July was always a special month in Marietta. First of all, it was hot as blazes! Secondly, it was when the travelin’ preachers would rent a lot, put up a big old white tent and gather everyone they could under the tent for several evenings of fire and brimstone. My Nannie loved tent revivals. She would always take me with her. And no preacher was as famous for preaching and healing as Oral Roberts.
First of all for you non-tent revival folks, a tent meeting is nothing like Sunday service at First Baptist of Anywhere. My usual Sunday services involved a traditional service. We read responsive readings. We sang hymns from a hymnal. Deacons passed the offering plate. A choir with robes sang. The minister preached. An invitation was always extended to those who wanted to profess their faith and join the church.
A tent meeting was in a barren field but close to town and a place for parking. The sides of the tent could be rolled up for ventilation. There were funeral home fans available. Chairs were hard folding ones. Every inch of space was used. The front of the tent church had a raised platform with a place for the preacher to stand. There was generally an area for a visiting choir to stand and sing. There were wide aisles that lead to the front for the healing part of the service. Lights on wires were strung across the ceiling. It was as bright as day inside.
People of all ages, all shapes and sizes were lined up easily an hour before the preachin began. When the barriers were moved to the side, people rushed to their ” perfect” place in the tent. The perfect place depended on what you wanted from the night. Did you need prayer? Did you need healing? Did you plan to speak in tongues?
Five minutes before the service began, the tent would begin to get quiet. Then at the exact minute that the service should start, one woman would begin to sing “How Great Thou Art” all alone. No piano. No organ. Gradually more choir members would join in until every voice would be lifting in praise to The Lord. The hair would stand up on my arms. The music almost took your breath away.
Then the preacher would step forward from behind the curtains with his Bible already open to THE PAGE. It was time. There were many preachers that did tent revivals but NONE were like Oral Roberts. N.O.N.E. He preached and preached-sometimes way over an hour but it seemed like a flash. Sometimes choir members would provide background humming. People in the audience raised their arms in praise. Amen was commonly heard. Sometimes I would find myself holding my breath.
Next came the invitation. People flowed from their row into the aisles and down to the front. Soon everyone was on their feet, praising, praying, singing. The final part of the meeting was the healing. Oral Roberts was famous for praying and healing people. I can close my eyes right now and see Oral Roberts saying to an attendee, “Throw your crutches away. Be healed!” He reached out and just touched others. He wept with those in line. He rejoiced with others.
Then suddenly, it was over for the night. People dropped money in baskets by the tent sides. Dimes. Nickels. Dollar bills. Pennies. I would look up at the sky and see the moon and the stars. And be thankful for the beauty of our earth.