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Stories of preachin’ and preachers

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Rev. George Washington Lanear was a street preacher who proclaimed the word of God anytime, anywhere that people would listen. This photo was taken in 1982 by Leon Pantenburg.
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He was a familiar figure on Vicksburg streets in the 1970s and 1980s, perhaps before and beyond those times, and folks called the street preacher “Rev,” short for the Rev. George Washington Lanear.

He was small in stature, usually dressed in black, and held his worn Bible up for all to see. He was usually smiling, his grin revealing a gold tooth.

Jimmy Dupuy, a lay minister in the Episcopal Church, befriended Rev, and he told me this story.

On a visit to the Warren County jail where Dupuy conducted a jail ministry, he was accompanied by Rev. There was a young man behind bars who said, “Hey, Rev. I’ve heard you preach,” to which Rev replied, “Naw, boy. You haven’t heard me. If you had, you wouldn’t be in here.”

Rev might not have had much formal education, but he had plenty of smarts.

The story about Rev triggered my memory about some other preacher stories I’ve heard, and I want to share them with you.


Dr. John G. McCall, pastor of First Baptist Church in Vicksburg from 1952 to 1982, was pastor to anyone who needed spiritual help. He may have coined the word “ecumenical.”

One day he went home in midmorning just in time to hear the once-a-week housekeeper tell a friend on the phone that she was working for Dr. McCall. After a moment she added, “Oh, no, honey. He’s the kind of doctor that doesn’t help anybody.”

Dr. William P. Davis was pastor of Wayside Baptist Church in the early 1930s, and on a return visit in the 1950s he told about the time he and a visiting revival preacher went each day to a different house for dinner or supper.

At one unpretentious country dwelling that was without any modern conveniences, including screens on the windows, the guests were ushered into the kitchen, seated at the table, and as the minister began to ask God’s blessings on the food, a chicken that was sitting on a nest on a corner cabinet laid one egg, stood up and cackled, and then flew out the window.

Dr. Davis said he had no doubts about the freshness of the food, especially the eggs.

Volumes have been written and untold numbers of sermons preached explaining the doctrine of predestination as believed by John Calvin and scores of other theologians.

The late Elder Clyde Stegall, who was the first pastor of Shiloh Primitive Baptist Church on Warriors Trail, told of hearing an uneducated preacher in Crystal Springs explain the doctrine:

“You go down to the railroad station. Everybody is milling around, talking, having fun, when someone shouts, ‘All aboard,’ but everybody don’t get on that train — just them that has tickets.”

The deceased lady was greatly loved, for she had a large heart.

And that wasn’t all — she was a very, very large lady, and a special casket had to be built for her.

The funeral was held at Crawford Street Methodist Church. The casket was placed in front of the pulpit, and the first words of the prayer by the pastor, Rev. Willard Leggett III, were thanking God for “opening wide the gates of heaven” at the death of this dear lady.

No one but Charles Riles, undertaker extraordinaire, noticed the wording, and he never let the Reverend forget it.

I was in college at Summit when I discovered Mississippi’s oldest denomination, the Primitive Baptists, which I eventually joined. One of the sacraments of the faith in taking Holy Communion includes the washing of the feet.

I often visited Redbone Methodist Church where Rev. Billy Dean Case was pastor. I read somewhere about a denomination called the Primitive Methodists, and one Sunday, I asked Br. Case who they were. He very solemnly told me that at communion “they sprinkle their feet.” He then admitted he had never heard of them, but I thought it was a great answer. By the way, Gen. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, was a Primitive Methodist

Dr. Scotchie McCall was a professor at the Baptist seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and he sometimes preached revivals at First Baptist in Vicksburg; Usually, he conducted one service in the country at Wayside, which I attended as a youth.

Dr. McCall had a shock of white curly hair. He was a large man with an almost musical voice. He was a wonderful speaker. One night at Wayside, he was illustrating a point with a story. He told of a cat in a cage chasing a mouse. He started out slowly, but his voice gained volume and speed, and when the cat caught the mouse his voice rose, and he clapped his hands loudly — and Joyce Cogan, who had dozed off, fell off the pew!

In the 1920s, Dr. J.C. Greenoe, a very dignified gentleman, was pastor of First Baptist Church and also of old Antioch on Fisher Ferry Road. He and Mrs. Greenoe often visited their country parishioners. On a call to my grandparents, Mrs. Greenoe had gone to the barn to see a litter of pigs. She just had to have one. My grandmother advised her that Baum Street, where the Greenoes lived, was no place for a pet pig, but Mrs. Greenoe persisted. When she returned to town, she had a little pig so small she would fit into a bucket. She named her “Queenie Duroc.”

As Queenie grew, she was moved from the back porch to the backyard. She became a favorite pet with the children and was the love of the family. Soon, however, Queenie became sizable and adventuresome, not at all content to remain in the Greenoe’s backyard.

One day Queenie ran away toward Cherry Street, and Mrs. Greenoe, dressed in a brightly colored housecoat, chased after her, zigzagging through lawns and shrubbery. She finally caught Queenie at the corner of Baum and Cherry where the pig sat down. Mrs. Greenoe took off her belt and tied it around Queenie’s leg and tried to pull her home, but the animal refused to budge.

At that time, a funeral procession came down Cherry Street, led by Dr. Greenoe and the Presbyterian minister in an open touring car. As they passed the lady with the squealing pig, Mrs. Greenoe turned her back hoping no one would recognize her.

Later, when Dr. Greenoe came home, he walked into the house laughing.

“Oh. We’re disgraced!” Mrs. Greenoe moaned, but the Reverend said no — that those with him had commented, “Oh, that poor lady,” but he never acknowledged that she was his wife.

Elder Sonny Pyles of Graham, Texas, seldom took his Bible into the pulpit when he preached — he could quote any scripture in it. Br. Pyles often came to Mississippi where he usually preached at Grace Primitive Baptist Church in Brandon. He was a no-frills preacher — none of that “Six Flags Over Jesus” type doctrine for him.

He was a grand speaker with a quick wit, and when he was a guest on a talk show, he and the hostess got into a lively discussion. She finally said, “Br. Pyles, have you ever read Norman Vincent Peale?” and he replied, “Yes. I’ve read Peale, and I’ve read Paul, and I find Paul appealing and Peale appalling.”

He grew up on Dana Road, named for his family. Harvey Dana finished the eighth grade in a one-teacher school. He studied books from his uncle’s library on religions, and he was admitted to Mississippi College on an exam. After graduation, he earned a master’s at Northwestern and then a doctorate in Hebrew and other languages at Heidelberg University in Germany.

Harvey Dana was a professor and seminary president, but he loved to come back to Warren County to preach at Wayside where he knew everyone. Half of the congregation were probably kin to him. He was a brilliant man, but he never talked down to his audience, and he loved to tell the story of someone telling him that what they liked was, “When you preach you never snow your education.”

Dr. Dana also had advice for young preachers: “The mind can absorb only as long as the seat can endure.”

I’ve known some who must have been absent the day that lesson was taught.


Gordon Cotton is the curator emeritus of the Old Court House Museum. He is the author of several books and is a renowned historian.

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