loved the engines more than their wives 
and his families. I heard a wife say, "I was sick and he left me to go 
down to the station and polish the brass on the old 4800." This 
was the name of the line of engines that was popular at the time. 
One man was so obsessed with the railroad that he spent his spare 
time walking around the equipment and talking shop. He had 
never taken a vacation. One summer, his wife and daughter kept 
pressuring him to take them on a trip. He agreed and set the date. 
Their destination was to be a secret. He obtained three passes 
free, and went from Salisbury to Asheville on the train. They sat 
in the railroad station until the afternoon train left for the return 
trip. For lunch he bought three hot dogs for 25 That is all they 
spent on the entire trip. The wife and daughter refused to speak 
to him all the way home. When they got home he said, "Now 
you've had your vacation and I don't want to hear no more about 
it." For months, I heard about this family vacation. 



34 



Reaching For My Halo 

I had hardly gotten adjusted to my new responsibilities when 
December 7, 1941 the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. I didn't 
even know where Pearl Harbor was located. Since the railroads 
were very important, military guards were posted all over town. 
We did not know how wide spread the attack would be. It was 
unnerving to go to bed one night and wake to find soldiers with 
submachine guns patrolling your streets. The next few years I 
saw 113 young men and women go into some branch of the 
military. I wrote letters from the church to them by the hundreds. 
I tried to make them personal. I still have some responses that 
have won my heart. I wonder sometimes if I didn't get more 
benefit from this correspondence than the soldiers did. In 1985, 1 
met a man at Lake Junaluska who told me that those letters 
sustained his faith while fighting in the South Pacific. They would 
write me, "This is a letter from ?????????. Go see if my wife and 
children are OK and write me. I wonder if they tell me the truth." 
From Holland, "Send me a copy of the Lord's Prayer. I've 
forgotten it in this hell." And from another, "Pilot, your prayers 
brought our plane back from Germany without gas. I have a piece 
of shrapnel from the gas tank that I'm bringing home to you." I 
still have that piece of shrapnel. Eight of them did not return. 
Trying to ease the pain of the heartbroken families was an 
impossible job. But I learned how important the pastor was in the 
ultimate crisis of our lives. I did my best to minister to people, and 
I may have learned to share their sorrows just a little more. 

My close relationship with Catawba College was blessed. I 
spoke to the student body quite often. They set aside one 
morning each week for a student assembly. The first time I spoke 
to the assembly, I picked up a couple of freshman at the bumb 
corner in downtown Salisbury and brought them to the college. 
They did not know me. They told me they had to get back for the 
assembly. I asked them what took place at the assembly and they 
said "oh, they make some announcements, and then some "d" 
preacher bores us to death for an hour." When I came out on the 
platform, I saw these two boys in the front section. I told the story 
and brought down the house. I was royally welcomed whenever I 
appeared after that. 

There was one time when I tried to play psychiatrist. Even 
though I had no license, I succeeded. It was a long story dating 
back nine years. The central fiure was a woman who objected to 



35 



Reaching For My Halo 

her youngest daughter getting married. She tried begging the 
couple not to marry. When that failed she tried a screaming 
tantrum but that failed too. The wedding went off on schedule, 
but she collapsed with a fake heart attack and unconscious coma, 
which broke up the couple's honeymoon trip. She came out of the 
coma, but stayed in bed for nine years. Her husband cared for 
her, did the housework with some help from the two daughters, 
who now had families of their own. One day her husband died 
suddenly. She didn't seem to mind him dying, but it left her in a 
bad situation. During the death and funeral of her husband, I 
suspected that she was faking an illness to get attention. The two 
daughters and the daughter-in-law were driven to distraction 
trying to satisfy the old lady. Every time I saw her, she would tell 
me that for nine long years she had not put her foot on the floor. 

One day I walked up to the front of the house and saw her run 
from the kitchen to the bedroom, I sat by the bed and listened to 
her array of troubles. They were legion. She said that I had no 
idea of the suffering she'd endured. She told me the church had 
neglected her and the minister's wife didn't come to see her as 
often as the other minister's wives did. I told her that Ida was not 
her pastor, and that she had her family to look after. Then I 
added "if she never comes to see you again, it is o.k. with me." 
Well, the next time I visited, I shocked her again by saying Mrs. 

, I know, and you know you are faking this disability. I 

know you are running about in this house when no one is 
watching. You do whatever you want to do but if you don't get out 
of this bed and look after yourself, I am going to tell your family 
you are a fake. She said, "You wouldn't dare!", "Yes I would", I 
told her. She was furious. I patiently listened to how poor a pastor 
I was, how I was a disgrace to the Methodist ministry, how I would 
grow old someday and my children and grandchildren would 
neglect me. She assured me that I deserved all the wicked things 
that would be heaped upon me. When she had exhausted her 
vocabulary of vicious things to say, I said "Well, I'll give you two 
weeks to get out of this bed. You can take a step at a time, then 
two, and then across the room, and save your face. Then you can 
care for yourself." If indignation could have killed me, I would 
have been dead as I left that house. It was entirely out of character 
for me; I was operating by intuition. The following Sunday night 
at church one of the daughters came to me and said, "Mr. 



36 



Reaching For My Halo 

Swofford, there is good news. Mother walked almost across the 
room." A few days later she was caring for the house. She was in 
good health and lived until she was in her late 80s. Twenty-five 
years later one of the daughters said to me, "something happened 
between you and mother that was good, would you mind telling 
us what it was." They wondered why they never caught on in nine 
years. 

Then there was Pauline. Pauline was a most unusual person. 
She was a tomboy, wore boy's clothing, played boy's games, was 
interested in planes and stayed around the airport much of her 
time. By the time Pauline was 14, she could tear down and put 
back together an airplane as well as an experienced mechanic. 
She could fly a plane years before she could get a license to fly. I 
performed her wedding ceremony and the people wondered if 
she would wear a dress for her wedding. She did. Pauline and her 
husband went to the coast of North Carolina to patrol the 
coastline. They were not a part of the military, but civilians 
helping to spot submarines. She got sick, and the doctor in 
Elizabeth City told her she must have her appendix removed 
immediately. Pauline left a note for her husband, who was flying, 
got on a motorcycle, and rode all night, arriving at the emergency 
room about five o'clock, admitted herself to the hospital in 
Salisbury, got in touch with a surgeon who removed her 
appendix, and then she called me about seven o'clock and asked 
me to go tell her mother that she was in town. Ten days later, on a 
motorcycle, she was back at the coast, looking for submarines. 

If anything funny is likely to happen, it will happen at a 
wedding, and if the bride has an old maid aunt to direct the 
wedding, it is sure to happen. Several times in my ministry, 
weddings were led to the brink of catastrophe because of the 
maiden aunt's expertise. In one particular case. World War II 
tensions were high and travel was hard. The couple, both 
members of our youth department, had reservations on the train 
for New Orleans. The wedding was set for seven o'clock. The 
temperature was 98° with no air conditioning anywhere. The 
wedding was to be in the home. I was called about five o'clock to 
the home of the groom. His mother had had a heart attack. The 
director of the wedding, an old maid aunt, wanted them to 
postpone the ceremony. The couple wanted to go ahead as 
planned and the doctor agreed. So they wrangled until 6:45 as to 



37 



Reaching For My Halo 

whether to proceed. The house was filled with guests, and each 
ten minutes a new report came from the house next door as to the 
condition of the patient. Finally, the doctor came and acted as a 
stabilizing factor. The wedding ceremony went well, considering 
the tension. Then we proceeded to the dining room to cut the 
cake. The Aunt's voice, almost a scream by then, could be heard 
telling everybody where to stand and what to do. When the cake 
was cut, the heat was almost unbearable. The Aunt snatched the 
knife from the newly weds and sliced into the cake. She did not 
know that there was cardboard between the layers and one layer 
bounced off, and flopped onto the table. She did not see the 
trouble and when the layer was placed back on the cake, she 
attacked the cake more vigorously and the entire cake slipped off 
of the platter, rolled down the table and landed on the floor in 
hundreds of pieces. When I left, the Aunt was shoveling wedding 
cake off the floor and urging all to get a piece and eat it. She said it 
would bring good luck. If I ever saw a place where a little luck was 
needed, it was that wedding on a hot August night. 

Girls and their families would come to Salisbury from a 
distance, to arrange for a wedding, then the groom would come 
from one of the camps to meet them. I participated in many 
weddings. I met some delightful people during these ceremonies. 
While waiting for a soloist to sing at the wedding of a Marine 
Lieutenant, his company gathered just outside the church and 
softly sang a popular tune, "Give me Five Minutes More." Many 
people whose marriage I performed have kept in contact 
through the years. 

In 1944, I spent the summer as director of Boy Scout of 
Uwharrie Council Camp near High Point. Tom, Jr. was the 
bugler for the camp. We went Sunday afternoon and returned 
Friday night. We had a camp full of 135 boys each week. I have 
never spent a harder summer than that, but it was rewarding in 
that we touched the lives of nearly 1,000 boys with the challenge 
of clean living. 

The war ended and we needed an educational building very 
badly. The congregation was growing. The two old buildings we 
were using were in poor condition. We tried to get a permit to 
build, but new construction was frozen. I asked the fire 
department to come and condemn the old building we were 
using. They did. We used that fact to get a building permit and 



38 



P Reaching For My Halo 

constructed a building that, for its size, I consider the best church 
school building I have ever known. 

Betty graduated with honors from high school and entered 
Greensboro College in the fall of 1944. She had already spent 
three years studying at the Catawba College music department. 
We were proud of her accomplishments. She was young for 
college, but handled it very well. After four years, she received 
her bachelor's degree in Music. She was not yet 20 years old. 
Tom, Jr. was doing well in high school. He was very popular with 
the girls and working part-time for a book and stationary shop. In 
this work, Tom met many well-known people. He was awarded 
the Eagle badge in Scouting in the shortest time he could have 
obtained it. 

During this period of World War II, women began to smoke 
cigarettes. They made a great effort to hide it from the minister, 
especially. Just as I walked into a hospital room I saw the lady 
snatch a cigarette from her mouth and stick it under the bed 
covers. I sat down by the bed for a short visit just as the bedspread 
caught in flames. I doused the fire with a pitcher of water, but not 
before the woman was slightly burned on her side. She was home 
and well before the burn healed, but she could never be 
comfortable around me as long as I was her pastor. She was 
apparently afraid I would tell the story and her neighbors would 
know about it. Now it is told. 

A prominent member of my congregation told me he was 
donating a new organ for the church. No one was ever to know 
who the donor was. You are the only one who will ever know. I, of 
course, said nothing, but the next Sunday several people told me 

in confidence that Mr. was giving a new organ to the 

church. Within a week's time two-thirds of the people knew of the 
gift. The donor came to me and said, "Somebody has let the secret 
out." I was preaching that Sunday on the subject: "Do your good 
deeds in secret." He got more mileage out of that organ than most 
folks get out of a lifetime of giving. 

