Lawton Posey: My envy of Dad
I admired my father very much. He was a tallish and good-looking man, who was widely respected for his manner of life.
As for his devoutness, for him that was a church thing. We attended James Island Presbyterian Church, which was founded in the early 18th century by Archibald Stobo, sent over from Scotland to preach the Gospel in what were called "foreign parts." The chapel we worshipped in was built in 1909 and was of no particular distinction.
By today's standards, the services were quite simple, even austere. The minister, Mr. Theodore Ashe Beckett, would enter the pulpit area in his black robe, and the pianist would strike up the Long Meter Doxology, which is still widely known:
"Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him all creatures here below."
Then the preacher would pray. There would be a report from the Sunday School as to attendance, though our church had a board on which some of this information could be posted for all to see. There would be a hymn, sung out of our little hymnals printed without music. We knew the tunes, anyway. At some point, after the Scripture was read, Mr. Beckett would launch into what was called the Pastoral Prayer. My mother would bow her head, and my father would bow even lower, perhaps touching his head on the back of the pew in front of him.
Mr. Beckett would go on and on, praying for the church, for missionaries, for the sick and afflicted, for the conversion of the stubborn, for the increase of the Holy Spirit, and for any special needs. This might take fifteen minutes of the service time. When the prayer was over, it was with some relief that Daddy raised his head from its bowed position, and I can swear that I saw a red mark of devotion on his forehead after fifteen minutes of resting his brow on the bench back before him. If there was not actually a red mark, there was surely a dent in his brow. The sermon that followed took much of the remaining time.
While my parents were not often devout people in public, and not given to much religious talk, there was no doubt that they were sincere believers.
Later on, we moved off James Island and lived in the new suburbs nearer to Charleston and my father's work in the Navy Yard. So our church, a new organization, did not have pews. We sat in metal chairs with no padding. In hot weather, we got a chance to experience the torment of that place in which we did not wish to spend eternity. My dad's days of low bowing were ended, and at the evening service the prime job was the elimination of mosquitoes that got their blood meal at our cost.
I had lost my model of devotion and piety. My parents just slumped in prayer, thus parting from the steel backs of the church chairs and getting relief from some of the stickiness they added to worship.
The change in my father's life was wondrous to behold. He became an elder in the congregation after serving for a while as a deacon. Elders were important, and in those days, all male. One Sunday I was absent from church and saw Daddy walking toward me, on his way from church. I was so proud of him.
I am not sure what had happened, but somehow his life of postural devotion had translated into a life of service. He took his responsibilities seriously, and for years I had his Book of Church Order, which he read in his chair many evenings. I have a Bible he owned, and from the markings in it, I know he read from that inexpensive volume from time to time.
Service was his watchword, although unspoken. He even became the designated meat carver for the church, which he did with skill. He was a humble fellow, with some education.
So perhaps, I pledged, again without many words, to follow in his train, as the old hymn puts it. I too became an elder, and then a minister, which we call today a teaching elder. His call was to a devotion of the heart, and soul. Our bare Presbyterian churches proclaimed that devotion too and I hope it is true that I did indeed follow my Dad's pathway of loving service.
Posey is a retired minister of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)