I received a letter recently from Stan Blevins, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Ackerly, Texas, and Lynda Perry, Chair of the Anniversary Committee. It was an invitation to join their celebration of the 100th anniversary of the church. Both church and town were founded in 1923.
They invited me to come to the celebration because my grandfather, Reverend J. Roy Haynes, was pastor of the church from 1950 to 1956.
My mother (Lenelle), and her brother (James) and sister (Jeanine) grew up in Ackerly during those years. I’d never even visited there more than four or five times, but I suppose because so many people who were part of my past would be there, it felt a little like I was going back home.
I do have one legendary story from Ackerly, one that I heard repeatedly growing up. One year, during those early 1950s, Brother Haynes contacted Howard Payne College, asking “if they had a preacher boy and a singer who could come to Ackerly to hold a revival.” I don’t know the name of the preacher, but the singer Howard Payne sent was my father, Deane Simpson.
During the revival, Deane fell in love with the young lady playing piano, Lenelle Haynes, the pastor’s daughter, and my mother.
Because of that story I knew I had to attend the celebration. Music and revivals and church are a deep root in our family, one that needs to be fertilized as often as possible.
I was teaching Sunday School that morning in Midland so I knew I wouldn’t make it to Ackerly in time for the worship service, but I could make lunch. After joining the food line, then filling my plate – the food was catered by Danny’s Hens and Fins – I found a round table with an empty seat. I sat and introduced myself and immediately learned the woman beside me went to high school with my mother. She leaned over and said, “Your grandfather, Brother Haynes, baptized me.” It was a statement I heard at least a dozen times during my visit.
The man sitting beside her leaned across the table and said, “Your grandmother grabbed me by the arm one Sunday morning, along with my best friend, and pulled us both down to the front of the church, and said, ‘It’s time you boys made a decision.’”
Another woman walked all the way across the room, her eyes fixed on me in determination. When she got close, I stood up to introduce myself. But before I had the chance, she asked, “Are you that Haynes boy?”
I apparently hesitated longer than expected because she asked the question again, “Are you that Haynes boy?”
“I suppose I am. Although my name has never included Haynes, and no one has considered me a boy in fifty years.”
“I know your name isn’t Haynes. But that’s where you come from. I can see it in your eyes. You’re Lenelle’s boy.”
She was smiling the entire time.
To be honest, I was surprised how many people talked about my grandfather. He was only one of forty-three pastors the church had had since its founding in August 1923. He served for six years, from April 1950 to September 1956, but it felt like he’d been there dozens of years based on the number of stories and memories I heard.
Two different people repeated the family story to me – the one about how my parents met during a revival. It made me happy. I’ve told that story so many times it was affirming to hear it from outsiders, proving it’s more than family legend.
As I drove back home, I was reminded of a Bible verse that motivates everything I do: From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. (Luke 12:48, NIV) The First Baptist Church Ackerly 100th Anniversary Celebration reminded me of how much I have been given, and how much I still have to give back. I’ve been blessed with deep roots.
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“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.”
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