Another of my flock came to offer me a one-third interest in a 
corporation he was about to form. The initial value of the stock 
was by his estimate, $50,000.00 We were to market a perpetual 
motion machine that would make us millionaires within a few 
years. I was flattered since no one had given me this opportunity. 
I spoiled it all by asking: "What of the laws of physics concerning 



39 



Reaching For My Halo 

counter motion?" The old man was irritated. He said college had 
ruined me. The study of physics had kept perpetual motion from 
blessing the human race. I suppose I'll have to carry the blame for 
blocking unlimited power for mankind. I heard nothing more 
about the corporation. A few months later I conducted the old 
gentleman's funeral. I suppose the dream was buried with him. 



40 



Chapter 

8 



.AlFTER five very happy years in Salisbury, we were 
appointed to Central Methodist at Mooresville. The leaving of 
Salisbury was emotional. It was home to our children, I was 
deeply involved in the town, we had a growing church, a 
remodeled parsonage, a good people to serve. We were pleased 
with our new charge. I knew little of the church or the town. I 
knew only I was following an old gentleman who for several years 
just marked time until retirement. I found an unorganized 
church of 1,000 members. Their methods of operation were out 
of date. The budget was low by design. About six or eight old 
men, some in this position for thirty years and seemed dedicated 
to opposing anything that was younger than 1890. My ministry 
had always been a loving relationship with my people. I soon 
learned that these officials who controlled the Church considered 
the minister the adversary and it was their duty to keep him from 
doing anything different from the way "we have done it always 
like this." There was a large group of young adults that were 
pressing to be heard and noticed. Before I arrived on the scene 
they had pushed a resolution through the church conference of a 
rotating official board and some of these young leaders were 



41 



Reaching For My Halo 

coming on the official board. This created tension in the church 
that I didn't know how to handle. I had nothing to do with the 
changes, but I was new and naturally I was to blame for the "new." 

The church buildings were run down, needed repairs almost 
everywhere. The parsonage was a 14 room house built in 1892 
and probably had been painted twice in the 60 years. It had a bath 
on a landing between the first and second floors. The furniture 
was about enough for three rooms scattered over 14 rooms. It 
looked like an empty house. There was no underpinning to the 
house, and when the wind blew, the linoleum on the kitchen floor 
would rise and fall with the wind. This is my way of telling you 
that we knew we were in for a cold winter. Two young couples, 
the Joe Thompsons and the Ed Kipkas did what they could to 
make us comfortable, and we will ever had a warm spot in our 
hearts for these people. 

The day we moved in there were boxes, papers scattered on the 
floor, that we had to clean up before we could unload the truck. 
We were in the midst of this clean up when the telephone rang. 
Tom, Jr. found the telephone under some paper, and answered 
it. The caller thinking they had the undertaker asked; "Do you 
have Mrs. Johnson's body?" Tom, quick on the answer, "We 
haven't run across it yet, but I'm sure it is here somewhere." We 
got the floors cleaned and lived in the old house for twelve 
months. 

The Women's Society had planned to introduce us to the 
congregation at a family night dinner. They forgot to tell us until 
about an hour before the dinner. We hurriedly dressed, and went 
to the reception. We stood in line, and shook hands with what 
seemed the population of the town. When we finished with the 
receiving and went to eat our dinner, there was nothing left for 
us. We got away as quickly as we could, and went to the parsonage 
and opened a can of "Beenie Weenies" for our supper. That 
reception should have tipped us off to what we could expect, but 
we were new and laughed about the clumsy manner. We had 
expected them to be more sophisticated and modern in their 
approach. 

We moved into the winter of 1946-47. 1 was preaching to more 
people than I had ever had Sunday after Sunday. The church was 
crowded. Often chairs were placed in the aisle and at the back of 
the church to accommodate more people. New members were 



42 



Reaching For My Halo 

coming into the church and for the most part were young 
couples. Soldiers of World War II had married and were setting 
up their homes, and starting families. They were eager to be 
useful. It was a matter of frustration for me that I could not 
assimilate them with the stagnant leadership on Palm Sunay in 
the afternoon at a special service I baptized 23 infants from these 
new families. The people of the community seemed to like my 
speeches very much. I spoke to every club in town ranging from 
Capping Ceremony of Nurses to commencement sermons. I even 
think they organized a new club so I could address them. I held 
revival meetings in several nearby churches. It seems now that I 
worked as hard that year as any year of my life but much was 
outside of my own congregation. 

Good Friday there came a couple to my door, and their 
appearance was as tramps. They said that they were gypsies and 
were camped outside of town. They asked me and I quote "Will 
you say a mass for our baby on Easter Sunday afternoon?" 
Talking with them I gathered they wanted their child baptized. 
We set the hour and forty or fifty gypsies came to our church. 
They were very reverent and appreciative of my service. They 
said not all ministers would "bless" their babies. After the service I 
shook hands with all of the tribe. The father gave me a $1.00 fee. 
I told him he didn't owe me anything. He replied: "You always 
have to pay for a mass." I took the dollar. These gypsies looked on 
me as almost a god, I was very humbled. Some of them even called 
me a "Jesus, who blesses babies." I watched them depart in their 
rags and go back to their homeless wandering with the knowledge 
that for one brief moment they had been doing what God wanted 
them to do. 

I was very unhappy with the undercurrent of reaction in the 
congregation. The new official board employed a Director of 
Christian Education and some folk screamed to high heaven that 
it was costing too much. They also employed a part-time 
Secretary which the church had never had. In mid-year I went to 
see the Bishop and told him I wanted to move. He tried to 
convince me to continue to try to bring the congregation into the 
20th century. Looking back over the years I think I should have 
stayed. It is the only time in my ministry that I ran away from a 
hard job. I could have been more flexible but I was in no mood to 
sit up with some practices that had died yesterday, or try to pump 



43 



Reaching For My Halo 

life into forms that showed no prospects of making a contribution 
to the kingdom. When rumor was around that I might move at 
conference the official board raised my salary. 

The District Superintendent made no move to place me hoping 
I would change my mind at the last minute and agree to return. 
As a consequence I was given an interim appointment at Morris 
Chapel on the outskirts of Winston-Salem. 



44 



Chapter 

9 



IjOCATED in the northeast section of Winston Salem the 
Morris Chapel Church was a two-point assignment. Morris 
Chapel was a former Methodist Episcopal Church, Mt. Pisgah 
was a former Methodist Protestant Church. I was a former 
Southern Methodist Minister. Neither one of the churches 
wanted to be linked with the other. They did not want to share 
their pastor. These problems were minor compared to the 
factions in the Morris Chapel congregation. There were three of 
these. They wanted the minister to preach to them, and also 
referee their battles. The older former Methodist Episcopal 
fought against changes that Union had produced. The new 
members that had joined the church after Union were for the 
most part liberal, energetic and progressive. The "swing" faction 
were a group of Pentacostal Fundamentalist who deemed it their 
duty to let all the world know how good they were. I know how the 
first two came to be, but I've always wondered how these super 
self-righteous folk ever got into the church anyway. Fortunately I 
had the respect and support of all three groups. One church 
offered to raise my salary $1,000.00 if I would stay with 



45 



Reaching For My Halo 

them. The parsonage was too small for our family, and we moved 
on to the next stop. 

We lived near the church and one faction of the church used 
cheap, paperback song books. The cheap-john type of music that 
I would not tolerate, but they had hundreds of books stored in the 
furnace room. On Sunday morning when the furnace was hot I 
tossed in 30 or 40 books. It took almost all winter to get rid of 
those books. When the books were missed they inquired as to 
what could have happened to the books. I have never regretted 
burning these trashy songbooks. I think the Lord would have 
done the same thing I did. 

The year 1948 Betty graduated from Greensboro College with 
her Bachelor in Music Degree and entered Duke Divinity school 
to work on her Masters. Tom, Jr. graduated from high school and 
entered as a freshman at Duke. The two churches went their 
separate ways, both becoming strong congregations. The old 
Methodist Episcopal faction died out, the United Methodist 
continued to grow, and the self-righteous group ceased to be a 
factor. I'm glad I shared a part of my life there, and I rejoice in 
the strength of those churches today. 



46 



Chapter 

10 



The opportunity came to move to Greensboro in the fall 
of 1948 to Glenwood Avenue Church. It was a strong 
congregation in a thriving section of the city. Ida and I moved in 
the parsonage without any children. It was the first move with no 
children. We were a bit frightened with two in college, but Betty 
had a good scholarship, and with some income from her work in 
music she was self-supporting. Tom, Jr. worked at different jobs 
so we managed very well. 

We had a nice parsonage, the best we had had up to this time. 
The entire family was thrilled with the new work and living 
arrangements. We had a congregation that was what I believed a 
church should be, and be doing what a church should be doing. 
Before us lay a challenge. A new church was needed and few 
funds were on hand to pay for the project. 

My first move was to organize an effort in outreach. This 
resulted in a large increase in the membership of the church. The 
worship at 1 1 a.m. was overflowing and we used the basement for 
the overflow crowd. Many singers have requests that they sing. I 
was gently, and quietly requested not to sing. The problem I was 
standing close to the microphone and the overflow congregation 



47 



Reaching For My Halo 

could hear no one but me singing. I cannot imagine a worse fate 
than to listen to three or four verses of a hymn that I was 
butchering. Those first months were exciting times and the 
hands of love and friendship were formed that have not lessened 
during the years. When Ida and I think of Greensboro we think 
in terms of the Zink family, Jess Richardsons, the Fredricks, 
Crawfords and Coltranes. These and many more moved into our 
hearts, made the five years spent there the happiest pastorate of 
our lives. 

One day I met a man who was a leading layman of another 
denomination. They were having trouble getting a pastor. He 
told me they were going to have an all-night prayer meeting to 
heal the rift in the church. He asked me if I would come and 
spend an hour with them. I agreed to the request. I asked him to 
tell me when, and what I would be expected to do. Weeks went by 
and I forgot the entire project. My telephone rang at fifteen 
minutes of two in the morning tell me I was to preach from 2 until 
3. 1 rolled out of bed, dressed and walked in freezing cold the two 
blocks to the church. I was not prepared to preach on anything at 
that time of morning. I found 40 or 50 weary-eyed folk there 
drinking coffee. After the cups were put aside, I took a text: 
"Except your righteousness exceed the Pharisees and Publican ye 
cannot enter the Kingdom." I preached a solid hour, and my 
usual sermon is only twenty minutes long. The rift healed, they 
united behind a new pastor, and years later I was told by one that 
was present that "you shook us up so we no longer dared to 
quarrel for fear you would come back and preach to us." Oh well! 
You do your work wherever you can. 

