Magazine article The Christian Century

The Methodist Church, the Democratic Party and the St. Louis Cardinals

Magazine article The Christian Century

The Methodist Church, the Democratic Party and the St. Louis Cardinals

Article excerpt

The day my father died (he had a heart attack and literally dropped dead at the breakfast table) one of his oldest friends came up to me - we were standing in the back hall of our house, just after his body had been removed and before anybody but the nearest neighbors and intimate friends had arrived on the scene - and with tears in his eyes he took my hand and said, "You know, after you and your mother, your Daddy loved three things in this world: the Methodist Church, the Democratic Party and the St. Louis Cardinals." And I said yes, that was about right, though I didn't think I had ever thought of it that way before. Though all that was nearly 40 years ago, I've thought about it off and on ever since - what it told me about my father and perhaps even what it told me about myself.

I suppose the main thing was that in all his commitments my father was nothing if not loyal and forever true to his own. Of course, it could all have been different. Pa Drake, his father, had come out to Tennessee after the war from Powhatan County, Virginia, where he had been a Baptist - at the Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in Ballsville - and met my grandmother, who was a Methodist. Because of that and also because there was not a Baptist church in the community where they settled - Maple Grove, it was called - he just turned in and joined the Methodist Church after he married and never thought any more about it. But the Virginia relatives didn't much like it, and of course people in Woodville, where I was born and grew up, three miles from Maple Grove, took note of it too.

I remember one time when we went to a Christmas program down at the Baptist Church, Mr. Sam Chism, who always presided over all the functions down these (he was Sunday school superintendent for years and was on hand just about every time there was a crack in the church door), said to my mother as he handed her a program, "Just to think of all those Drakes" - Pa and Grandma had seven children, five boys and two girls - "lost forever to the Baptist Church and now turned into dry-cleaning Methodists!" Of course, I didn't know what he meant, but my mother whispered to me that that was just a Baptist way of throwing off on the Methodists, who didn't baptize by immersion but just sprinkled you instead. But I could tell she didn't much care for Mr. Sam's sense of humor because she just nodded to him but didn't smile.

She explained to me afterwards that she wasn't much of a denominationalist, but what difference did that make when other people were so hipped on the subject. And I wasn't sure - right then at age eight - just what that meant; but I gathered that she thought folks had better be left alone to please themselves in such matters, and whatever they did about it wasn't anybody else's business. (On the whole, she was a great believer in live-and-let-live where most things were concerned, just as long as you didn't send her the bill afterwards.)

So anyhow that was why we were all Methodists - and Daddy's oldest brother, my Uncle John, was a Methodist preacher. Even now I can still hear him at the communion service reciting the Prayer of Humble Access - "We do not presume to come to this Thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness but in Thy manifold and great mercies." And even now it still brings tears to my eyes to think of grace so freely given and so freely received. But they weren't fanatics about it - just mighty glad they had been "included," like it said in the old hymn ("When the Lord said whosoever, He included me"), like it was all a big party. And one time I even heard Daddy say why not since the New Testament was full of parties and eating and drinking and everybody was invited (amazing grace!), and the only thing that could keep you out was if you just didn't choose to go. It was all strictly up to you. And that was what salvation was all about and maybe nobody ever got sent to hell, which was just an idea invented by all the sanctimonious folks to make them proud of being good and (they hoped) able to look down on all the folks left outside, which of course was the real meaning of hell. …

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