Personal Recollections Of Dr. Harold B. Sightler's Early Ministry And The Heritage Of Tabernacle Baptist Church
Dr. Harold B. Sightler
Personal Recollections Of Dr. Harold B. Sightler's Early Ministry And The Heritage Of Tabernacle Baptist Church
Dr. Harold B. Sightler
This is the last picture taken of Daddy before he went Home on September 27, 1995. Papaw, as we all called him, was seated on the platform in the Chapel, the first auditorium of Tabernacle Baptist Church, where the first service took place on July 20, 1952, the third Sunday.
These comments are set down to provide background detail to the history of the founding of Tabernacle Baptist Church and its continuance in the way of old time religion. My Dad became pastor of Mauldin and Pelham Baptist churches in 1943. I remember Mauldin as a typical country Baptist church with a white frame clapboard building. As I recall there were curtained partitions that set off Sunday school rooms at both churches. Both buildings were of course un-air-conditioned. I remember sitting in church at Mauldin and looking out the open windows at farm fields nearby and at mules and wagons tied to trees in the churchyard. There were more cars than wagons but the wagons were well represented; tires and gasoline were both rationed. There was very little grass in the churchyard as was the case with many of the farmhouses. I remember the noise of Mitchell B-25 bombers and other planes heard often on Sunday from training flights at Donaldson Air Force Base which was only about 5 miles away.
We had a car radio, and on the way to church from our home at 14 Underwood Avenue in Greenville we always heard the broadcast of the Sunday morning gathering at Renfro Valley Kentucky, narrated and directed by John Lair. The format of this program would often include an elderly man and his wife riding to church in a horse drawn buggy, while discussing life's problems and God's solutions for them. When they arrived the sound of music from the church could be heard, a pump organ, accordion and guitar, singing the old hymns in a country way. It seemed that the program would end just as we arrived at Pelham. What a wonderful memory! These things bring to mind the words from an old song by the Spencer family, which I love to hear: "It was there in than little country church house, I first heard the word I based my life upon." From 1945 on my dad pastored at Pelham full time and that church became able to have preaching every Sunday. I believe God led him to this and made the change possible.
In 1924 when my dad was 10 the family moved to Greenville and
attended East Park Baptist church. Daddy was baptized by Preacher G.
B. Lee. Daddy became the secretary of the Evangelistic Club at East
Park by about 1938. Later after Daddy was called to preach G. B. Lee
took him to the registrar at Furman and enrolled him in college.
Both Preacher Lee and Pastor Earnest Driggers of East Park Baptist
Church were sound on doctrine and evangelism. But my Dad did not
take to the methods of preaching and pastoring presented to him
later at Furman from 1942 to 1946. I believe this was in God's
hands. Pastor Lee was also a contractor and built my Dad's first
small house on Underwood Avenue. Daddy did not have a car for
several years between 1937 and 1942, and had to walk to church, to
work at Thomas and Howard's grocery wholesale warehouse on
Washington St., and also from there to classes at Furman. He had
been prepared for walking so much by his paper routes he carried as
a schoolboy. G. B. Lee and B. T. Witcher, a car dealer and member of
East Park, helped Daddy get a used 1936 Ford coupe and helped him
build a small house at 14 Underwood Ave. in Greenville where we
lived from about 1942 to 1949 while my Dad finished Furman, pastored
at Pelham, and began the Bright Spot Hour in 1943.
My Dad used to speak often of his maternal grandfather Bennett in Olar, SC and how he would take my Dad to an old Baptist church there, in a mule drawn wagon by the light of a lantern, and sit with his ear cupped to hear the word.
I can also remember my Dad and mother attending home Bible study
meetings under "uncle" Charlie Mount who lived just off East North
street in the Overbrook community, sometime between 1942 and 1946.
He also spoke often with Otto Harrison who lived a block away from
us on Laurens road and who had a radio program. He was privileged to
be pastor of Oliver Greene's parents at Mauldin and was a friend and
admirer of Dr. Greene. Uncle Charlie Mount was a dispensational
Bible teacher as was Henry Greer, chairman of the board of deacons
at Pelham. Mr. Mount attended Pelham Baptist very often but was not
When my Dad was a student at Furman he once registered for a course to study the book of Revelation. At the first class the professor presented a preterist, amillennial point of view and said that everything in Revelation was symbolic and had already been fulfilled in 70 A.D. My Dad closed his book and said to a student next to him “I’ll not be back tomorrow.”
My Dad's brother Carey went to Elberton, Georgia in September 1939 to hear Oliver Greene preach in a tent meeting there. My Dad heard Oliver preach at an early date, quite some time before he entered college in 1942. He could have attended the Greer or Mills Mill meetings but certainly attended the 1939 Laurens Road tent meeting since the Evangelistic Club of East Park Baptist church supported that meeting. J. Bennett Collins told me that he first met my Dad in 1941 at Oliver's Newberry tent meeting. My Dad went there not only to attend the service but also to get information on organizing and conducting tent meetings, and he bought his first tent later that year. He bought surplus seat ends from Oliver Greene, tent stakes from junkyard Model A rear axles, and was allowed by Thomas and Howard to keep the boards used to brace canned goods in railroad boxcars for use as tent seats.