A wedding was schedule to take place in the church. The 
couple came to me for permission to have a grandfather perform 
the ceremony. He was from Georgia and they said he invited 
himself to perform the ceremony. At the rehearsal the man 
couldn't get himself together and the kids asked me to help.. The 
man resented me helping and said "I didn't drive up here from 
Georgia to help anybody in a wedding ceremony." I would gladly 
have stood aside but the couple in tears begged me to save the 
wedding from being a disaster. The next day the father of the 
bride and another of my laymen concocted a scheme to just 
before the wedding to take the grandfather to show him the town 
and have the car break down and miss the wedding. He was an 



48 



Reaching For My Halo 

auto mechanic and he said I can fake a breakdown. I persuaded 
them to abandon the old gentleman to me. I eased myself into the 
control of the wedding service and left a minor role to the 
grandfather. There was no hurt feelings in the family and 
Grandpa went back to Georgia despising the young upstart of a 
pastor. He never knew how close he escaped kidnapping. 

Weddings have a magnetic aspect that attracts the unusual. I 
was home alone one day when a long lumber truck stopped in the 
front. An overhall clad man climbed out of the cab. He was thin, 
about seven feet tall, his clothes hung loose, hardly touching the 
body. A girl with him was a short, fat person that would have been 
as tall lying down as standing up. Her mother was with them. The 
man said to me, "We want a Methodist preacher to marry us." I 
invited them into the house to see if everything appeared on the 
level. When I would ask the young people a question the 
prospective mother-in-law would answer for them. Meanwhile 
complaining how they would not listen to her and wait a while. I 
supposed the people were sincere and I summoned a couple of 
neighbor women to be witnesses. 

The Bride and Groom were placed in front of the fireplace, the 
mother seated on the couch. I opened my ritual and got two 
words spoken, "Dear Beloved" when the mother interrupted to 
say, "He ain't got no money to pay for the wedding. He ain't 
drawed yet." I didn't understand the "he ain't drawed yet." She 
said he hadn't got the money for his load of lumber that he had 
brought from the eastern part of the state. I assured her money 
was not a requirement for a marriage, however helpful. Then I 
asked her to keep quiet until the wedding was over. That was too 
much to hope for for when I asked for a ring I told she blurted 
out, "He ain't got no ring, I told you he hadn't drawed yet." Some 
way we got through the ceremony without further interruptions. 
Since I didn't have blank certificates we walked a block to the 
church office. I told Rose, my secretary to keep the old lady so I 
could have a private conference. She tried but the woman pushed 
her aside with "I'm not going to miss any of this, that's why I came 
along." The certificate was duly signed, and as a parting shot she 
said: "If you will give me an envelope - backed (meaning 
self-addressed) I'll see that he puts something in it when he draws 
and sends it to you." She was given the envelope but he never drew 
as far as I know. 



49 



Reaching For My Halo 

Soon after moving to Greensboro I was working real hard to 
find the homes of my membership. One afternoon after a bad 
afternoon I came home about as tired as I ever got. Ida met me at 
the door with an emergency call. One of my flock was near death 
and directions wre riot clear as to how I would find the ill lady. 
After driving several miles I found her. She met me at the door 
with hat on and pocketbook on her arm about to go out to dinner. 
I introduced myself as the new pastor of Glenwood. She was 
courteous and told me she used to be a member of that church, 
but when a new Methodist church, St. Andrews, was built she had 
transferred her membership five years before. I said someone 
told me you were sick. Well! She said "I've been having some 
middle age problems, but nothing serious." I extracted myself 
from the situation about as gracefully as a cow would have 
crawled through a barbed- wire fence. I learned later not to 
depend on what this woman told me. She often called the 
parsonage under the idea she was helping the minister. The 
minister could easily do without that kind of information. 

Then there was Sue, she would call on the telephone and talk, 
and talk, and then talk. I often laid the receiver on my desk and 
went on with my work, stopping occasionally to grunt or say yes. I 
really think there was no organic connection between her tongue 
and her brain. I never knew what she was talking about at times. 
She would complain about her husband. He was a quiet, humble 
man, a very good churchman, but he failed to measure up to her 
requirement. He did not pray in public, he could not sing in the 
choir, he didn't like Billy Graham, and he resented her sending 
money each month to him. I liked the man very much and for five 
years we worked together in the church with his carping, wife 
nagging at every point. In 1985 I was at Homecoming, one of the 
warmest greetings came from Sue. Her husband had been dead 
for several years. She told me and I quote, "You greatly 
contributed to the happiness of my family, and you made a good 
man out of my husband." I'm sure he has been well-rewarded for 
his patience. 

In Greensboro I had a brief encounter with the TV as a 
counselor. It was short-lived because I was overwhelmed with 
alcoholics. They seemed to crawl out of the walls and find me 
either at home or the office. The choice I should continue the 
conventional ministry, or I could try to advise and help alcoholics. 



50 



Reaching For My Halo 

There was no way I could do both. The choice was easy, I was 
happy being a pastor, and wasn't keen about the sordid tales that 
every addict wanted you to hear. I backed off from the 
counseling, and even yet I'm known to some people as the pastor 
who was a friend to drunks. We did open a chapter of A. A. which 
met in the church each Monday evening. I occasionally attended, 
but only occasionally. I met a millionaire lawyer on a downtown 
street. He embraced me, and asked me had I heard what 
happened the night before at the AA meeting. I had not heard. 
"They made me chaplain of the damned thing." That could have 
helped me to remain in the regular ministry. 

During the second or third year at Glenwood we built an 
educational building that was sorely needed. We included offices 
and a chapel. We made all the mistakes we could make in one 
building so that 35 years later they are still trying to fix some of 
the results. Then after a year at High Point Betty accepted a job at 
Starksville, Mississippi at the First Methodist Church there. Ida 
and I made a very pleasant trip down to see her in the springtime. 
Tom, Jr. had met Betty Loyd and was much in love with her. 
Betty came home after a year and worked at Ardmore Church, 
Winston Salem until she and Sterling Turner were married in 
Glenwood Church. Tom and Betty Loyd were married Christmas 
in Glenwood Church, 1952. Betty and Sterling were married in 
September, 1953. 

I was president of Greensboro Methodist ministers. The 
Greensboro Daily News carried an extract of my Sunday sermon 
in Monday's edition. I was closely associated with a Billy Graham 
crusade. They seemed to be more eager for the collection, than to 
be of service and the permanent results were disappointing. 

I was not fifty years old and requested to be assigned to another 
pastorate. My preaching had matured, and I believed I had 
reached my potential as a pastor. 



51 



Chapter 
11 



.^LFTER FIVE years at the Glenwood Church in Greensboro, a 
move was anticipated. The Bishop asked me about a district 
superintendent's position. He asked would I rather go to 
Reedsville or the Marion District. I immediately said Reedsville. 
He was thinking more about placing the Marion District man at 
Glenwood than he was about my appointment. I heard nothing 
more of where I would be stationed until the second day of 
conference. I met Jim Byers and E. L. Walker in the basement of 
the conference church in High Point, and they told me I was 
going to Forest City. It was O.K. with me since I was going back to 
my home territory after an absence of nearly forty years. Betty 
was in Tennessee where Sterling was serving a church at Johnson 
City. Tom and Betty Loyd were in Durham where he was in the 
third year of the Divinity School at Duke University. We had 
some calls and letters from our Forest City people welcoming us. 
So we moved to Forest City on my fiftieth birthday, October 6, 
1953. I had good office help and a competent music director. 
There was approximately $100,000.00 in the building fund, and 
a good lot, one block away on which a new church was to be built. 
The architect had been chosen to draw plans, but had not been 



52 



Reaching For My Halo 

properly authorized to start sketches and the detail. It was plain 
what the move meant for me — another building project. It was 
also obvious that the congregation was not organized or united 
for an undertaking of this size. So, for the first year, we marked 
time, launched a fund-raising effort for $50,000.00. On this note 
I began my ministry at Forest City. It was good to be home where 
I had relatives and where they called me Hoyle rather than Tom. 

It had been the custom for the minister to use the communion 
offering to help folk in need. After Communion Sunday, I would 
have a flock of panhandlers at the parsonage door. I opened the 
door one morning and a woman went into a well-oiled story of 
need and distress. At the close of the memorized speech, she 
looked up to see a strange man standing there. She said, "You 
ain't the one!" She was expecting to see the former pastor. I 
believed the money we gave was being used to buy alcohol so I 
instituted a new method. I sent them to the store for groceries or 
to the cafe for lunch. It cut down the calls for help about 90%. 

I was asked to go see a sick woman that I did not know. I 
knocked on the door and heard an intimidating voice say, "Come 
in." I hesitated, then knocked again. An angry voice said, "Damn 
it, can't you turn the door knob." I opened the door. A woman 
was in bed in the room. She reached under the pillow and handed 
me a dollar bill. With as much anger as she could muster, she told 

me, "Take this dollar, or you can take this 

furniture and both of you go to hell." I thanked her for the 
invitation to go to hell, but as I was a Methodist preacher, I was 
not a likely candidate for the trip. She covered her face with the 
bed clothing and said, "Oh my God, what have I done now?" She 
was supposed to have been a prospective member of my church, 
but I never saw the woman again. Do you suppose that she was 
offended by my reluctance to go to hell? 

One day I walked into the old hospital at Rutherfordton. They 
had a four-bed ward for heart patients. A nurse, whom I knew, 
met me almost in tears saying, "I want to kill a preacher. There's a 
man in the ward preaching to those dying men. Two of them are 
unconscious." So, I went in the ward. A large man had laid a big 
black Bible on a tray stand. A huge black hat was lying beside it. 
The Preacher was exhorting loudly to these men to make their 
peace with God for it might be their last chance. I said nothing but 
walked over and closed the Bible, handed it and the hat to the 



53 



Reaching For My Halo 

preacher and motioned him to the door. He went out and 
complained to the receptionist that there was a man in there who 
had broken up a Divine Service. I had no authority to do what I 
did, except the authority of right. It prevailed at that instance. 

The next day I was playing golf with some laymen on the city 
golf course. As we approached the fourth hole, I lofted a high ball 
that dropped on the green and hit a game rooster on the head, 
killing it instantly. Someone told the local paper about it. The 
Associated Press picked it up and sent it over the nation's wires 
under the heading of "Minister gets a Birdie." I received many 
letters from as far away as Oregon and California as a result of the 
killing of that rooster. 

One cold winter evening with occasional sleet falling, there 
were eight or ten boys from Bob Jones College in Greenville, 
South Carolina there in Forest City. They had been preaching 
that Saturday afternoon on the street and passing out tracts. 
About seven o'clock that night with no one around, I found four 
of them huddled together in front of Smith's Drugs. I invited 
them to the parsonage to get warm before their drive back to 
Greenville. They found the others in their party and they all came 
into the warm house. While Ida served them cake and ice cream, 
they became enthusiastic about helping me. They offered to 
come the next day, saying that they would simply take over all of 
the preaching, the singing, and teaching of the classes in the 
Sunday School. I tried to let them down easy by saying that the 
sermons were already prepared and the teachers were ready to 
teach. But it took me about a month to convince these 
well-meaning boys that their leadership was not needed at the 
First Methodist Church. 

