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Four Harvest Baptist members treasure years of church activity even now in their 90scomment (0)

June 1, 2006

By Sarah E. Pavlik

Long before the civil rights movement swept the South, cotton fields dominated the landscape of northeast Alabama and folks still drove a horse and buggy to Sunday meetings at Harvest Baptist Church.

While many church members may have heard stories about those times, Edna Mae Tuck, Grace Gann and Mildred Raby experienced them firsthand as members of the Madison Baptist Association church.

Nearly three-quarters of a century after those early days, the women — all in their early 90s — remain active members of the church, which is currently led by interim pastor Jere Patterson.

Lora “Crickett” Anderson, 92, the fourth member of their 90-something group, joined the church in 2000. She grew up in Paint Rock, a farming community 30 miles southeast of Harvest.

Recently the nonagenarians sat down together to reflect on the way things used to be, their beloved church and what it’s like to have known Jesus longer than most people live.

Gann has been at Harvest Baptist the longest, having been saved at a church revival when she was 13.

“We used to have real good revivals back then,” said Gann, the quietest one in the group. “They were a week long, and people would come from everywhere to hear the guest preacher.”

In those days, the visiting pastor would preach during the morning, eat lunch at a member’s home and then canvas the countryside searching for more people to invite to the evening revival.

Tuck, drawing from an anthology of memories from 77 years as a Christian, added that revivals were a big deal in their tiny community back then.

“Revival always came in August,” she said. “The Methodists would have it the first week, the Church of Christ the second and then the Baptists on the third week. I guess we didn’t have a lot to do back then because we were at every one of them.”

Raby chuckled at the shared memory. At age 12, she became a Christian, and at 16, she married Herbert Raby. They raised five children together.

The family began attending the church in 1944 — around the same time the church was building its third sanctuary. The concrete-block structure serves as a child-care center today.

Still able to drive, Raby said of her 62 years of service that she’s just been “a regular church member.”

“I’ve sung in the choir, taught Sunday School — all those Baptist things,” Raby said. “I did it until my voice gave out and I couldn’t remember enough about the lesson to teach anymore.”

Tuck — a choir member at Harvest Baptist since she was 14 — also stopped singing after she sang her last duet with the music minister, Hurley Hughes, in 2003.

Tuck recalled a time when her musical talents took her in a slightly different direction. During the Prohibition era, she was called on regularly to sing at the funerals of moon shiners who perished in mountain-still explosions.

“We always had trouble picking out the songs,” Tuck remembered. “But we thought it proper to sing at every one of their funerals.”

A smile tugged on Gann’s lips as Tuck went on about the bootleggers. “I miss the days when we used to baptize people in Limestone Creek,” Gann interjected.

“It was almost sacred. Wasn’t it, Grace?” Raby asked from across the table. “We’d all stand on the bank and sing hymns, and the preacher would lead them through the trees and into the water.”

Anderson said, “I was always sorry I never got to see a creek baptism.”

While Raby, Tuck and Gann were watching cotton fields turn to subdivisions in Harvest, Anderson was working busily as a missionary with Christian Business and Professional Women in Kansas City, Mo.

For 40 years, she crisscrossed the country organizing Christian women’s clubs to encourage Christian businesswomen to invite their unchurched co-workers to a luncheon during which a speaker shares the gospel.

“The Lord saved me (in my 40s) and gave me a wonderful opportunity to serve Him full time,” Anderson said. “My purpose in the ministry was to tell people how they could know Jesus as their Savior.”

She returned to Alabama after retiring to care for her younger sister Bessy Robinson. It was Robinson who first invited Anderson to visit Harvest Baptist.

Although so much has changed in their church and community, James Beard, a longtime deacon at Harvest Baptist and Gann’s son-in-law, said the women’s faithfulness to God and the church body has remained constant through the years.

“Every Sunday, they are at church,” he said. “Even at their age, they’re willing to put forth the effort to be there.

“Our younger members can look to these women and see what faithfulness is like, and they can follow their example.”

The four say they are honored by their mentor status but are quick to defer credit to their enduring relationship with Jesus. “He taught me that He loves me and that even now, He still wants to shine through me so that others might come to know Him,” Anderson said.

Always an early riser, Tuck said that she still reads her Bible every morning. “Even though I’m one of God’s older girls, I still ask Him to work through me,” she said. “I still want to be able to bring lost souls to Him.”

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