Beyond the Serpents Church of the Lord Jesus Jolo, West Virginia
During my visit to Jolo in June, Pastor Harvey and I had spoken about reviving the Homecoming service. The past three years the annual gathering had dwindled due to Bob Elkins health, folks moving further away from the area, etc. We talked about honoring Bob for the 55+ years that he led the congregation, as far as I have researched, a unprecedented length of time. But beyond that, Bob lived his life as he preached, threw the doors of the church open to anyone even in light of the string of negativity in both incidents and media through those years. Bob had touched many lives, mine included. He loved me even though through the eyes of the faith I was a “sinner”. He brought me into his spiritual space, housed and fed me in his home and trusted me to be true to my word of documenting the faith from the standpoint of exploring its spirit.
So, between Harvey, Melissa Evans and me, we began to contact those that we had phone numbers or emails with. I developed a flyer announcing the Homecoming which was sent out to all of those we knew to be forwarded and shared. The Homecoming would incorporate all of the elements that were traditional; services on Friday, Saturday and Sunday; a graveside service for Bob, Barbara and others buried in the family cemetery; and on Sunday following the service, a potluck dinner. People were encouraged to bring photos and stories of Bob to share and post on the wall.
During this time several people had contacted me through my website inquiring about attending. I explained to each that I saw myself as a “gatekeeper” in the sense that they had contacted me and if their intentions were not in the best interest of the congregation there would be no assistance provided. Most people that have taken this route of contact are inquisitive and do not have any hidden agenda but simply want to witness and document through writing or images one of the truly unique forms of fundamentalist faith in America. In past visits I have documented though writing each service. I am not proving that detail on the homecoming, but simply allowing the photographs to speak for the services. Below I have provided a brief overview of each service with some attendee’s names where relevant.
Friday August 29th, 2008
There were 21 in attendance. Harvey Payne (Pastor), his wife Brenda and daughter Ray Christian Richard, Melissa and Tyler Evans (Richard brought three boxes of serpents, both rattlers and copperheads) Pete and Ray from Kentucky (They have been coming for many years) Clifton Hampton and two of his daughters Eric (Catholic Worker) and four service students from Kentucky
This was one of the first services in which Clifton took the pulpit to preach. That ministering is on the CD that I have put together from the weekend (on the website) along with selected songs of faith from the services. Clifton is a wonderful, good hearted man, befriending and trusting me in what I do. He also told me that he would be willing to introduce and recommend me to other signs-following congregations if I wanted to expand my work. That spoke volumes to me about the relationships that have been forged over the years with members of the congregation and beyond. It is also a statement to acting from your heart. People will sense that and allow you into theirs.