We had a good building committee. They worked well with the 
minister and architect. The congregation united, and the second 
year we made a positive move toward the new building. We 
presented a plan which the church adopted, voting unanimously 
to proceed with the building. This church building had been 
needed for twenty-five years. Now it was nearing reality. So, one 
hot Sunday afternoon, we held the ground-breaking ceremony. 
Then the Beam Construction Company began the construction 
of the building. The congregation was elated and thrilled with the 
prospects of entering a new era of church life. My experience has 
taught me that there are three critical points in the life of a new 



54 



Reaching For My Halo 

church building. The first comes in selecting the plan. The 
second comes when the walls are up and the roof is on and the 
cost is increasing. The tendency is to start cutting corners and 
cheapen the entire structure. The third crisis comes when the 
building is nearly finished. Suddenly, out of the blue, there will 
appear all sorts of experts on how to finish up a building, 
including the colors, the kind of pews to be bought, the type of 
chairs, the kind of lights in the building, or the type of windows. 
Persons who had never built a bird house suddenly acquired the 
knowledge of how a half-million dollar building should be 
finished. One such instance I'll relate since both of the 
participants are gone. 

These two people saw the columns in the sanctuary, then called 
me in and said, "Take those columns out." I explained that those 
steel columns were the roof supports. It would cost a great deal to 
eliminate them. "Take them out and I'll pay the cost" one of the 
people said. The architect was nearby. I called him and asked how 
much it would cost to take the columns out. He got out his slide 
rule and figured with it for a few minutes, then said it would cost 
between $30,000,000 and $35,000.00. We never heard any more 
of that request — the columns are still there. 

Another family was giving an organ. A representative of the 
family gave me no end of trouble all during the building of the 
church. I had no trouble dealing with the family, themselves, but 
their representative had no expertise in dealing with the 
Methodist church or knowledge of the Methodist practices. She 
undertook to brow beat me into allowing her the right to say who 
could play the organ, who could use the organ and when it could 
be used. She finally threatened to go over my head "to higher 
authority." Well, that did it. I called her in the office and told her 
that the highest authority in the First Methodist Church was 
doing the talking and that the donor was under no obligations to 
give an organ, but once given, it was the property of the church 
and would be used as the church saw fit. She cried but that didn't 
change things. She then told me that I was ungrateful and 
stubborn and no one could reason with me. That still didn't 
change my decision. I partially agreed with her, but I would not 
be brow beaten or shoved about. It was a painful experience for 
me, I had to take a hard position which was out of character for 
me, but I felt it was necessary to free the gift that would have been 



55 



Reaching For My Halo 

a constant source of trouble. The members of the building 
committee offered to deal with the lady but I chose to take full 
responsibility of my actions. That relieved the pressure and I had 
no more trouble on this score. 

As we approached the time to begin using the new facilities, an 
amusing incident took place. One prominent lady of the 
congregation assumed that I knew nothing about ritual or how to 
use an altar centered pulpit. She came quite often to the office or 
the parsonage to bring me pamphlets or books on a liturgical 
worship. I led her on a little, I suspect, until she told me one day 
that I wasn't concerned enough about learning how to use our 
new pulpit. She offered to take me around to some Lutheran and 
Episcopal churches to observe how they did it. I told her I had 
preached in those churches and would try to do my work with the 
knowledge that I had. If I fell on my face, I would absolve her of 
any fault. It was months before I felt that she trusted me, but after 
I retired, she came to me and apologized for her presumptions. 

We ran an ad in the Asheville paper for an organist when we 
went into the new church. We had one applicant that gave the 
committee lots of fun. He aspired to be a musician without any 
training. He said God gave him the talent. He said, "I mastered 
the piano in seven days and while I have never played an organ, I 
feel sure I can master it in a week's time." He also told us that he 
did not read music, but caught on rather quickly when given a 
chance. Well, we never gave him a chance, but declined his 
services. I asked an insurance man that I knew in Asheville if he 
knew George. "Oh yes", he replied, "we pay him $200.00 per 
month to be crazy and I think we are getting our money's worth." 

The day we entered the new church was a high moment for the 
congregation and the pastor. I had worked so hard that I was as 
near total exhaustion as I have ever been. Robert Watkins has 
pictures of almost every stage of building. Mrs. Virginia Rucker 
covered the projects in the paper from the beginning to 
completion. The old church with all its memories was difficult for 
some older people to leave, but the enthusiasm for the new one 
was unbounded. The next day, Ida and I slipped off and went to 
Howard Johnson's motel at Asheville and rested for two days. 
This was the best recreation I had had in months. 

The windows of the church were not complete, but the subjects 
were planned. In a few years we had some of the loveliest 



56 



Reaching For My Halo 

memorial windows in our part of the state. The church cost a little 
less than one-half million dollars when complete. I felt that I had 
made a contribution in the planning and the building of it. 

The third year in Forest City we bought a little brown house on 
108 Owens Street. We had thought for years that we would live in 
Shelby when retirement came. We had bought and sold one 
house in Shelby and owned a lovely lot in the west end of that city. 
We had our house plans, but we really had no deep desire to live 
in Shelby. One day, while visiting with Babe Owens, we saw that 
they were laying the foundation of a house. I became interested 
in that house. Babe sold the house to us for what it cost him. The 
total cost, including the seeding of the lawn, was slightly over 
$7,200.00. 1 had no money to put down. The Building and Loan 
of Rutherfordton said they couldn't loan me more than 
$10,000.00 on it. I didn't need that much. Oscar Mooneyham was 
anxious for me to retire in Forest City so he loaned me $1,200.00 
at no interest, I borrowed $6,000.00 from the Building and Loan, 
then rented the house for enough to cover the monthly 
payments. For the most part, the people who lived in the house 
took care of it. We were especially happy to have Zeb and Helyn 
Lowery for seven years. They kept the house in good condition 
and Zeb tended the yard as if it were his own. This was the best 
financial move I ever made. We greatly appreciate Babe and 
Edna Owens' help in getting our retirement home. 

While at Forest City, I served as chairman of the Conference 
Board of the Ministry. For eight years all the candidates for the 
Methodist Ministry came under the supervision of this Board. 
There were fifteen others on the board and the fellowship with 
these men left a real memory. We had some very difficult 
situations to face and complex problems to solve. In the hundreds 
of decisions we had to make, I never saw one decided on the basis 
of prejudice or caprice. 

One case involved a man who we felt lacked the training or 
dedication to make the grade. He came before us and attempted 
to bowl us over with his competence. He said he could fill any 
pulpit in the church. We questioned him on his theology and his 
concept of the ministry. He sensed he wasn't doing very well in his 
answers and said "if you don't want me, I have at least two Baptist 
churches that are clamoring for me as their pastor." A member of 
the committee leaned forward and said gently to him, "If the 



57 



Reaching For My Halo 

Baptist churches need you that badly, it would be unChristian of 
us to deny them your services." That remark deflated him 
completely and we proceeded in the normal fashion with his 
application. 

Our two oldest grandchildren, Ann and Avon, were born, 
while we lived in Forest City. We were as foolish over these 
children as new grandparents could be They stayed with us off 
and on as much as their parents would allow. The congregation 
was settled in their new building. I was ready to move on to the 
next assignment. I developed some health problems and Drs. 
Elliot and Becknell tied to find an ulcer but finally decided that it 
was fatigue. They tried to help me relax, but I found it very hard 
to keep from working fourteen hours a day, seven days per week. 
So, Ida packed her Sunday dress, and I my Bible, and we were 
ready to move again. 



58 



Chapter 

12 



f 

The bishop talked with me about my next appointment. I 
told him that I had built so many buildings that if I ever got to 
heaven, St. Peter would hand me a set of blue prints and tell me to 
build my own mansion. But, you guessed it, I was assigned to First 
Church at Mt. Holly where there was a church to be relocated and 
constructed. The former pastor was a lovable character beloved 
by his people. He was also popular with the ministers of the 
conference. He had a long pastorate at Mt. Holly and had 
prepared the way for me in an excellent manner. 

In June, 1957 we moved into a new parsonage with new 
furnishings. We had never before had such a convenient and 
livable house in all our moves. We were located on a quiet street, 
near the business section and also near the church. We were well 
received by the people, we had office help that was adequate, and 
we had a Duke Divinity student as assistant pastor. The schedule 
of preaching was very heavy. Sunday morning I preached at 9:00 
and 1 1:00. Sunday School was between the services, and we also 
had a well attended evening service. I followed this schedule with 
few exceptions for the next four years. The church was packed 
for both morning services, and I think I did the best preaching of 



59 



Reaching For My Halo 

my entire ministry. The music was good, the congregation 
harmonious, and the work hard, but rewarding. Here at Mt. 
Holly was the first time I could take a day off each week. I did just 
that, leaving the assistant pastor to look after matters that came 
up while I was out of town. 

An amusing incident took place soon after we arrived in Mt. 
Holly. The new Presbyterian minister was being honored at a 
reception in his church. I along with half of the town was invited. 
I had met few people outside of my own congregation. I was 
introduced to a man as the new Methodist preacher, but he paid 
no attention to the introduction. He hung around me until he 
could get to talk with me. He said, "you're new here, aren't you?" I 
said that I had been here only a few weeks. He asked me if I had 
heard Dr. so-and-so preach? This was his pastor. I told him that I 
had not had the privilege as yet. He then proposed to come for 
me and take me to hear Dr. so-and-so the next Sunday morning. I 
realized then that he had paid no attention to my introduction, so 
I casually remarked that when I went to a new town, I usually 
attend the Methodist church. That set him afire. "Well, you won't 
want to here. The Methodists have a church next door and I hear 
they have a new preacher, but he is no doctor. I suppose he is just 
the run of the mill preacher." He was getting warmed up to the 
subject. He really meant to hijack me into his church when the 
Baptist pastor came and said, "How's my Methodist neighbor 
pastor tonight?" The man glanced at me and then took off. I 
never saw him again that night. I was later teasing my predecessor 
about being a run of the mill preacher and with one guess he 
named the man who had put his foot in his mouth. 

