Sundays Down South
A Pastor's Stories
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, pastoral hand.
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 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 cause. "
He preached in a variety of southern locales--a paper mill town in the mountains of western Virginia, 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.
"This southern Presbyterian minister collects uplifting stories he has heard and experienced. Chatham gathers his stories from parishes in Virginia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Kentucky; and many of the tales relate how folks overcame difficult odds. Other stories convey the homespun philosophy of people such as Mr. Cecil, a high school history teacher in Fayette, Mississippi, who holds forth on mid-1960s segregation, or Miss Susie, an 87-year-old Fayette lady whose tales of reaching out to poor folks are remarkably heartwarming. As the stories move into the 1980s and 1990s and into more cosmopolitan areas, such as Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Louisville, Kentucky, helping troubled youth and drug addicts becomes a common topic. The centerpiece of the latter portion of the book is Chatham's experiences with two Louisville congregations, one white, the other black. All this is related in a friendly, Mayberry-esque style. "- UPM
"'This is not a religious book,' notes Chatham, a pastor with a social conscience who gives us stories about the lives of poor people struggling 'to live in the sunshine' in four southern locations. Poignantly addressing daily life, these cultural pictures tell tales of heroism and tragedy, ingenuity and vanity, triumph and foolishness. Along the way, Chatham observes that moral purpose and conviction are essential for survival and that 'the most sturdy and courageous hearts often come in very plain packaging. ' Chatham explains that his churches were always 'more concerned with life in the present than with life in the hereafter,' and his stories reveal him to have a listening heart that only judges the outside world insofar as it promises and never delivers. "- UPM