Men's Conference, 2019...The Swan Song

     The month of May always brings with it two momentous events: my birthday (May 5) and the annual Men's Conference of the South Texas District of the United Pentecostal Church, United. Held in San Antonio around the first weekend of the month, the conference is a gathering where men of like-minded faith can get together and share a common spirit, gain strength and encouragement, and renew a commitment to God.  I have written previously of high moments (See ) and low  moments (See ) in the conferences, but the positives far outweigh the negatives, so it was with anticipation that we group of old veterans headed west toward the Promised Land again on Friday, May 3.
    As usual, and for the fourth time in the last seven years, it was Brothers Jerry Steward, John Cook, and me in Brother John’s venerable Honda Pilot…and as usual, we left Houston after having breakfast at our favorite Denny’s Restaurant…the Denny’s where we have enjoyed breakfast every Friday for the last five years.  The place where, when we walk in the door, the coffee is already at our favorite table, waiting for our first sip.  They take care of us; they should…we tip pretty well.
    Unfortunately, we were missing Brother Prentiss Smith, John’s father-in-law, who backed out at the last minute for undisclosed reasons.  I’ve said it before…it’s always good when you’re in the company of Brother Smith because he is a man of such impeccable character that some of his respectability sort of rubs off on common old church members like me.  However, this past year Brother Jerry Stewart was chosen as a certified board member of Bethel Tabernacle, and, with John Cook already being a board member, I am still surrounded by Men of Impeccable Character…I couldn’t sin even if I wanted to.
    Anyway, we left Denny’s under threatening skies which opened up as we headed west on Interstate 10.  From Katy to Columbus, it was heavy rain and dark clouds, but as we sailed by Columbus, the weather began to lighten and we made an uneventful trip to our destination, The Drury Hotel at I-10 and Loop 1604 in Northwest San Antonio, arriving around 4:00 p.m.  Jerry and I shared a room, and John was left out in the cold, all alone.  He had to wing it alone in his room because his father-in-law had backed out.  I offered to get an extra bed in our room, but he declined…probably because I had told him Jerry snored like a freight train…or at least, someone in our room does.
    Drury offers free evening and morning buffets, so downstairs we went after the obligatory naps for some tacos and salad.  They were not five-star tacos, but they were sufficient for the moment.  While we three were dining, Pastor David Fauss came in and joined us for a bit of conversation.  In his new position as Superintendent of the South Texas District, he was constantly being tapped on the shoulder by passersbys who wanted to say hello.  Such is the price of fame and responsibility.
    Brother Fauss is the newly elected superintendent of the newly formed South Texas District.  Actually, the name is the same as before, but where the South Texas District once ranged from Beaumont to Brownsville, it has now been split roughly on a line from Austin to San Antonio into the South Central District (San Antonio to Brownsville) and South Texas District (east of that line to the Louisiana border.)  I can’t give you the exact boundaries because no one knows what they are; the boundaries have never been published, documented, or publicized.  The UPCI, from its national headquarters to the local church organization, is highly secretive.  If you read Pentecostal Life, the official publication of the UPCI, you will read wonderful inspiring sermons and testimonies, but very little about the administration of the organization.  The local and state districts carry on that policy.  The original South Texas District, which split from the original Texas District, has now been split into the aforementioned two districts, and rumors have abounded as to the reasons for the action.  Nowhere can you read or hear of the new boundaries or the reasoning for the divide.  The pattern of non-information is carried to the local churches.
     About 7:30 p.m., the lights of The Hope Church, Rev. Scoggins, Pastor, dimmed and the service began…or rather, the show began.  There was suddenly a cacophony of rolling drums, blinking lights, wailing keyboards, and blasting voices, accompanied by flashing psychedelic images on two large screens.  Someone needs to watch the Michael Caine movie The Ipcress File (1965).  In that movie, those same procedures were used as torture for captured prisoners in an attempt to break down their resistance to questioning. It was standard questioning procedure during the Cold War period of the fifties and sixties.  To complement the entertainment, there was also the obligatory lead singer yelling at the top of his/her voice.  We also received a heavy dose of good old Christian rap (that is an oxymoron, my friends).  However, I am not going to dwell on this negative aspect of the conference; I have made my opinion known before (see above blog “The Concert,”) but I will make this one statement and use a term I have heard two ministers use recently; albeit, they were using it in reference to the world. Pentecostal music has gone to hell in a handbasket.  The music may bring in people, but it destroys the spirit and cheapens the church experience.  ‘Nuf sed.
     We were blessed to have as our main speaker, Brother Stan Gleason, who is the Assistant General Superintendent of the UPCI, Western Division.  He preached an outstanding sermon concerning the role of men in the church and the responsibilities we have as men to represent Christ and the church.  It was powerful, positive, and inspiring, and most of us wound up somewhere around the altars reconsecrating ourselves to the work of God after the sermon.
    There is an unwritten rule amongst Pentecostals…after church…we go eat.  Fortunately, in the Drury Hotel complex is an Applebee’s, and that was and is our usual stopping place after service.  By that time, we had other great friends join us, Brothers Melvin Hogan and his son and Carl Boothe…who is more than a brother. Brother Boothe is a minister and leader/teacher of our Senior Bible Class at Bethel Tabernacle.  We had a great visit at Applebee’s, and it was after midnight before we left the restaurant, primarily because Brother Hogan can eat more…and slower…than any person I have seen recently.  But it was OK.
     The next morning, bright and fairly early, we were downstairs for the Drury breakfast which was full course and pretty tasty.  We made it to the church about 9:00, and, thankfully, the weather had brightened considerably after yesterday’s rain and storms.  Revs. Donnie Huslage and Roger Blackburn preached briefly but eloquently on the subject “Men at the Gate.”  Then it was time again for Brother Gleason.
    Brother Gleason’s sermon that morning was worth the $50.00 price of the conference.  His subject was “Be Famous with your Family!”  His most noteworthy statement to our group of men was,” If you have to choose between saving your church or saving your family…save your family.”   He used examples of ministers who are so wrapped up in building churches, they neglect their own families, and men who try hard to provide for their families, yet they forget their families’ spiritual welfare.  “Do not be afraid,” he said, “to say ‘I love you’ and ‘I’m sorry.’”  The sermon created some serious soul-searching and re-committing among many listeners.