One of the first major problems I encountered in Mt. Holly was 
the selection of a building committee. We had about $100,000.00 
in cash and a new lot two blocks from the present church, but no 
plans had been formulated. Ten competent people were 
nominated by the official board and five were to be chosen to be 
on the building committee. It was about the time that woman's lib 
was being discussed and the title of Miss or Mrs. was being 
dropped by some in favor of Ms. I thought at least one woman 
should have been on the committee. Two women were on the list 
of ten, but one missed by a few votes. The other, a woman who 
campaigned hard, came in last. It was all good natured fun and 
left no lasting division. One man who was elected turned out to be 



60 



Reaching For My Halo 

an alcoholic, but we worked around him. He wanted the church 
built and contributed heavily to it. He was agreeable to work with 
when he was himself. It was a difficult building project. Here we 
were confronted not only with a major building, but we were 
moving the location of the church from where it had been for 85 
years. However, we moved through decision after decision with 
good will and harmony. I want to pay a special tribute to J. B. 
Thompson who guided us smoothly through the first project, 
that of the educational building. 

Before it was abolished, the county operated a poor farm, a 
county home where homeless or the infirm with no resources 
could live. Ma Paley was a resident of what she called the poor 
house. She was a notorious woman. She had been in and out of jail 
more times than she could remember. She openly admitted that 
selling whiskey was her life's work, though she drank up her 
profit. At her death, the operator of the farm asked me to come 
and do a short service for her. The county health officer, the 
operator of the farm, the county sheriff and four prisoners came 
out and constituted the only mourners. As we were walking to the 
grave, a sudden thunderstorm broke. We stopped in an open 
shed for shelter. We were talking of her wasted life and the 
tragedy of no friends in death, when lightning struck an oak tree 
nearby. The thunder was frightening. The first to speak was the 
sheriff who remarked, "Well, Ma got there alright and is raising 
cane with the devil already." The prisoners were not happy 
carrying this evil woman during an electrical storm, but the storm 
passed and we went to the grave that the prisoners had dug. It was 
muddy, when they placed the casket on the grave, one of the 
prisoners slipped and slid under the casket into the grave. It 
scared the young prisoner who screamed for help as the other 
prisoners ran. So the doctor, the sheriff and the preacher pulled 
the black man out of the grave. He was as white as he will ever be. 
We had to persuade the other prisoners to return and fill the 
grave. Thus, Ma Paley was buried. 

Speaking of lightning, I was called to a home where a son had 
been killed in a motorcycle accident. The funeral was in the 
home. I did not know the family. The house was packed with 
people for the funeral. I got to the front door and an old lady 
grabbed me by the arm and said, "What do you know? I've been 
struck by lightning three times. Once I was sitting under the 



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Reaching For My Halo 

house and it knocked a pillar out near me. Once when I was 
helping my husband load hay in the field, and the last time I was 
milking a cow. The lightning knocked the cow down and I spilled 
a bucket of milk." I made an effort to go on into the house. When 
I was at the casket, the old lady got hold of me again and said, 
"What do you know, I've been struck by lightning three times." 
She proceeded to repeat all the details. By this time, my interest in 
her close call was rapidly declining. I slowly made my way 
through the crowd into the bedroom where the mother of the 
deceased was. I stooped to talk to her while the old lady almost 
climbed up on my back and said, "What do you know, I've been 
hit by lightning three times." I tried to speak words of comfort to 
a distraught mother while the old woman recounted the three 
events for the third time. During the funeral service, I glanced 
around and saw she had corned the undertaker and was telling 
him something. Then on the way to the cemetery, he told me of a 
woman who had been hit by lightning three times. I told him yes, 
I had heard something about it. 

Our church at Mt. Holly was located only a few feet from the 
police station. One winter was very cold with snow on the ground 
for weeks. We noticed that the heat was on in the church each 
morning. Also, we found cigarette stubs on the floor of the 
sanctuary. Someone was sleeping in the church and costing the 
church money for heat. I told the chief of police, who happened 
to be a member of the church. "I think I know who it is," he said. 
The next morning the heat was not on, nor were the cigarette 
stubs there. A few days later, I was called to conduct a funeral of a 
wino who had been found in the cab of a discarded truck down on 
the river. He had frozen to death. I had never seen the man, no 
one knew his name, and yet, I felt a sense of responsibility for his 
death. I asked myself if I, by speaking about his using the church, 
had contributed to his death. I'll not soon forget the agony in my 
heart as we buried this unknown man in the Potter's Field. 

Our church had a set of bells that played hymns at noon and 
five in the afternoon. It could be heard all over the town. They 
were especially loud in the cold weather. Someone had misset the 
timer. One cold morning about 2:30, the police called me and 
asked me to please come down to the church and turn off the 
bells. They had aroused the people of the town with a rendition of 
He Leadeth Me over and over again. To this day when I hear this 



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Reaching For My Halo 

song, I think of that cold night and my fumbling to fmd the keys 
to the central cabinet to stop the music so Mt. Holly could go back 
to sleep. 

We had an excellent Boy Scout program in our church. During 
Boy Scout Week one February, six of these boys were camping 
out on the church lawn to prove that they were rugged men. 
Saturday night, it turned bitter cold. Sleet and snow was falling. I 
became concerned that we would have some boys frozen or their 
health would be endangered so I went out to the camp about 
11:00. The tents were closed up and I noticed an electric line 
from the church to the tents. The boys were cozy and warm under 
electric blankets. They were living up to their motto "Be 
Prepared." 

The winter of 1958 I was invited to Cuba for an evangelistic two 
weeks. One hundred twenty men were invited from the U.S. We 
flew from Miami. The plane carrying my party landed in Ogines 
Province about forty miles from Victoria De Las Tunas where 1 
was to be stationed. I stayed at the parsonage with another 
minister from North Carolina. The pastor was a young Cuban 
woman whose mother lived with her. There were about 
twenty-five members of the Methodist church there at the 
parsonage to welcome us. It was after 6 o'clock as we got in. While 
we were eating supper, I was told that I was expected to preach at 
the 7 o'clock service that night. This was Friday. I had thought 
that I would preach Sunday morning. We walked a block with the 
welcoming committee to fmd the church overflowing with 
people. 1 had never spoken through an interpreter before, and I 
knew only two words in Spanish — oui and gracias. I had been 
warned by the pastor that there would probably be government 
soldiers at the service to see that no anti-government ideas were 
promoted. The Castro Revolution was in full swing, but 1 was not 
prepared to fmd four uniformed soldiers with submachine guns, 
two waiting inside the church and the other two on the steps. The 
two inside the church stood silently against the back wall and 
made no disturbance, but it had a chilling effect on the 
congregation. 1 never worked as hard in my life as I did in Cuba. 
For ten days, I preached to large groups of people two and three 
times a day. I preached on street corners, in abandoned 
buildings, in sugar mills, in sugar cane fields, on store porches as 
well as in churches. I bought a plot of land in a sugar cane mill and 



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Reaching For My Halo 

the converts formed a unit of the Methodist church. I later 
learned that they had built a church there. The government 
controlled the countryside during the day while Castro's united 
forces controlled it by night. There were few clashes during my 
stay there. Each side didn't dare to attack the other. 

One night I was preaching from a little store front to about 100 
people. Just as I began my sermon, 200 uniformed Castro 
soldiers came out of the cane and gathered around for the 
service. They carried their submachine guns. At the closing of my 
sermon an invitation was given to accept Christ as a Saviour. We 
used the edge of the porch as an altar. Twenty-five or thirty 
people came forward including a dozen of these soldiers who laid 
their guns on the porch and knelt in confession of their faith. 
After the benediction I got separated from my translator. The 
200 soliders came to shake my hand. They understood no 
English; I understood no Spanish so for about 20 minutes I shook 
hands, was hugged, patted on shoulder, and smiled at. All I could 
do was smile back and say gracias. 

The next night I was to preach at the church and at a Sunday 
School outpost in the cane fields. The service was over at the 
church about 8:00. We hurried out eight miles to the outpost. 
The little room was packed with people crowded around the door 
and another oepning in the wall in the corner. They made room 
for me and the interpreter. While I preached, Castro's soldiers 
were setting fire to cane fields all around us. When the service was 
over we were ringed by fire and had to be guided a safe way back 
to town. When the invitation was given, it seemed the entire 
congregation wanted to join the Methodist church that night. I 
was hours into the night relaxing after the two glorious services 
and seeing how the gospel was not affected, even in the midst of 
war. My second Sunday in Cuba I preached seven times to seven 
congregations and had converts at all seven. I could not have 
sustained that level of labor for many more days. We flew home 
Monday evening and I rested for a whole week. 

Contracts were let for the new church. The groundbreaking 
ceremonies were over. Ida and I decided to find a mountain 
retreat and take the doctor's advice to do manual labor at least 
once each week. We had no real estate except our house at Forest 
City and it was rented. So, one day each week we would head for 
the mountains seeking a secluded place to build a modest cottage. 



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Reaching For My Halo 

We were not too particular about where to build, but we wanted 
seclusion. What we found was either not for sale or the price was 
prohibitive. It was simply more than we wanted to pay. One 
Monday we stopped in Gerton, North Carolina and were told that 
a Mr. Carrier had some land for sale. We visited him and told him 
what we wanted. He asked, "do you want to build a house on it?". 
I told him yes. He then said "let's walk out to Rockbriar Road and 
you can pick out what you want, and I'll give you a deed for it." 
Well, we walked out the road which lay on the south side of 
Rattlesnake Knob. We selected a spot that we liked and insisted 
on buying it. He said that the only string attached to it was that we 
build on the lot. We had never seen Mr. Carrier before and he 
knew nothing about us. I was very hesitant about accepting any 
land as a gift from him. We went home thrilled with our fmd, but 
wary of the obligations acceptance of the gift might entail. Before 
the week was over Mr. Carrier's son called me from Charlotte and 
told me not to hestitate to take the land. "If Dad gives it to you by 
all means take it, because he has never given anything away." To 
shorten the story, in January of 1959 we took a deed of the lot and 
recorded it located on Rattlesnake Knob. The people in the 
village of Gerton were very curious as to how we got a lot in the 
middle of a 1,000 acre tract from Mr. Carrier, since he was a 
difficult man to deal with. We found it a delight to know and be 
with Mr. Carrier, and after his death, his daughter. It was a 
pleasant relationship. 

During the remaining part of the winter we collected material 
for the house. We got a simple house plan from a young architect 
consisting of two bedrooms, a living and dining area and a large 
outside patio. When spring came we were ready to start building. 
Tuesdays was my day off. Ida and I would drive to Bear Wallow 
and work on the house. In the afternoon, exhausted, we would 
return home. Some of the grandchildren named it the "mountain 
house". It was a family affair; we all worked toward building it. 
Tom, Jr. was the first to spend the night there. It was only a shell 
of a house for many months as we had little time to work and no 
pressure to finish. Ida and I dug septic tanks and drain lines, did 
plumbing and electrical work, laid flooring, put up ceiling and so 
forth. For several years, it was the gathering place for our family. 
We all have rich memories of the "mountain house", especially 
the grandchildren who did a lot of growing up there on that 



65 



Reaching For My Halo 

rough mountainside. After I retired, I no longer needed to hide 
away and the house was sold. The grandchildren have not 
forgiven me for selling the place and I confess that at times I have 
a longing for the solitude and rest we knew there. 

