If you grew up in rural Texas, particularly in the eastern portion, in the first half of the 20th Century, you’ve likely been involved in giving your preacher a pounding.
“Pounding” is not a beating but rather an undertaking to honor one’s preacher beyond money. It started in a mostly rural, agrarian America. Most families, even in small towns, provided much of their own foodstuffs, from dairy products from the family milk cow(s) to hogs and calves butchered for meats.
Much was produced and stored in pound lots, so churches were encouraged to help pay the preacher by giving him a pound of this and a pound of that, thus a “pounding.”
I am particularly familiar with how it was done at the Luna Missionary Baptist Church, so my recollections are of that Freestone County institution and its flock for my growing up years.
Luna is, or actually was, a community in mid-Freestone County. A crossroads defines the location to those who live near or who used to live there when the settlement was a reality rather than a dream of the past. Today there is only the crossroads where there was once a community of substance.
About a quarter mile north and on the west side of the road, is the former location of the church.
When I attended the church as a youngster, the total membership was about 35. Average attendance was 17-18 on the two Sundays a month services were held. Those morning services included two Sunday school classes — one for adults and one for kids. Children able to read were included with older kids through teenage in a class. Babies and children under school age stayed with their parents.
That sounds problematic but it really wasn’t. No child got loud or misbehaved. If he did, one of his/her parents took them outside and “reasoned” with them beyond where cars were parked and, hopefully, out of earshot of the church.
Of the 17-18 average attendance, memory says all but a handful were relatives, close and distant, but kin nonetheless.
VISITORS WERE usually former Luna residents and/or family who’d moved away but came back for regular visits.
Most regular church service attendees were either retired on “old age pension” and/or farmers. No one had much money. The collection plate gatherings on those two Sundays paid two things: the light bill and the preacher. Volunteers and special donations covered expenses such as repairs, pew replacement, “song books” (hymnals), and other incidental expenses incurred.
Bro. Fred E. Folk was the preacher. He was from the county seat of Fairfield and drove to Luna for services on those two Sundays, a 20-30 minute trip. Usually, he had dinner (country for lunch) at the home of a church member and supper (country for dinner) as well. His hosts understood that Bro. Fred needed a bit of a Sunday afternoon nap. That still left time for visiting before heading back for evening services.
Bro. Fred preached the other two Sundays a month at a similar country church near Buffalo. With a small attendance at each, the collection for preacher pay was meager at best. He had to have a “regular six-day job” to help support his family and even with that, the churches recognized the need for a pounding.
ALTHOUGH I could find no specific definition in the origin of the practice, I suspect it started with “Bro. Smith, you and your family give him a pound of bacon; Sister Jones, your family could come up with a pound of ham;…pound of butter, etc. and on and on.
An old-fashioned East Texas pounding was given at least once a year, sometimes more. Donated food items covered a wide range and the amount given would surprise someone given the membership and average attendance numbers. Bro. Fred could delightfully count on a lot of items canned by the church’s mostly female membership, in addition to store-bought canned foods. Home-cured meats were often included in the pounding.
These gifts expressed the Luna residents’ need for church life and underscored their support of a preacher. Bro. Fred and members of Luna Missionary Baptist exemplified faith to me as a boy searching for meaning in life.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.