The Ole Country Church
By Doug Madden



>>>>> It has been said that most of what we are, who we are, how we are and where we end up is molded into us long before we actually have any choices about any of the outcomes.

The long battle of heredity vs. environment has been debated for centuries among some of the finest minds in the world. I will not bore you with the Doug Madden philosophy on this subject. All I know is that my momma and my daddy were short on education but long on religion and they raised seven boys as best they could with what they had and some of us turned out all right and some did not.

From my earliest days of memory our lives centered on going to church and more particularly the Golan Assembly of God church.

The church was located in downtown Cannontown, FL, population of probably 20. Some of that was made up of the Cosson family of which Jean and Cherry were mighty fine looking girls. Uncle Dewey's stepson Judge Helms and his wife Susie were busy adding to the population on a regular basis.

There was no traffic light, there was a dirt road that crossed hwy 189 in Cannontown and if it had a name is was probably called the Venson Ray Road because it came to a dead end in front of Venson Ray's house.

Venson Ray was a well-respected farmer and former county commissioner in Okaloosa County, FL. He defeated Uncle Dewey in a tight political race before I was born. It seems he lost by 12 or 13 votes out of the 73 or so ballots that were cast.

Mr. Sexton owned a country store at the intersection of the dirt road and hwy 189 and it was located about 100 yards south of church.

During picking time we would have a little pocket change and between Sunday school and Preaching, we would slip over to the store and buy an ice cream sandwich. Sometimes we would buy a RC Cola and Moon Pie.

We lived about 8 miles from the church in the Blackman community and we were in church every time the doors opened.

Church was held Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night. Usually the preacher had a regular job during the week and his preaching was part time on the weekend. The Wednesday night service was a Bible study and prayer meeting and sometimes the preachers were not there as they often times lived 75 to 100 miles away from the church.

The church was a large wooden structure painted white, without any modern conveniences such as indoor toilets, air conditioning or heating. There was a wood fired heater in the auditorium part of the church that scorched the ones sitting close by while the rest of the congregation froze half to death.

Approximately 1/3 of the building was a raised pulpit that was partitioned off on both sides and at the back into Sunday school rooms. There was a piano and some chairs along the walls of pulpit.

We had no choir as such. Anyone and everyone whom wished to raise their voice for the Lord were welcome to surround the piano and sing various gospel songs. They would sing a number of their favorite songs but the ones that stand out in my memory are "The Old Country Church, Amazing Grace and I will meet you over yonder"

My momma and daddy loved to sing and they would be the first ones on the pulpit when the call was made for singing. Sometimes they would feel lead to sing 'specials'…man was that a mess!

Dad even tried his hand at writing a song one time about a buzzard sitting on the rooftop of the church. I was too young to remember the words to the song, but I remember my brother's faces turning really red when momma and daddy sang it that night at prayer meeting. I think they were embarrassed or got sick, I don't know which.

The piano player was Mrs. Nancy Holloway. We just called her Mrs. Nancy. She was a wee bit overweight as were several of the church members including momma. Mrs. Nancy never took a piano lesson in her life and she played 'by ear' (whatever that means). Mrs. Nancy had arthritis in both her hands and all of her fingers so bad that they were deformed just perfectly to play the piano!

Lord have Mercy! Could she ever play the piano! She would get 'in the spirit' and get to pounding the keyboard so hard and fast that the old plastic bouquet of flowers setting on top of the piano would get to jumping and rocking and reeling and sometimes fall off!

Elvis Pressley received credit for founding Rock and Roll music. He was many years behind the Real Rocking and Rolling of the Golan Assembly of God church. Many were the times when the singing, shouting, praying and praising of the Lord made the windows rattle, the floors squeak and walls bulge!

Elvis had us beat with his hip movements, but to say he founded the "shake, rattle and roll"…NO WAY!