The mountain house story would not be complete without a 
word about Furman and his ox. Furman was a young man about 
30 years of age when we first met him. He literally lived in the 
woods with Dan, his ox. His was a simple mind; he had never been 
to school and had grown up on the vast acreage surrounding 
Rattlesnake Knob. When the house where he was born burned 
down, he simply went into the woods to live. He would accept 
charity from no one. The community got together and built him a 
two-room block house but he would not use it. He mowed lawns 
for summer people down in the village and occasionally 
ploughed gardens to get money to buy oatmeal and "maders" 
which were his principle food. He offended no one, and he would 
tell you that he was a good boy. He broke his leg in the woods once 
and crawled three-quarters of a mile to get help, dragging his 
broken leg. His brother took him to his home, but two days later 
Furman slipped off and went back in the woods to look after his 
ox. He stayed on crutches until he could walk again on his leg. He 
told me one day that he would spend his old age at the state 
hospital where his mother had died. The last I heard of Furman 
was in Winter when he was sleeping under a porch of an old 
house. The temperature was 5° below zero. 



66 



/ 

Chapter 

13 



In 1961 1 grew restless and wanted to move on. The educational 
building was almost ready for use and I wanted the new minister 
to have the joy of these new facilities. I requested a move to the 
mountains since I had never served in a mountain district. So, 
when the assignments were made, I was sent to Main Street 
Church in High Point. It was a downtown church of about 1,000 
members with no building projects. Tom, Jr. was pastor of St. 
Johns in nearby Greensboro, and it was a joy to be near he and his 
family. The former pastor informed me that he would be out of 
the parsonage by 8 o'clock in the morning on moving day. We got 
there about noon. He was not packed and had decided to remain 
another day. Well, there we were with our belongings and no 
where to go, so we left our property on the truck and drove over 
the Greensboro to our friends, the Richardsons, and spent the 
night. We delayed going back the next morning to give the pastor 
time to vacate the parsonage. But when we got back toHigh Point 
about noon, they had made no effort to start packing. The fact of 
the matter is that the preacher did not want to leave High Point 
though the congregation wanted him to go. 

While waiting for the parsonage to be emptied, we went to the 



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Reaching For My Halo 

hospital to call on some very sick people. Ida sat in the waiting 
room while I made my calls. The temperature outside was about 
100 degrees. My temperature was rising as well because of 
frustration. A nurse came to Ida and told her she would admit 
her to the hospital in a few minutes. The second time the nurse 
came with a wheel chair to admit Ida, she was almost willing to go. 
We finally got to move into the lovely parsonage about 5 o'clock in 
the afternoon. Then we learned that the former pastor had 
wanted a going away reception. When he found that they were 
giving a welcoming reception for us the night before, he did not 
inform us and turned it into a reception for himself. The folks 
who arranged the reception were angry at the former pastor, but 
it made our welcome more cordial. The next week, when the 
Main Street people turned out to welcome us, they went all out. 
The fellowship hall was crowded with people milling around, 
talking and getting acquainted. Ida was a beautiful woman to be 
the grandmother of six. Everyone talked about how youthful she 
looked. I casually remarked that my children were my first wife's 
children. This was true, but Ida came to me in a few minutes and 
said, "you've got to fix something. The folks think I'm your 
second wife." Then gossip spread across the room of 200 people 
within 5 minutes. The correction also traveled fast, so no damage 
was done by my wisecrack. 

I was in my mid-fifties by now and thought nothing could shock 
me, but I was mistaken. The hospital social director called me one 
morning to ask me to see a lady whose baby had died. She said 
they had no pastor and the father of the child had requested a 
minister be called. I visitied with the father and did what I could 
to comfort him. Then went to see the mother. She was sitting up 
in bed smoking a cigarette. I expressed my sympathy over the loss 
of the baby. She cut me off short with "no need to waste your 
sympathy here, I didn't want the damn brat anyway. It was my 
husband's idea." I left as quickly as possible and returned to the 
husband who was genuinely grieved and was reacting as a decent 
human being would. 

Speaking of surprises, I was called soon after moving to High 
Point by a lady who wanted me to call at 2 o'clock that afternoon 
for a conference. The manner in which the conference was 
arranged caused a warning bell to go off in my mind. So, I asked 
Ida to go along with me. I scarcely knew the woman. When she 



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Reaching For My Halo 

opened the door and saw Ida was with me, her shocked 
expression gave us laughs for twenty years. She was dressed in the 
flimsiest negligee possible and she had forgotten what she wanted 
to discuss with me. I was her pastor for four years and that was the 
only time she wanted to have a counseling session with me. 

Early in my ministry in High Point we became friends with 
Frank and Kathleen Alman. We spent many hours together. 
They owned a house at Chigger Lake where we spent much time. 
We used the house for church outings, and small parties. We 
made trips to beaches together and also to Florida and the 
mountain house. When we think of High Point years, only one 
unpleasant thing comes to mind; Frank died soon after we left 
High Point and I lost the best of all friends. 

I had served some heavy pastorates and at High Point I began 
having trouble with my heart. I had brief periods in the hospital 
and was advised to slow down my activity. Over a thirty year span, 
I had often preached revivals in other churches as well as my own. 
Frankly, I liked to preach and it was never a burden to me. I also 
enjoyed the fellowship of neighbor pastors and their Methodist 
people, but I began to decline invitations for revival meetings. 

While in High Point, I was a guest in the home of a family that 
had a five year old boy who had been told to be on his good 
behavior, because the preacher was coming. When I was left 
alone with the boy he asked, "Are you a preacher?" I agreed that I 
was. "Well, you don't look like a preacher to me." I never knew 
just what a preacher looked like, but he put the clincher on it with 
this. "If you're a preacher, preach something to show me that you 
are a real preacher." 

After four years conference time came and I had an 
incompetent district superintendent who played a secretive game 
about where I was going. We were at Lake Junaluska when I 
was told Green Street at Winston-Salem would be my next 
assignment. It was a good place and a fine congregation to serve, 
but, it was in the inner city. They needed a more vigorous man for 
a pastor. I was sent anyway. We moved to Winston Salem for a 
second time. The primary duties I had were preaching and 
pastoral visitation. The membership scattered across the entire 
city. Getting to know my people was an exhausting period. I was a 
regular visitor to the Baptist Hospital for treatment of esophagus 
trouble. In the middle of my second year at Winston-Salem, the 



69 



Reaching For My Halo 

doctor who had seen me for several months told be bluntly, 
"you'd better retire." He said, "you have run too far, too fast, and 
you have about six months to live if you go on in your present rate 
of activity." This stunned me. Then he added, "if you retire now 
at conference, you may live a year or two." I did not want to retire 
as I loved what I was doing. November and December, 1966 were 
months of decision. Christmastime came and we decided to 
follow the advice of the doctor. The house at Forest City had no 
mortgage on it. So we bought our furniture in High Point and 
stored it until June. Then, with heavy hearts one cold, foggy day 
in January, Ida and I drove to Forest City to meet Jimmy Stamey 
who would remodel our house. We drove up to the street in front 
of the house just as the city crew was placing a sign on the street 
that said, "Dead End". We sat in the car and had a good laugh at 
the sign. At that time, we thought it was "The End" of the road for 
us, and the sign "Dead End" was very fitting. 

After a series of farewell parties we moved into our house in 
Forest City in June of 1967. The Bob McDuffies helped us 
complete our house furnishing. This was the first home that had 
belonged to us. The fact that we could no longer call a parsonage 
committee when things broke down was a new situation for us. 

I have included some bizarre events in this chapter, and some 
oddities in former chapters. It would be a mistake to close this 
walk through the years without some mention of the people who 
have made our lives happy, and we hope useful. I'm sure I'll omit 
some and to those, I offer my sincere apology. These are just 
some of the folks who came to my mind as I wrote. During my 
first pastorate in Caldwell County, I came to know two families 
whose contribution to the church and to my life cannot be 
measured; Everette Clay and his family and the George Tuttle 
family have for years been the strength of Littlejohn's Church. 
They have given ministers, one missionary and a large number of 
consecrated laymen and women to the church. The two men 
mentioned were great supporters of me as I, fresh out of college 
with no experience, tried to be a Methodist Preacher. Looking 
back I feel that these men were placed to be of most value to me. 

Twenty years later it was my privilege to know Bill Zink and his 
family. For almost a century the Zink family had been deep in the 
Glenwood Church. Their vision of what the church should be 
and the willingness to make the sacrifices needed to achieve the 



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Reaching For My Halo 

purposes stand out in my mind. Bill and Helen opened their 
hearts to us. We were welcomed into their home with warmth. 
Their Christian fellowship was rich and enduring. Their 
nephews and nieces, and sister Lena continued to serve with 
distinction. While I was pastor of Glenwood I had the best 
treasurer, the most cooperative choir director, organist, and the 
most competent secretary, all members of this illustrious family. 

Through the bitter years of the depression in the 30's a 
gracious lady comes to mind, Mrs. Marshal Dillon of Gastonia. 
Her services to the Smyre Church and to the community she had 
no equal. She used her resources not for display, but to humbly 
help the people who were struggling through the Great 
Depression. She distributed used clothing and provided lunches 
for some children who would have gone hungry without her 
help. She planned a trip for mothers each summer. These 
mothers would not have been able to get away even for a day. One 
year, a week in the mountain, the next year, a week at the beach 
were all planned and arranged by this lady, in addition to helping 
raise funds for the outings. She often kept a child to relieve an 
overworked mother so she could go out and shop or just get away 
from the pressure. I was simply a spectator to her labors, but she 
qualified for my top rank in labors of love. 

I could write volumes of lay people who have influence my life. 
There was Charlie Campbell, Gilbert Miller, Agnes Kirk, Gladys 
Kimbrell, Joe Thompson, Fielding Kerns, Viola Brigman, Bert 
Shooping, Carolyn Westmoreland, J. B. Thompson, Bill Elliott, 
Fannie McKinney, and Rose Lawrence. These and many more, 
but these come to mind as I think of the excellence observed. The 
virtue of giving all of their talent to God and his church are 
exemplified in these. 



71 



Chapter 

14 



.AlS many experiences as I've had, it would be strange if there 
were not instances that could not be classified. So in this chapter I 
propose to relate some of those incidents. This is not to say that 
they were leftovers or bad experiences, but simply that they were 
unusual, no blame attached, no harm intended to anyone. It's just 
the way it was. 

