Writer for Works Projects Administration (WPA)
written ca. 1936
During the 1930s, Great Depression era, many writers were employed to interview people and write stories about life in the United States. The program was named the U.S. Work Projects Administration, Federal Writers’ Project and it gave employment to historians, teachers, writers, librarians, and other white-collar workers. This is an unedited story by one writer.
In some rural sections of Alabama what is known as “Churching” is still followed. In the isolated hills of Perry County some orthodox churches allow no musical instrument in their place of worship, are bitterly opposed to dancing, card playing, theatre going, and drinking and a church member reported guilty of either misdemeanor, is brought to account. A Sunday is set aside for the so-called churching, and, being advertised a month in advance, the ritual usually draws a tremendous crowd.
Prayers for sinner on trial
The morning service is conducted according to the usual routine except that the prayers of the preacher and elders are for the sinner on trial and the sermon is an elaboration of the punishment awaiting the condemned.
When the preacher has shouted the doctrine of fire and brimstone until he is hoarse, he steps down from the pulpit and announces the object of the meeting. He describes at length the crime committed against the church and calls on the elders to express themselves as to what should be done with the transgressor.
After a session of whispering between a group of old men seated together on the front seat, one of them confers with the preacher, who then announces that it has been agreed by these men of God that, this being the first offense, the sinner may come forward, kneel in the presence of man and the Almighty, confess his sins, promise with a hand on the Bible to never again be guilty of betraying the Lord and the church by iniquitous living: by doing so, he may be restored to God’s favor and the full fellowship of the church; by refusing, he will be “turned out of the church” and his soul condemned everlasting punishment.
Quiet reigns while heads are turned, looks are directed at the man or woman in the audience whose soul hangs in the balance. If it is a young woman, she usually sits with her parents, weeping. The hysterical figure rises slowly, makes her way down the aisle and falls on her knees in front of her pastor. She does as she is told, her confession including monosyllabic answers to the pastor’s questions.
The rite of confession over, long prayers follow from preacher and elders, during which, from all parts of the house “Amen!” “Amen!” “Praise the Lord – a sinner has returned to the fold!” rise frequently above the sonorous prayers.
Singing follows the praying, one song after another while the audience stands, and one by one the church members pass down the aisle to shake the hand of the repentant one, welcoming her back into the fold.
Should the one being “Churched” refuse to confess – as sometimes happens – he is “turned out of the church.” Such persons ordinarily join another church shortly afterward, and one that is more progressive.
- Dr. T. M. Martin, Plantersville, Dallas county. Has lived near the Perry County line for 50 years, and has attended various “Churchings.”
- Mr. William R. Young, Sprott, Perry County. Resident 60 years
- Miss Betty Ewing, Marion, Perry County. Has lived in Perry County 29 years and teaches school far out in the hill country.