    Shortly after noon, John Cook headed the Pilot back eastward toward Houston.  We had one more obligatory stop to make: at Chili’s in Seguin, Texas.  The food is good, and we were ready to eat, but it’s the chocolate volcano dessert which made me want to make the stop.  If you’ve never had a “chocolate volcano,” it’s a big chunk of fudgy chocolate cake (hot) with a great scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Chili’s chocolate volcano is huge and comes with 3-4 spoons, depending on the number of participants.  Sadly, another memory has been tarnished a bit.  This time the cake was not very fudgy…more like a regular lightweight chocolate cake.  It was OK, but you didn’t get the usual chocolate overload with each bite.
    After one more brief stop for fuel, John delivered Jerry and me to our respective homes about 5:00 and another enjoyable conference was in the books.  Next year, the two now-separate districts will each offer its own men’s conference, so whether we ever return to the Drury Inn or San Antonio is unknown at this time.  Personally, I enjoy the trip traveling with my good friends nearly as much as I enjoy the conference itself.  The idea of driving across Houston to a conference is not as appealing.  We’ll see.

A Voice from the Past...Rev. V.A. Guidroz

    A few days ago, Shirley and I were enjoying some reminiscing and visiting with our good friends, Reverend Ronny and Jerry Guidroz.  Actually, they are more than just friends.  Shirley and Jerry are stepsisters which I guess makes Ronny and me stepbrothers-in-law.  We have all basically grown up together. (Read Featured Post “Ronny and Jerry, 65 Years Later” to the left of this blog.)  In our visiting on this particular day, Ronny
Rev. V. A. Guidroz
mentioned he had several old reel to reel tapes of his dad, Rev. V.A. Guidroz, preaching many of his memorable sermons.  Two tapes that he presently had with him were two morning devotional services that Brother Guidroz had conducted in August, 1961, at the Texas District Camp Meeting of the United Pentecostal Church in Lufkin Texas.  Even in those early years, Brother Guidroz was known for his powerful morning devotionals. 

    Ronny expressed a wish that he could find someone to update those tapes to a CD, and, since I happen to have that skill and computer capabilities, I quickly volunteered to take on the task.  For the next couple of days, in the quiet of my den sitting at my computer with Brother Guidroz’s tapes running, I listened to a voice from the past.

    Reverend V.A. Guidroz was the pastor of my childhood.  My parents joined Peace Tabernacle in 1950 and Brother Guidroz became our family’s spiritual leader.  (See “In Memory of Pastor V. A. Guidroz” influence on my parents and us kids was immense, because those were the days when pastors took an intense interest in the spiritual well-being of their church members, and in turn the church members actually listened to their pastors and followed their guidance. 