I begin by recording my worst failure, the most humiliating 
experience that I ever had. I had been a pastor for only a month 
and an old gentleman sent word that he wanted me "to get him 
ready to die." He was 84 years old, and never been to church in his 
lifetime and had never been more than six miles from his 
birthplace. He could not read; he knew nothing of the world but 
the few acres of his mountain farm. He never married and had no 
family. When I called that afternoon he told me that he was old 
enough to die. "I want you to do whatever it takes to get me 
prepared," he said. He seemed to think I had the power to baptize 
him or give him some secret word that would get him to heaven. 
He put additional pressure on me by saying he would do anything 
I said to do in order to become a Christian. That was a major 
responsibility. He could not understand my language; he did not 



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Reaching For My Halo 

know what I was talking about. When I used the word love at one 
point he asked me if Jesus was one of the presidents and assured 
me that he had always voted the straight Democrat ticket that 
someone had marked for him. After three hours of talk, prayer 
and sweat, I was convinced that I could not break through to his 
mind. The basic elements of our faith were wasted upon him. 
With a heavy heart I prepared to leave. I had a preaching 
engagement that night. He asked me what I charged for three 
hours' work. He said a preacher must be paid and handed me 60^ 
and "your time ought to be worth 20^ per hour," he said. Rather 
than offend the old gentleman, I took the 60^. I kept the fee for a 
long time as a reminder of a colossal failure. It was reported to me 
later that the old gentleman had said "I'm ready to die. That 
young preacher at Olivett fixed me up with good directions." I do 
not judge. He is in the hands of a compassionate Lord whose 
property is always to have mercy. 

In the fall of 1928 I was given a battery radio by Esley 
McGinnis. We were living about 7 miles out of Lenoir in open 
country, and there were no radios in that community. I strung a 
wire antenna from the house to a pine tree in the yard. At night I 
could get KDKA station from Pittsburgh and WLW in Cincinnati. 
A member of my congregation at Littlejohn Church asked me if I 
would show him "that thing you have that talks." One Sunday 
night after service he came home with me to see my radio. I 
turned on a few knobs and got some whistles and squeaks, then 
turned some more and got a band playing dance music in 
Pittsburgh. The visitor listened to the speaker that sat on the 
mantle, came over, cautiously looked in the box and said, 
"Preacher, you can't fool me, where's the record." I assured him 
that the music was coming from Pittsburgh without the use of 
wires or records. He didn't believe me and went away that night 
convinced that I had a record concealed in a box hooked up to an 
automobile battery. It was hard for one who knew nothing of 
electricity, not even home lights, nor anything of the telephone to 
conceive of music coming through space with no wires. Soon 
there were radio sets that operated on house current and had no 
need of major outside aerials. The selling of radios became a big 
business. By 1930 almost every home had a radio and 
personalities had a wide following: Milton Berle, Arther 
Godfrey, Will Rogers, Kate Smith, Amos &: Andy, and Major 



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Reaching For My Halo 

Bowes all became households names, to say nothing of the 
various music groups such as Benny Goodman and Guy 
Lombardo. The 1930's were the years of good music, Oklahoma 
and Rhapsody in Blue by Gershwin were very popular due to the 
new radio. This was the first time in history that the average 
citizens could hear and enjoy all types of music and all types of 
musical instruments. 

Other experiences I had during the 30's convinced me that a 
labor dispute throws out for public view the very dregs of human 
greed and depravity. A communistic group descended on 
Gastonia in 1929. I got my first-hand knowledge of the group. 
There was a strike, the police chief was killed, a woman striker 
was ambushed and many went to jail losing their self-respect and 
dividing the community for years. In May, 1934 a strike was in 
progress in Paw Creek. Tension was high, some people were 
getting hungry and my church was in the doghouse with the 
union because we had a Sunday School teacher who was a 
supervisor and we did not fire him. The person I am about to 
describe was unknown to me. He showed up at the parsonage 
with a small sack filled with money. He said things were getting 
out of hand and he wanted me to keep his money until the strike 
was over. He was one of the strikers. I agreed to take it to a bank 
and asked him how much he had. He didn't know, but it was an 
inheritance from his father's farm. He didn't know me so I asked 
why he was leaving the money with me. He told me, and I quote, 
"my Daddy told me I could always trust a Methodist preacher." 
With that he left the bag of money lying on the floor and hurried 
out. He was afraid that someone would see him talking to me. 
When the tellers at the old Independent Trust Company counted 
the money, it totalled $17,218.12. This was a sizable fortune in 
those depression days. I had to make inquiries as to the man's 
name. After the strike was over, no one came for the money. I saw 
the man often on the street but he said nothing about his money. 
After about six months I told him to come and get it. I took him to 
the bank and closed the account. He put the cash in a cloth bag, 
thanked me for keeping it for him and disappeared. I haven't 
seen him since. 

Someone called me to tell me that a woman, the mother of six 
small children, had died just a short while before. It was about 
daylight. I dressed and drove down to the house. I found the 



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Reaching For My Halo 

husband outside sitting on a pile of wood whittling on a stick. He 
didn't seem too grief-stricken when I expressed my sympathy. He 
simply said, "Yes, it's bad for her, but I would rather it was her 
than me." He went on to tell me that he had just planted a large 
crop, and if he had died the crop would have been a total waste. 
He did express one regret of his wife's death. He said that he had 
counted on his wife's help to cultivate the large crop. If he had 
known she would die, he would have planted less acres. He 
certainly earned the oddball classification. 

A well known lady called Miss Tina lived in a two-story, frame 
house that was filled with valuable antique furniture. She was 
deathly afraid of fire. She was afraid her house would burn and 
all the antiques would be destroyed. One morning she smelled 
smoke and called the Charlotte Fire Department. She ran out of 
her house screaming for help. Some neighbors rushed in to carry 
the furniture out into the yard. Miss Tina, hysterical, dashed into 
the house to get some papers. After some minutes she ran out of 
the house carrying a fly swatter, crossed the busy highway, 
climbed a bank and carefully laid the fly swatter on the railroad 
track. There was no fire however, and after the fire trucks left, we 
carried the furniture back into the house. I remembered the fly 
swatter and rescued it just before a freight train came along. This 
whole episode gave the neighbors thirty minutes of excitement 
and the furniture a trip to the yard and back. 

During the tense period of the World War H there was a lady, a 
faithful worker in the church, whose only son was convicted of a 
crime and went to the state prison. She was a widow, fifty-four 
years old and this was her only child. He had been a problem child 
and this last episode broke her heart. She lost her will to live. The 
church members were very supportive of her in her trouble. She 
wanted to die, and talked with me about suicide, but was afraid of 
what pain it would entail. She went to bed and did not get up. The 
doctor said there was nothing wrong with her physically. He and I 
worked every avenue to give her an incentive to live. She was 
taken to the hospital but she told the nurses she was going to die. 
She told others and went so far as to tell them what they could 
have of her personal things and house furnishings. Dr. Stroup 
and I were with her when she died. We were urging her up to the 
end to fight for life but she would only smile and say "it's best to 
get out of this tragic world." The doctor and I waited until the 



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Reaching For My Halo 

mortician came for the body. As he rolled the stretcher out the 
door the doctor said to me, "Preacher, when you conduct this 
woman's funeral, don't say the Lord gave and the Lord taketh 
away, the Lord didn't take her, she died on him." 

In the Glenwood Church we had a strong Woman's Society that 
annually contributed a $1,000.00 or $1,200.00 to the conference 
missions. At the end of a year nothing had reached the 
conference treasurer. The lady who was the local treasurer could 
give no clear picture of what happened to the money. The 
President of the organization and I went to see her. She told us 
how proud she was of her daughter who had won the beauty 
pageant and was Miss North Carolina. We knew the girl who was 
a lovely person, but that was not our interest. She told several 
conflicting stories of what had happened to the money. It was 
obvious that she had used the mission money for clothing for her 
daughter's beauty pageants. Now she could not replace it. The 
money was never recovered. The same lady sought the 
treasurer's position in the local PTA but we were able to get 
someone else to take her job. 

I'm about to relate a human interest story that I've watched 
unfold for sixty years. It began for me on muddy bank near the 
parsonage. A thirteen-year old boy was on the bank digging his 
bare heels in the soil and crying. I knew him as a member of my 
Scout Troop. I inquired as to his trouble and he told me that his 
father had told him he would have to quit school and enter the 
cotton mill on his fourteenth birthday. In those days, fourteen 
year olds could work in the mill. He said that he wanted to get an 
education and be something other than a "linthead". I nvent to the 
father and urged him to encourage the lad. The father said every 
person ought to pay for their upbringing and children now were 
of no profit to their parents. That boy should to go to work to pay 
for his raising. On his fourteenth birthday the boy supposedly left 
home, and ran away. The father said good riddance, he was of no 
value anyway. What the boy had done was simply to move his 
personal things into my basement and to sleep nights in a pup 
tent in the woods behind of the parsonage. He would sneak home 
while his father was at work and his mother, who was supportive, 
prepared his food for him. He completed the school term in this 
manner. He spent the summer in the Boy Scout Camp. That fall 
he entered high school at a self-help mission school in the 



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Reaching For My Halo 

Appalachian Mountains. I visited him one day and discovered 
that the boy had some shirts and pants but was working outdoors 
without a sweater or underwear. A sister sent him some 
underwear and someone else sent him a coat and a $5.00 bill. He 
did his high school work in three years, transferred to a self-help 
junior college and then to a four-year college in the north. It took 
him five years to get a degree. Then he hung in there and got a 
master's degree. He is now retired from one of the major 
universities of our land after a distinguished tenure as a professor 
and on the side, wrote several plays that won him wisespread 
honors. 



77 



Chapter 

15 



When dr. ASHLAND of the Bowman Gray School of 
Medicine told me that I should retire; it came as a shock. He 
suggested that I had only six months to live if I continued to work. 
I was completely worn out. Perhaps if I could rest completely I 
could live a couple of more years. I had planned to serve two 
more years at Green Street and retire at the age of 65. The next 
month was a month of decisions. Ida and I held many sessions 
discussing our finances, our health, remodeling our house and 
purchasing additional furniture. So in the early days of January 
we agreed that it would be unwise to try to continue. For 40^2 
years I had received appointments at the sessions of the Western 
North Carolina Conference. It was hard to visualize a life without 
a job, a church, people to serve, or programs to plan. The choice 
as to where we would live had been made when we bought the 
house at 108 Owens Street, Forest City, NC. We didn't know that 
we were making a decision then when we bought the house in 
1956. We had a lot in West Shelby secured years before that we 
expected to be our retirement home. Now I was tired and had no 
desire to go into building a house. We made some additions to the 



78 



Reaching For My Halo 

108 Owens Street so we could have a place to go when conference 
came in June. 

One of the bright spots of the winter months of 1967 was the 
warm welcome extended to us by many people in Forest City 
when it became known that we were coming back to the city. 
Especially our neighbors who opened their arms in welcome and 
assisted us in many ways to get ready to move into our house. My 
brother Bill and his wife Lallage went all out to help us by 
providing lodging, food and labor as the remodeling of the house 
progressed. We had the house ready and began placing furniture 
in it the week following Easter, March 27, 1967. The congrega- 
tion of Green Street observed our retirement with parties, 
dinners and a substantial retirement gift. So the third Sunday in 
June I closed my pastorate there at Green Street feeling that it 
was the fmal word of my being a Methodist minister. We drove to 
the mountain house at Gerton for a few days rest before we took 
up residence at Forest City. We had eaten something that day that 
poisoned us and we were very sick all night long. Ida was 
hospitalized Monday morning in the Bat Cave Hospital. I called 
Tom's wife and she called our daughter Betty. The Turners came 
and nursed us through the week. This was a close shave with 
death during our first week of retirement. 

