A revealing picture of Southern character as seen in a minister's recollections of his congregations
Perhaps the best way to portray
that unique cultural phenomenon called "Southerners" is by telling tales
about how these particular people live. And who could perceive them
better, heart and soul, than their preacher? James O. Chatham, a Presbyterian
minister who served several congregations during four decades, witnessed
to a full spectrum of Southern types during his years in the pulpit. He
met all kinds, and he strived to minister to each with a compassionate,
His book of tales about his experiences
with them puts a human face on the southern portrait. In Sundays Down South:
A Pastor's Stories he recounts experiences with people who were both heroic
and pathetic, wise and foolish, visionary and blind. "Two things
I have taken from these [stories]," he says. "One is the insight that the
most sturdy and courageous hearts often come in very plain packaging.
The other is the importance of conviction, of having in your soul a motivating
He preached in a variety of southern locales--a
paper mill town in the mountains of westernVirginia, two small communities
in southwestern Mississippi, a tobacco town in Piedmont North Carolina,
and a city on the edge of Kentucky's bluegrass region. The people he encountered
in his pastorates are flawed but charming, even admirable in some instances.
"It is impossible," he says, "to tell from the outside who the giants will
be. You have to be attentive, to watch and listen carefully, sometimes
to dig to uncover the people you really want to meet."
Religion, race, sex, family ties, economic
hardship, health, and education all arise in these tales, and Chatham never
condemns or accuses. Nor does he shy from an honest portrayal of
reality and of the prejudice that persists in the South. With a poignant
but plain style, he makes clear his love for his parishioners and his attempt
to infuse their lives with the inspired dignity that has moved him through
a lifetime of preaching and listening.
James O. Chatham has been pastor of Highland Presbyterian Church
in Louisville, Kentucky, since 1981. He has published articles in Word
and Witness, Today's Teacher, the Winston Salem Journal, and the Louisville