Brother Jim Thompson came,
the oldest,
with overalls and a white shirt buttoned at the collar,
with a walking cane and a Bible
that had stood fifty years of pounding,
and with that old fire burning through his cataracts.
Didn’t need no seminary
Always preached the Bible
and the Lord Jesus Christ
crucified and buried and
raised from the dead.
Brother Hamer came
and Brother Ewart
and the three Walker boys,
preachers all.
They came through the rain,
wrestling the wheels of their out-of-county cars,
sliding in ruts so deep the tail pipes dragged.
They parked under the trees
and along the road,
then walked, shined shoes and all,
through the mud,
picking their way along the high spots
like children jumping puddles.
Into the church of their fathers,
the place they had all felt the call,
the old home church
where thousands of hands had pressed
on the bowed heads of new preacher boys,
of sun-reddened young men called by the Lord,
called from the cotton fields to preach the word.
They had all felt the hands,
These old preachers,
felt those blunt-fingered, work-hardened hands,
felt them like a blessing,
like an offering,
like a burden.
Felt them at weddings and baptizings,
felt them in the heat of a summer revival sermon,
in the agony of a baby’s funeral,
in the desparate prayer against some killer disease,
in the frustrating visit with a mind gone senile.
And now the old preachers came to lay their hands
on the head of a new kind of preacher,
a preacher from the seminary,
a preacher who studied the Bible in Greek and Hebrew,
who knew about religions they never heard of,
who knew about computers
and memory banks full of sermons
and many other modern things.
A new kind of preacher,
and yet,
a preacher who still would feel on her head
the hands
like a commandment
from all the preachers and deacons who ever were.

From Life After Mississippi, by James A. Autry

photo by Tom Darin Liskey