Sometimes that old wood heater would get so hot Mrs. Nancy would get to sweating, so my momma would grab a hand-held fan and start fanning Mrs. Nancy as hard as she could. It was often hard to tell who was sweating the worst, Mrs. Nancy or momma! Bless their hearts they loved one another like sisters and gossiped like teenagers!

There were some Sundays that the singing was such a blessing to everyone, the preacher never got to preach. It was usually all right as long as the offering plate got passed around.

Those times the preachers did get to preach were something to behold. I witnessed and participated in more blessings than you can imagine.

There was a wooden alter about 20 or 25 feet long running crosswise of the church between the wood heater and the pulpit. I saw dozens of country and city folks alike lay down their lives of sin and repent and accept Christ as their personal Savior.

I saw folks that could not read or write be anointed in the Holy Spirit and speak in the Unknown Tongue and shout the Victory while someone else in attendance interpreted the message from the Scriptures of the Bible.

Yep, we were 'holy rollers', but we did not do the snake thing. Those folks are crazy!

When I was growing up there was kind of a revolving door for the preachers coming and going as there simply wasn't enough money to support a fulltime position.

I remember Brother Singletary being there for several years and driving from Panama City on the weekends. Then there was Brother Danford for a short while and Brother Cooley. I remember him most because he conducted the marriage ceremony for Robert, by next oldest brother to Diane Dowdy, his high school sweetheart.

There were about 20 members of Golan in my early memory, but on any given Sunday there might be 35 or 40 in the congregation. These numbers were posted on a scoreboard that hung on the wall for everyone to see. It showed how many were in attendance that day and how many were in church the previous Sunday. It also showed how much the offering was compared to the previous Sunday. I think it might have also showed the record for attendance.

I think the purpose of the scoreboard was to help keep in mind that there was still lots of work to be done in the community as far as the attendance was concerned and to encourage the members to work harder towards their dreams of building a new church that would have heating and air conditioning!

A big event of the church was the Revival Meetings and the 'Fifth-Sunday' Meetings. The Revivals sometimes went on for 2 or 3 weeks depending on the attendance and offerings. Some of the Revival preachers were Faith Healers. I saw some folks with various aches and pains claim they got better after the preacher anointed them with Oil and prayed for them. I never saw the dead rise up nor the blind see again, but I did see an awful lot of renewed faith in the Lord Jesus and I think this was what Revival was all about anyway.

The 'Fifth-Sunday' Meetings were all day singing with dinner on the grounds. I am sure the record attendance was set on one of those Sundays as folks came from miles around to eat some sure enough great country cooking and listen to some sure enough good gospel music.

As the years went by the attendance numbers on the scoreboard grew and as they grew so did the dollars in the offering plate. Several years later a Parsonage was built near the church and we were able to hire a full time preacher that could service the needs of the community. I went off into the Army in October 1962 and got busy raising a family, going to college and chasing the almighty dollar and before I knew it, I had been gone 35 years or so.

I attended a funeral a couple of years ago at Golan Assembly of God church, as Mrs. Susie Helms went to be with the Lord. I sat with my cousin Jerry and his wife Sue during the service and could not help but notice the changes that had taken place.

First the old church had been replaced a beautiful new one about 20 years ago. Yes, it had central air and heat and a modern acoustic system. Seems as though there was an organ and piano and the flowers decorating the church were real fresh cut flowers. As I continued to let my eyes wander around I spotted the old scoreboard hanging on the wall. The attendance numbers were quite a bit larger than they used to be and the offerings were considerably larger and the record attendance was about double what I remember it having been before.

As my mind processed this information, I could not help thinking about the days gone by and I just bet you an ice cream sandwich that Mrs. Nancy, Momma, Daddy, Judge and Susie Helms are gathered around a Golden piano in Heaven singing their favorite song that goes something like this: "Precious years of memory…oh what joy they bring to me…how I long once more to be…with my friends at the Old Country Church."

I hope momma and daddy forgot about that buzzard song!


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