Friday, January 29, 2010

"Preachers and Things"

It gets dark early in late November, and to a kid of 10 years old, the country back roads of Scioto County, Ohio are a mighty lonely ,deserted ,and down right scary place. We were on our way back home from the Antioch Free Will Baptist Church “out back of” Wheelersburg - about 50 miles from home. It was about 9:30pm and I was settling in for the long ride home. As usual, Dad was driving the ’55 Buick Special. With Dad and I on this trip were Rev. Carl Vallance and deacon Worlie Edmunds. I listened closely to the grown up’s conversation all the way to church and back. Especially interesting were the comments about a prison escapee who was rumored to have been seen in the Wheelersburg area earlier in the week. I gazed intently out the side window from my place in the back seat, through my faint reflection in the glass, and imagined that crazed killer in a striped prison suit hiding behind every tree in the dark woods. Would he take a shot at us? Might he place some obstacle in the lightly traveled road to get us to stop so he could hijack our car? If not tonight, what about one of the nights when Dad might be traveling alone? What if he were to hide in the back seat of the car while its parked outside the church some night, then springing up from the back floor, demanding that Dad drive him to his hide out in another state?

Apprehension reigned in my young mind until we finally topped the small hill that had the lights of town spread below us. A stop at Pop’s Drive In was in order, and Pop’s legendary steak sandwich and milk shake helped to drive the last vestige of my fears away - at least until tomorrow night, or until the fugitive may be apprehended. After the late snack, I leaned my head against the cold glass, looking out at the full moon shining over the Ohio River as we drove along US Rt. 52. The tires hummed on the pavement and Bro. Worlie snored rhythmically from the other corner of the back seat while Dad and “Preacher” Vallance talked in the front seat. It got quiet for a while, and just before drifting off to sleep myself, I heard Bro. Vallance jokingly say to Dad, “Well Caudle, you know, the only ones out this time of night are preachers and things!” Even at the age of ten I had to laugh at the thought of preachers and "things" lurking in the night.

Carl Vallance was my Dad’s closest friend and brother in the ministry. He was Pastor of the Thomas Memorial Free Will Baptist Church in Huntington, WV when we moved there in 1952. He had earlier pastored in Logan County, where my parents were from, and Mom and Dad had become acquainted with him there. I guess it was only natural that they would be drawn to his church in the new city. He has been like a second spiritual father and mentor to me over the years. Even though Dad pastored several churches over the years, Thomas Memorial always was our home church, and “Preacher” (as we called him) was our pastor and friend.

“Preacher” Vallance was a dynamo. Bi-vocational, like Dad, he worked a secular job as well as ministering to the needs of a congregation that grew to over 300 people. He was a carpenter by trade, and a good one. A native of Kitts Hill, in southeast Ohio, Bro. Vallance had worked as a company carpenter for Island Creek Coal Company in Logan County, WV. Various circumstances led him to be called to pastor the Thomas Memorial Church in Huntington, where he supplemented his meager income by working as a self employed contractor, building and remodeling houses. Mom and Dad’s house still has the beautiful kitchen cabinets that Bro. Vallance built in the early 60’s. Mom was always fond of pointing out that Jesus was a carpenter too. Just like Bro. Vallance.

At Thomas Memorial, Bro. Vallance and his family lived in the parsonage next door to the church, a fact that I found fascinating. It was a regular “stopping off place” for us (and others) after church services. The kids would play in the bedroom of Robert and James, and the adults would sit around drinking RC colas, eating Moon Pies, and talking about who was likely to die next.

As the church grew in membership and attendance, plans were drawn up for an educational wing to be added to the building. The problem was that the parsonage sat squarely on the property needed for the new addition. In a move which was absolutely unheard of by me, the parsonage was literally moved across Buffington Street from the church. That was the first time I had ever seen an actual house jacked up and moved to another location, and visiting the parsonage after the move just never seemed the same as before. (You know how we Baptists are about change!)

I still remember Bro. Vallance as a young man, with a pretty wife and with two boys older than I. It seemed as though his eyes sparkled, of course so did his gold tooth (which also fascinated me). He had a zeal for lost souls, a heart as big as Texas, and a voice to match! Dad called him the human amplifier, and “Preacher” used to joke that he couldn’t tell his wife he loved her, without the whole neighborhood hearing it too. One thing for sure - he never needed a microphone or sound system when preaching. God had blessed him with some powerful lungs.

The church was located in the Guyandotte section of Huntington. Guyandotte was famous for its many taverns, prostitutes, and bootleg joints. It was also the unofficial meeting spot of the Friday and Saturday night knife and gun clubs, which kept St. Mary’s Hospital’s ER hopping each weekend. It was in this “mission field” that “Preacher” Vallance ministered to an assorted crowd of heathen characters, and blue collar Christians. The Preacher faithfully stood for the Lord in this environment, preaching against all manner of sin (in which Guyandotte seemed to be a smorgasboard) and sprinkling his message with the Grace of God as the only hope for sinners. Bro. Vallance’s sermons were often as colorful as the characters in the congregation. He touted holy living, proclaiming things such as, “Dancing feet and praying knees don’t grow on the same legs!”, and spoke of the necessity of being, “Paid up, prayed up, and ready to go up!” Disheartened Christians were often reminded to “Get under the spout where the glory comes out!”

In 1976 a group of us who started a new church in downtown Huntington called “Preacher” Vallance to be our initial pastor. After 26 years at Thomas Memorial, with an energy that belied his age, he took on the new task with the zeal and fervor of a man half his age. He led Central Free Will Baptist Church through its formative years, and an ambitious building campaign until his “retirement” in the mid 90’s. He was well respected, not only in Huntington, but throughout the state of West Virginia, and nationally in his denomination. “Preacher” Vallance served as a mentor and an impeccable role model to me and a dozen other “preacher boys” over the years. I had the privilege of seeing him again shortly before he went to be with the Lord. Well up into his 80’s at that time, his body was but a shell of what I remembered him to be. Medical problems had taken their toll. He was feeble and unsteady on his feet. His voice was much weaker but the sparkle was still there in his eyes when he threw his arms around me and said, “It’s good to see you, son.” He has been gone for several years now, and I thank God for the privilege to have known him.

Next to my father, this man had more of a spiritual impact on my life than anyone else I have ever known. Whenever I think of Carl Vallance, I think of Isaiah 52:7, which says,
“How lovely on the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who announces peace
And brings good news of happiness,
Who announces salvation,
And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”


Anonymous said...

Thanks, C.J. Your remembrances of my Dad and your father bring to my mind many trips with them to Logan County, WV for revival services. A mere 55 miles away, but always an hour and a half or 2 hour trip. They both knew every curve and "burned up the road." I too, was an avid listener as they planned sermons, visited the problems of pastoring and accomplishing "God's work." But, you know I can't remember them ever trying to sing! Good thing.

C.J. Adkins said...

I remember on occasion your Dad singing "I Won't Have to Cross Jordan Alone". There were a few times Dad sang a song written by Rev. Lee "Trick" Gore. I can't remember the name of it for the life of me, and while the words were good, the quality of the vocals was sadly lacking!!!

Sara Vallance Nash said...

C.J., I am always fascinated to hear other people's stories of Papaw. Thank you for sharing this little slice of his life. The memories are sweet, because this generation got to listen, too.