Give Me That Old Time Religion

I grew up attending Pentecostal camp-meetings from the mid to late 70’s. Six nights out of seven that’s where you could find us. If you’ve never been to a camp meeting it is usually a large tent pitched upon a large plot of dirt in an urban setting. Wood chips are strewn across the ground and folding chairs set over the top of them. The meetings would begin around 6pm and could possibly go till 10 or 11 in the evening. The meetings themselves had a particular flow, but were not highly organized to allow for the flow of the Spirit. And the folks that attended were middle to low class. A good mix of the races were represented (Hispanic, black, and white). The classic songs of the day were “O How I Love Jesus,” “Old Time Religion,” and “Soon and Very Soon.” Drums and tambourines kept time and the organ would flow as an undercurrent to all that transpired.
Our preacher’s name was Brother J.D. Hurt, a raspy-voiced, domineering figure who had a big heart for the lost. He would preach extemporaneously, as the Spirit moved him. He would take an offering, talk about a text from the prophet Joel, break into song, and flow into another discourse peppered with affirmations from the saints. A weeping sound would emerge from a deep corner of the room and a reverent hush would fall upon the gathering. Then a sharp and undetectable language would cut through the summer air. A moment would pass before another would decipher its message. “Thank you, Lord’s” and “Hallelujahs” would interject the meeting. Brother Hurt, who sounded a lot like Wolfman Jack, would continue to preach and then like a shot out of no where Bro. Hurt would throw back his head and shout, “My God!” Songs would break forth and a fever pitch would descend. Healing lines formed, dancers moved for the aisles, bodies were ‘slain’ hither and yon, and demons driven far from the premises. It was hardcore church in a hardcore neighborhood. Nothing placid about it.
In 1979 my mother and I moved to Washington state. Although we attended an AG church, it was a fairly composed and sedate lot. Of all my Pentecostal years, never have I had church like these Camp Meeting days in Bloomington California. I often wonder why I was inundated with such raw and unmittigated church in the formative years of my life. But, I wouldn’t change it for anything. I think it stamped me for life. Yes, it spooked me at times, but never, NEVER have I doubted the existence of God and His involvement with His people. And never have I doubted that this God is to be experienced. These meetings remain the best example to me of what it looks like to tabernacle with the LORD. These were ‘wilderness’ years for my mother and I and this was our tabernacle of meeting. We saw the glory of God; a fearful and wonderful thing to behold. Today, I’m in seminary and as I parse the Greek and Hebrew and learn how to handle the Scriptures more wisely I don’t for a second lose sight of these unforgetable days. Although, I would not align myself perfectly with the theology and methodology of the Camp Meetings, the memories still sit warmly (and strangely) in my heart.
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11 comments

  1. Outstanding!

  2. My friend from long ago high school days sent me a link to your blog. She used to attend Bro. Hurt's church. My dad was a Pentecostal pastor in Bloomington in the late 50's and early 60's. I feel much like you, love the memories, but can't quite line up with the theology today. Thanks for sharing the pictures and the memories…I loved them.

  3. Daughter of a Pentecostal preacher! Boy, I bet you have some great stories to tell. Thanks so much, Donna, for stopping and sharing. Keep the therapy up! 🙂

  4. Yes Demetrius, I did enjoy this…brought a tear to my eyes when you talk about how much this impacted your walk with the Lord! We both were stamped for life! Actually, we were stamped 6 months before starting at Pentecostal Temple…the Lord knew we needed the spiritual bootcamp to grow our roots. I won't forget it either and I'm glad that you were affected positively by it.

  5. I like how you said that, mom… “Spiritual bootcamp.” Best introduction into the Christian life I could think of. Love you, mom!

  6. Oh boy. My first experience with those tent revivals was when I read the autobiography of Aimee Semple McPherson. That rocked my world! I still look back at that book as one of my favorites. It was totally what you were talking about. I guess I never knew this about you D. That's kinda cool. I'm not sure I could of handled that atmosphere! I think of my church upbringing experiences were in a conservative Baptist church – where 2 to 3 people would die of natural causes during the service and nobody would notice.

  7. Did you read, This Is That? That's amazing you would pick up an autobiography of Semple-McPherson? Typical people don't do that… but then again you are your average guy. I'm inspired!

  8. I meant to say you are NOT your average guy! lol…

  9. Mary Turner · · Reply

    Hi Demetrius… my mom enjoyed me reading your inspiring words about your earlier years of being in campmeeting… since she was in Bro. J.D. Hurt’s meetings in Bloomington, CA. .. she says that’s where God began to birth new life in her…She also saw and witnessed the very same things you wrote about… Would you happen to know where he is… or what happened to him and his ministry…??? Thanks for sharing… your wilderness manna… very inspiring…

  10. Hi Mary, Always a treat to hear from people who have shared history. Brother Hurt passed away some five years ago. I believe this is a link to his obituary: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/sbsun/obituary.aspx?pid=151899519
    Tell your mother I said hello. 🙂

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