Lewis Grizzard in a corner of his office circa 1980s. (AJC file photo)
Photo: Nick Arroyo/AJC staff
Photo: Nick Arroyo/AJC staff

Just give me that old-time religion

From grits to UGA football to the Atlanta Opera, legendary humorist and columnist Lewis Grizzard wrote about it all. On Nov. 7, 2019, Grizzard, one of Atlanta’s most beloved columnists, will be inducted into the Atlanta Press Club Hall of Fame. 

As a special gift to readers, we’re sharing some of Grizzard’s most memorable columns, published many years ago on the pages of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. We hope you enjoy Grizzard’s work — whether you’ve savored them before or are just reading them for the first time.  

Check out the Nov. 10 print edition of the AJC for a special section collecting these columns; you can also view the section online in the AJC ePaper on Nov. 10.

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I’m looking for the Rev. Floyd Tenney. He’s the pastor of a Methodist church somewhere in the Atlanta area. Somebody told me that recently, but they didn’t have a name or address of the church.

I knew Floyd Tenney when I was a boy. He was a young preacher at my home church, Moreland Methodist.

He was the first preacher with whom I really identified. He wasn’t a somber old man in a blue suit, preaching out of Revelation, scaring me about the moon turning to blood and the seas boiling over.

The Rev. Tenney kept it simple, kept it where a young boy could get some idea of what the Methodist gospel was all about, kept it where you didn’t doze off. I recall he always asked us to stand when he read from the Bible. I’d never known a preacher to ask that before.

Floyd Tenney married me for the first time in 1966 at the Moreland Methodist Church. She and I had loved each other since the sixth grade, and it was supposed to be forever.

When it turned out to be for four years, I tried to find the Rev. Tenney to help me figure out a way to get her back.

But he was no longer at Moreland Methodist Church. I found out he’d gone into the used-car business. My barber died the same week I got the news about the Rev. Tenney.

My preacher goes into used cars and my barber dies in the same week. I was a lost soul.

But youth gets over setbacks as it gets over almost any malady.

I found myself, moved on and except for the mention that the Rev. Tenney was back in the pulpit somewhere, he hadn’t crossed my mind in years until I attended a fancy, big-city Methodist service Sunday.

The people were nice. The minister gave a thought-provoking sermon on repentance.

But they spent at least 10 minutes lighting candles. The choir was in fancy robes and sang something that could have been opera. And there were all sorts of associate ministers involved, and I never heard any of the four or five hymns we used to sing.

We were asked to sing the first and third verses of some ponderous Christmas hymn with which I was not familiar. And across from it in the hymn book was “Away in a Manger.”

I still know all the words to “Away in a Manger,” but we didn’t sing that.

Concerned about this, I turned to the hymnal’s index. I did find “The Old Rugged Cross,” but “Precious Memories” wasn’t in there.

Yes, give me that old-time religion. Give it to me as I had it when I was a boy.

The choir in Moreland Methodist occasionally was off-key, and it didn’t have any fancy robes, but when they rendered “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” it was a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

When they asked Fox Covin or Western Tidwell or Clyde Elrod to pray, there were no fancy words, no quoting of big-name theologians. It just came from the heart and said, “Lord, help us to do what’s right.”

I’ve just got the feeling Floyd Tenney’s church, wherever it might be in this city, is still like that.

Floyd, I want to come hear you again. I want to sing the old songs.

“Would that you stand as we read God’s word,” you used to say.

I’ll stand again as I did when I was 14, next to my mother as you read the Scriptures.

I want to sing “Precious Memories” and “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder” from that old brown Cokesbury hymnal.

It took a visit to a big-city church to make me remember how good it used to feel on the square at Moreland Methodist, where I married the first time, where I said goodbye to my mother and where they will say goodbye to me one day.

Call 526-5422, Floyd. Ask for Gerrie. I’ll be in Vegas working this week, but I’ve been a lot worse places since I saw you last.

Dec. 7, 1992

» Check out some other memorable Grizzard columns

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