One of the more amusing things that happened when I 
announced my retirement was the invitation to Tom, Jr. and 
Sterling Turner, my son-in-law, to get what they wanted out of 
my sermon files. Each were preachers in their own right and each 
could take a sermon of mine, tear it to pieces, perhaps add an 
illustration or two and make it much better. Sterling was a better 
organizer of the material than I was. Tom, Jr. was adept at 
clearing up my involved language. I thought then that I would do 
no more preaching. They took about half of my original sermons. 
That was nineteen years ago. I have preached more in these 
nineteen years than in any previous nineteen years of my 
ministry. Many times I have longed for some of those sermons. 
They did not help the young preachers, but they helped me by 
forcing me to make new sermons rather than to use the old as 
reruns. 

I suppose everyone that has a busy life dreads retirement. They 
ask questions about boredom or finances or doubts as to their 
health. I had all of these. My social security was $186.00 per 



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Reaching For My Halo 

month and my church pension was $184.00 per month. This 
proved adequate. In fact we began to lay aside funds for later 
trips that we had long planned. I cannot really say that I ever had 
to bother with boredom. Never have I engaged in activities that 
seemed dull or unexciting. The summer I retired was no 
exception. I accepted preaching engagements all over the 
conference. I filled in for other ministers or attended special 
occasions such as homecoming and so forth. I had only two 
Sundays where I did not preach from June until November. The 
freedom from administrative duties did wonders for my health. 
By the end of the year I was rested and enjoying living in our own 
home, so much so that I would not consider taking an 
appointment that would call for another move. Most couples 
make an effort to live in their own house very early in their 
married life. Ida and I never needed a house. The parsonages 
belonged to the churches and were for the most part well 
furnished. We lived in some lovely homes. They were better than 
we could have afforded, yet we longed for a house that belonged 
to us. The house on the mountain was never been intended as a 
permanent home, only a place of quiet rest and retreat. Now we 
had our own place. No one can know how pleased we were. It was 
an emotional thing with us. 

This was our state of mind as the year 1968 was about to begin. 
A friend of mine who was pastor at Polkville and Rehobeth 
churches died. I was called to fill in until a new pastor could be 
found. I had served these two churches in 1938-41 and knew the 
people. A few weeks later, the Bishop telephoned and asked me 
to take these churches and serve them until conference. I was not 
reluctant to fill in since they were nearby and I was acquainted 
with the congregations. But this is how I got into a new career of 
taking appointments until conference. The calls that came to me 
were all within easy driving distance of home. They were short 
pastorates in length, Polkville was seven months, Saluda was 
three months for three summers, Henrietta and Providence were 
five months. In Wesley Parish I served a year as third minister on 
the parish. I served Tanner's Grove Grove and Kisler's Chapel 
for three months. Old Fort for five months, Weaverville for six 
months and then again to Old Fort for six months. I was third 
minister on Ashbury Parish and finally, co-pastor of the Mt. 
Hebron charge. When conference came, I was delighted to turn 



80 



Reaching For My Halo 

over the churches to the new pastor and go back to my routine of 
study and walking. My experience as an interim pastor was one of 
pure joy. It gave me an opportunity to serve my church. It also 
gave me an opportunity to know hundreds of fine people that I 
would never have known, not the least of these benefits, of 
course, was a pulpit from which to preach. 

With Frank and Melba Rice, Ida and I left North Carolina for a 
trip to the west coast in September, 1969. We were gone 
twenty-two days. We drove a little more than 7,000 miles. None of 
the four of us had been farther west than Kansas City. The 
scenery was lovely and Yellowstone Park captured our imagina- 
tion and affection. We could have stayed there a long time. We 
went on to Salt Lake City, then across the desert to Reno where we 
were shocked to see the wide open gambling. When we came to 
Sacramento, California, we felt we were in the far west. We 
toured San Francisco; it was the period when the hippies were 
flourishing. After the sights of San Francisco, we started south 
and spent three days getting to Los Angeles where we spent a 
week-end. From California we came to Las Vegas and the Grand 
Canyon. We stopped one night at each of those places, then we 
came on home. Before we left Forest City on our trip west, Dr. 
Elliot had given Ida $2 to play the slot machines in Las Vegas for 
him. He said he knew the preacher wouldn't do any gambling. 
We teased Ida about being a gambler all along the way. When we 
got to a casino in Las Vegas, she put a nickel of Dr. Elliot's money 
in a machine and pulled the handle. Buzzers started ringing. We 
didn't know what was happening. It turned out that she had hit 
the jackpot of that particular machine and she had $10 in nickels 
on her hands. The gambling was over for the trip and Ida was 
loaded with 200 nickels in her purse all the way home. When we 
got home and tried to give them to the doctor, he refused to take 
them saying, "it's tainted money." Later Ida and Mrs. Elliot 
divided the nickels. 

In the fall of 1972, with James and Norma Kiser we went west 
again. The Risers were among our oldest friends and they made 
wonderful traveling companions. We planned to follow the route 
of Lewis and Clark in their exploration of the northwest. We 
came to the Missouri River at Sioux City and then traveled north 
to South Dakota, Black Hills, Deadwood, Little Big Horn where 
Custer lost his life, then to Yellowstone Park for an overnight visit 



81 



Reaching For My Halo 

and north to the state of Washington. We came down the 
Columbia River to its entrance into the ocean. We visited Ft. 
Clatsop where Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805. We 
didn't have an Indian woman Sacagawie, but that didn't hinder us 
from seeing a marvelous section of our nation. This trip enriched 
our knowledge of the history of the northwest. We moved fast as 
if our motto was "if you've driven by it you've seen it." We came 
back by Salt Lake City. After a short delay by a snowstorm in 
Wyoming, we arrived home. Later we took a ten day trip to New 
England and some of the eastern provinces of Canada with the 
Risers. The focus point of the trip was the city of Quebec. A later 
trip with Jess and Lucille Richardson to New Orleans was 
interrupted by the death of a brother-in-law. We also went with 
them to central Texas for ten days. 

Ida and I closed our travels with a trip to the midwest. We went 
as far north as North Dakota. We visited some cities such as 
Detroit, Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Chicago. This was a very 
pleasant journey. None of us had ever seen the enormous farm 
crops of the midwest or the dairy industry of Wisconsin and 
Minnesota. Our traveling companions were my brother and his 
wife, Bill and Lallage. 

Our son. Tommy died in February, 1973 after a long battle 
with his health. He was 42 years of age. He was just settling into 
what promised to be a rich ministry. He had a pastor's heart and 
often went to see his parishioners in the hospital when he was in 
great pain himself. He was a loving and lovable, child and his 
parents were very proud. He grew into an unselfish man with 
great compassion for others. His death brought a deep sorrow to 
his parents, from which they have never recovered. He left his 
wife Betty with three children to finish rearing and educating. 
She has done an excellent job. Avon is a writer living in Los 
Angeles, Lynn and Brett live in Greensboro near their mother. 
The keenness of our loss has not been lessened by the passing of 
the years. His mother and I will carry this sorrow in our hearts 
into our graves. 

I had been, over the years, teaching short courses in Christian 
training. When I was 72 years old the opportunity came to me to 
teach in the Isothermal Community College near our home. 
What began with a course in World Religion turned out to be 
several years as instructor in religion. Old and New Testament 



82 



Reaching For My Halo 

were included. So was a couple of courses in beginning 
philosophy. This entailed a strenuous period of preparation, but 
I thoroughly enjoyed my contact with young minds. The most 
difficult part of my teaching came when I had to go and teach 
religion on a third grade level. The students for the most part had 
bright, eager minds, but the essence of the Bible was a strange 
new world for them. It brought home to me in a vivid manner 
how we were failing in our churches to teach our youth the basic 
truths of our faith. I tried to be fair and present the teaching 
impartially. Thinking that I was ripe for conversion, one of the 
pupils spent a great deal of time trying to get me to join the Latter 
Day Saints Church. I finally had to tell him that I would not take 
the membership training course to become a Mormon. I still have 
in my library the instructional manuals that he gave me. 

I had another student who was pastor of a non-denominational 
storefront group. He had a vivid imagination and some ideas of 
religion that came out of the jungle. He had a minister coming to 
his service Sunday from some Carribbean island who was 
reported to have raised four people from the dead. The visitor 
proposed to demonstrate his miraculous power if the local group 
could produce a corpse for him to work over. The pastor could 
fmd no volunteers in his flock and no undertaker would provide 
a body. The student asked me to help him get a corpse. I told him 
that I had a busy weekend and couldn't take on any more duties. 
The miracle was cancelled. I do not mean to infer that the quality 
of students was inferior grade. They responded to my teaching, 
many have thanked me for the guidance. This was perhaps the 
most satisfying experience in all my ministry. I had absolute 
freedom from the administration. They were supportive and I 
enjoyed my relationship with the students and the faculty. 

Ida became a semi-invalid and needed more care than I could 
give her. So we left our home reluctantly in the summer of 1985 
and came to Asbury Retirement Home in Maryville, Tennessee 
where our daughter Betty was the administrator. We were here 
only a short time until I was asked by the authorities of the 
Holston Conference to take a church at Friendsville and keep it 
until conference. Conference was in June, 1986. This proved a 
delightful people to serve. Again, I was retiring at conference for 
the ninth time. 

Now as my story ends I am at home at Asbury Acres Retirement 



83 



Reaching For My Halo 

Home. Ida and I are happy and at peace with the world. We are 
proud of our grandchildren. Betty's family is nearby. Sterling, 
her husband, is associate pastor of First United Methodist 
Church. Dee is in Knoxville, Carol is in Tallahassee, Florida, and 
our oldest grandchild Ann is in Atlanta celebrating her 10th 
wedding anniversary soon. We have one great granddaughter, 
Heather Aubrey Swofford born to Lynn and Dolores Swofford. 

So the river of which I have been a part flows on. I shall leave it 
soon on the other side, but it will flow on until this world becomes 
the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ. Even so, Amen. 



84 



UNIVERSITY OF N.C. AT CHAPEL HILL 



00036750220 

FOR USE ONLY IN 
THE NORTH CAROLINA COLLECTION 



Form No: A'368