I like going to church. Always have. I especially like listening to good preachers. I have to say here that church services for me are sometimes like a spectator sport. I love the music -- especially the old gospel hymns -- and I love critiquing the preachers, although I probably shouldn't have told that.
Some of my favorite worship services, and some of my most memorable preachers, have been those I encountered at Salem Campground during camp meeting. We have had lots of memorable preachers at Salem, although some are memorable for better reasons than others.
Charles Sineath was one of my favorites. Charles Sineath once told a story about his barber shop closing and having to get his hair cut at a "beauty salon." He said, "I'd rather be caught coming out of a liquor store than a beauty salon."
Gil Watson is another of my favorites. He is one of the world's great storytellers and if you ever get a chance to hear him tell about his first deep water baptism in the pond behind the little country church he served, don't pass it up. Gil has been known to dress up as Joel Chandler Harris and tell an Uncle Remus story or two. I am pretty good with the Tar Baby and the Laughing Place, myself, so I like that about Gil.
Gil Watson delivered one of the best lines I have ever heard when then-Gov. Sonny Perdue invited him to be one of the speakers on the steps of the Georgia State Capitol when we gathered a few years back to pray for rain. Gil chastised the crowd by saying, "We are all here to pray for rain," and then, holding up his, said, "and I'm the only one who brought my umbrella."
Dennis Kinlaw was one of the most amazing theologians I ever heard. He is the resident genius at Asbury College and would lean across the pulpit and stare you right in the face. You felt like you were getting the message right from God. Probably because you were, in a way.
There have been so many great ones at Salem. Bishop Bevel Jones; my own pastor, John Beyers, who wishes he were John Wesley; Phil DeMore, who goes back with me to my high school days; Jonathan Holston, himself now a bishop; and of course, John Ed Matheson, of Montgomery, Ala. John Ed is one of my all-time favorites. He ate more of Jackson's peach ice cream in one week than Joe Cook and Daniel Farley put together. He also told the story one night about Simon Peter stepping out of the boat and walking on water to meet Jesus, and added, "not even Bear Bryant had done it at that time."
The list goes on and on and on. I even heard the legendary Bishop Arthur Moore preach under that tabernacle.
The favorite Salem preacher emeritus, however, has to be now and forevermore, the Baptist minister Marshall Edwards. I think he has preached at Salem seven times, but it could be 12. I have lost count. I just know that every time he comes, the tabernacle is full and he blesses my heart. Marshall and I are close friends, and I was reminded recently that I have to give back the prayers I am receiving. When I heard the distressing news that he had suffered a heart attack at his home in Blowing Rock, N.C., I wore out the knees of three pairs of overalls praying for Marshall, and as of this writing, the prayers have worked. He is doing well.
Marshall says that every song can become a hymn by singing "amen" at the end, and I have heard him prove it a time or two by adding "amen" to "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah."
Marshall preaches -- and lives -- love more than he does hellfire and brimstone and makes his sermons personal by telling stories about his family. Some of them may even be true. My favorite Marshall story is the one he tells on himself, about when he was a student at Baylor and dating his then-girlfriend, now-wife, Doris Dillard.
Apparently, Marshall hadn't been quick enough to make his intentions toward Doris known and she received an invitation to attend a Texas A&M football game with a member of the Aggie Corps of Cadets. Marshall found out that those Aggies kiss their dates after every touchdown and on this particular day, A&M beat some hapless opponent 72-0. Needless to say, Marshall had a miserable afternoon. The next day, however, he showed up at Doris Dillard's home with a bouquet of eleven red roses and a card that read -- Are you ready for this? -- "You are the twelfth." The rest, as they say, is history.
And a couple of weeks ago, when I had the grand honor of preaching the homecoming message at Julia A. Porter UMC, my home church, Marshall and Doris drove all the way from Blowing Rock to hear me. I was in high cotton that day.
There are a lot of good preachers out there. I'd highly recommend finding one to listen to at every possible opportunity.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.