hugh’s news & Views
Liberty is a small community in Walton County, Florida, nine or ten miles northwest of DeFuniak Springs, the county seat. It is the first place, to the best of my knowledge, that my father ever heard a preacher who was not a member of a church of human origin (a denomination) but simply a member of the body of Christ (the church of which we read in the New Testament), and the man who put him on the path that led to his being baptized into Christ in 1948. That man was W. T. “Tip” Grider, and I devoted a “News & Views” essay to him back on July 3, 2012. Brother Grider was also the first preacher of the pure and simple gospel of Christ, unmixed with the doctrines, theories, and traditions of men, that I ever heard.
A few years later (1953), Liberty became one of the first two places I ever attempted to stand before an audience and present a lesson from God’s word. Still later, it became the first place I ever conducted a gospel meeting (better known by some of my readers as a revival). That meeting took place in December of 1955, following my first quarter as a freshman at Freed-Hardeman College (now University). I was still a few days shy of my eighteenth birthday at the time of the meeting. Many of the people who had loved me and nurtured me in the faith as a young boy were present for that meeting.
Over the years, I have returned to DeFuniak Springs, the town of my childhood and where I attended school from grades one through ten, to preach in a number of gospel meetings (six in all). Last week over 57 years after the meeting I conducted there as a boy preacher I returned to Liberty to preach in a meeting for the small yet faithful group that still makes up the Lord’s church in that community. What an honor to be invited to come and preach in this meeting! What a joy it was to be with them! Childhood friends are a part of the congregation; long time acquaintances make up much of the membership; and people who were present during the first meeting 57 years ago are still there and attended the most recent meeting. Visitors came from throughout the northwest Florida panhandle as well as from south Alabama.
During my recent stay in DeFuniak Springs I had the opportunity to visit family members who still live in the area (cousins from both the paternal and maternal sides of my family were present for the meeting), to see old friends and neighbors, and to retrace steps to old yet familiar sites still held fondly in my memory. I drove my old paper route that I rode on a bicycle as an eleven year old delivering both the morning and evening Pensacola News-Journal. I walked the streets from one end of the town to the other. I drove the circle around Lake DeFuniak, one of only two lakes on planet earth that is a perfect circle (the other is near Zurich, Switzerland)and walked the lake yard, taking the same route that I often took as a boy, either walking or riding my bike to school and back. I visited the historic Chautauqua Building on Circle Drive and took an exterior picture of the upper room in it where the Lord’s church in DeFuniak Springs held its first weekly assemblies in the mid to late 1940s. I stopped at the Walton-DeFuniak Library, also on Circle Drive, the oldest continuously operating library in the same building constructed to house a library in the state of Florida (since 1886) where as a boy I checked out and read many books.
I went by the place where our house stood, but it was razed many years ago, giving way to a hardware supply store that now stands vacant. The two large chinaberry trees that stood in our front yard and that I loved to climb and play in as a child were cut down long ago. Lightfoot’s Drug Store and King’s Rexall Drug Store where I jerked sodas, washed dishes, swept the floors, stocked the shelves, sold merchandise, delivered prescriptions on a bicycle, and was a general flunky are no more. Progress, I suppose!
The population of DeFuniak Springs has not changed all that much from my boyhood days (still between 5,000 and 6,000). When I lived there it was, I thought, as ideal and as idyllic a town as one could find, the quintessential “Mayberry.” We had one policeman, Mr. John Donaldson, who worked the entire town on foot. We had a county sheriff and a Florida highway patrolman who regularly cruised Highway 90 (The Old Spanish Trail) that ran directly through the town. Among these, law and order was kept in the town and in the county. Neither I nor any other child was afraid to go anywhere in town. If I did something I was not supposed to do, the news of it got home before I did (and we did not even have a telephone!) and I would face a reckoning at the hands of my parents!
The church at Liberty is doing well. The members are warm, friendly, inviting, and encouraging to all. They are committed to the Lord, to the Book, to one another, and to the preaching and teaching of the gospel in its purity to all who will give it a hearing. What an honor to be with them last week and to have the opportunity to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ.
April 23, 2013