Insight from the deacons' bench

Many churches, back in the 18th and 19th centuries, were quite different than today. During those days, the congregation sat with women and children on one side of the church and men on the other side.

The aisle was down the center of the building, leading to the pulpit with deacons' benches on either side of the preacher. In the smaller churches, there was no choir and probably no musical instruments.

As the preacher got into his sermon, the deacons would shout, "Amen," to encourage him to preach on. Quite often, the deacons were asked to lead in prayer and give their testimonies of how they were saved.

Folks in the congregation would shout, "Amen," too, and say words of encouragement to the preacher. They always sang beautiful hymns of praise to the Lord.

A lot of church's then were quarter-time or half-time, meaning they only met once a month or twice a month. Of course, the churches in the larger towns and cities were mostly full-time, because they had enough members to support a full-time pastor.

Ministers in the smaller churches out in the country were part-time, for they had farms to work or other jobs to help feed their families. Some preachers were paid with vegetables and chickens and eggs, because their members had little money.

My grandfather was one of these preachers, as well as a medical doctor. Dr. and Mrs. Benson Anthony Bell are listed in the Book of Church History of the First Baptist Church of Smyrna, Ga., as charter members. I never had the privilege of knowing either of them, since they died long before I was born. I did hear many stories about them as I grew up.

You may want to ask how I know about churches of so long ago. It's just about a lost art now, but back when I was growing up, I remember my dad and mother and grandmother telling stories that happened in their families long ago. Some could have actually happened as far back as the 18th century, the 1700's.

Back in those days, storytelling was one of the main forms of entertainment and also a form of education, for most of the stories had a moral or important lesson to be learned.

The family would gather around the fireplace in winter and listen as father or mother or grandparents told their favorite stories. Usually, the room was large with high ceilings and difficult to heat or light. I remember gathering our chairs in a half-circle in front of the fire and getting too hot on one side and too cold on the other as I listened to these stories. Some of them were quite scary to us smaller kids.

In summer, we all sat out on the front porch, because it was much too hot in the house. There was no radio or television or electric anything when my dad was growing up, nor available to us because we couldn't afford them in my family.

Sometimes, we would sing many of the old-time hymns until bedtime, which was 9 o'clock. Many evenings, Dad would read the Bible and even do some preaching. Mom and Dad liked to recite Bible verses and teach us to do the same.

You know, I believe if families today spent times like these together, told stories from the Bible and the early days of their family, and taught children how they should treat others -- respect them, use the golden rule in relations with neighbors and friends and share the great teachings of Jesus Christ -- they would all be better people and the world would be a far better place.

It's never too late to learn, to look for and create teaching moments for your family, so you do not forget to show love for each other, and for others.

Next week, I will include some of these old stories I've been talking about.

God bless you!