    The two tapes I converted were the Thursday and Friday morning devotionals of the camp meeting.  In 1961, the main tabernacle of the camp meeting was a round-roofed large structure capable of sitting approximately two thousand people, By today’s standards, it was rustic: no air conditioning, NO WALLS except front and rear of the building, sawdust floor, and wood plank seating.  During times of shouting and excited praising, a light cloud of fine sawdust would rise up from the floor.  At the end of night services in those days, if you didn’t have a light coating of dust on your clothing and a little sweat to match, you must have been sitting quietly.  This was old time camp meeting.  People stayed on the camp grounds in tents, campers, cabins (upper class!) and even in backs of cars and carrying a web-shaped fan to give one a little breeze in the stifling day-time heat was the order of the day.  Restrooms were small buildings a fair walk away from the tabernacle.  And yet no one complained…contemporary Christians would probably refuse to attend such primitive facilities.

    Brother Guidroz’s morning devotions at camp began at 6:30, so it took hardy souls to even make the services.  However, even at that early hour, several hundred saints (members) would be gathered.  As I listened to the tapes, it was brought to me so forcefully how our churches, and in particular the United Pentecostal Church in general, have changed over the last 55+ years.  Please be aware, this blog is not going to be a rant concerning how the church has lost its direction or how I feel about the music: I have made my opinions concerning such subjects in other blogs.  I will simply describe what I heard and felt on the tapes and you can draw your own conclusions.

L-R: Revs. Ron Guidroz, Steve Galloway, Milton Ford, V.A. Guidroz, Lloyd Moreau
I was struck by the simplicity of each service. Brother Guidroz was the only speaker for the entire nearly hour and a half.  He led the prayers, led the singing, taught the lesson, and preached the sermon.  Behind him, furnishing the music, was an organist…that was it.  No “praise” singers, no song leader, no other musicians at all.  A couple of days after I converted the first tape, I called Ronny to tell him how I had enjoyed the devotional, and he told me that the person on the organ was none other than my future mother-in-law, Anniedeen Creel.  At that time she was Sister Anniedeen Bateman, another member of our Peace Tabernacle church in Baytown, Texas.  In the mid fifties she had attempted to teach me how to play the piano, but she gave up after a year or so when I discovered the guitar.

    The Thursday service began with a timeless hymn, “Sweet Hour of Prayer.”  Brother Guidroz was not a singer, but he led the song and set the tone for the service.  His words thereafter created a spirit of deep worship as he discussed “Your Desert Place.”  He spoke as befitting his position as the District Superintendent of the Texas District.  He encouraged, cajoled, admonished, and advised saints, sinners, preachers, and pastors in his audience.  He, as many ministers of the day, did not mince words; he was direct and clear in his admonishments.  A noteworthy quote to the ministers: “Do not spend all your time preaching to those who will not listen…preach and be a pastor those who will.” 

     Brother Guidroz was representative of many ministers of those days.  With limited education and no finances, he began preaching at an early age because he felt God’s calling on his life.  He did not go to Bible college to get his license to preach, nor did he have a license bestowed on him because he had church influence.  He and Sister Guidroz traveled and preached with only their faith in God to depend on.  He told of the time during the depression days when he preached for weeks in an area where the people told him up front they had no money, but he felt the need to be there.  Early ministers were determined to spread the gospel, not amass a financial estate.  In 1959, when Brother Guidroz resigned his church in Baytown to become full time district superintendent, he walked away from a church he had spent over twenty-five years building up from scratch…no financial compensation, no retaining a financial interest…he left it all.

Peace Tabernacle, 1956
As the audience sat and listened, there were moments during the sermons when Brother Guidroz would call everyone to worship, and a chorus of hundreds of voices would rise up in a season of prayer.  There were no calls to “give God a handclap of praise” as is so prevalent today because it was not done.  In those days, applause was what you gave performers and actors; it was not in the church.  Oh, there was handclapping during singing and when praying, but not applause.  Applause became prevalent first via the television preachers whose studio audiences were encouraged to applaud every singer and every time the televangelist said something profound.  When Shirley and I moved back to Texas in 1991, we were surprised to see the practice had infiltrated even Pentecostal churches.

    After over an hour of ministering, the audience had moved into a deep worshipful period, and Brother Guidroz invited those who desired to come to the front and pray.  The sound of a great number of people praying lasted several minutes…no screaming, no yelling, no singing, no blasting drums or music…just deep, powerful prayer.  By this time, I was praying with tears in my eyes right along with the folks on the tape.  It was the type of prayer that is rarely heard in churches today.        (Read “An Unusual Church Service” 

     After listening to the two devotionals three times apiece, I was a little nostalgic for those uncomplicated days of yesteryear.   Things were simpler then.  Life was simpler and even trying to live a Christian life was simpler.  A pastor told you how to live based on his following the scriptures, and saints believed and followed willingly without challenging every detail.  We put faith in our leaders and faith in God.  And we were happier.