Daddy also admired J. Harold Smith and Preston Garrett and B. B. Caldwell. B. B. Caldwell preached my Dad's ordination sermon at East Park. My Dad told me that he heard Cyclone Mack (Baxter McClendon) preach in Columbia before the family moved to Greenville in 1925. He also had heard Billy Sunday and R. G. Lee preach and regularly listened to Charles E. Fuller's radio preaching. His call to preach came after he had been listening to Dr. Fuller preach on the radio, The Old Fashioned Revival Hour, for a period of months. This apparently took place about 1936, before Oliver Greene entered North Greenville. B. B. Caldwell preached my Dad's ordination sermon at East Park in 1942.
Jack Greene told me that Oliver had taken bible classes under B. B. Caldwell who was then pastor of Laurel Creek Baptist Church. Both Oliver and my Dad had learned something of pre-millennialism before entering college. My Dad told Benny Carper, his grandson, now directing the Bright Spot Hour, that he used to sit at home discussing the pre-millennial return of the Lord with his mother and Dad and with his brothers and sisters, even before he was called to preach. This then probably would have been after he dedicated his life to the Lord in 1937 and before his first sermon on the first Sunday in March of 1940, a sermon preached in the morning service at East Park Baptist Church. In my Dad's case this served to insulate him from the liberal and amillennial teaching he encountered at Furman. In Oliver's case the issue of pre-millennialism and dispensationalism led to his withdrawal from college and the start of his evangelistic career. Jack said also that, when Oliver left North Greenville, C. L. Norman, at Morgan Memorial Baptist Church, took him "under his wing" and tutored and encouraged him. C. L. Norman later founded Hampton Avenue Baptist church, which became Hampton Park, and also taught and befriended my Dad.
I spoke with Bill Norman, son of C. L. Norman, who gave me some interesting background to his Dad's ministry and his influence on Oliver Greene and my Dad. The Norman family came to Greenville from Lockhart, near Union, where Brother Norman had grown up and begun his ministry. J. Harold Smith, who was from Woodruff, had preached a revival in Lockhart for C. L. Norman in 1935. Both Lockhart and Woodruff are mill towns, very much like Pelham. J. Harold Smith's first pastorate was at Conestee First Baptist, also a small cotton mill town between Greenville and Mauldin. Dr. Smith began his radio program, The Radio Bible Hour, over WFBC in Greenville in the mid 1930's.
Brother Norman also engaged in tent meetings and street preaching before he became pastor of Morgan Memorial in Greenville. He had accumulated a supply of parts and accoutrements for gospel tents over the years and these were stored in a garage at his residence at 610 Laurens road. This was only about 3 blocks from the home of my grandfather Horace and my Dad's house as well on Underwood Ave. My Dad bought pole rings and tent stakes (Model A axles) from him, probably in 1941. Dad also bought seat ends from Oliver Greene at about the same time.
My uncle Carey told me that he went with my Dad to Dalton, Georgia in 1941 to buy a gospel tent. It was 20 by 40 and cost 150 dollars, which my Dad borrowed from the bank. The trip was made in Carey's 1936 Ford coupe. That trip took two days back then, and Carey and my Dad spent the night in the car, parked at an all night gas station. My Dad made seats for the tent by salvaging lumber from freight car food shipments that came to Thomas and Howard where he worked. He also was able to acquire a public address system for the tent and for street preaching. This consisted of a vacuum tube type amplifier on which a turntable was mounted. There was a microphone and a set of black box type loudspeakers which could be mounted on top of a car. It could be powered by household current or by a 6 volt automobile battery. Carey told me that Daddy used to mount the speakers on his car and preach near restaurants and nightclubs in Greenville and Travelers Rest. We should not forget that J. Harold Smith had already been preaching from loudspeakers mounted on a red Piper Cub which he flew a few hundred feet in the air over Greenville. This would have been an example to my Dad. Bill Norman said that his Dad also owned a similar PA system and it is at least possible that my Dad bought his from C. L. Norman, who by then had organized Hampton Avenue and was pastor there.
When Oliver, who had been an exemplary student and the leader of the preacher boys, was asked to leave North Greenville in March 1939 he drove his 1934 Chevrolet 2 door sedan with all his belongings to C. L Norman's house and, in tears, told Bill he wanted to see Brother Norman. He was taken in and given a place to stay for a month or so. He also was asked to preach a revival at Morgan Memorial. Later, in September, during Oliver's Elberton tent meeting, C. L. performed the wedding ceremony for Oliver and Mrs. Greene. Oliver had been asked to leave North Greenville because of pre-millennialism and because of his fervent preaching, his tent and street preaching, and his belief that believers can and should be filled with the Spirit. Bill Norman told me that Oliver's teachers at North Greenville told Oliver in private conversation that being filled with the Spirit was not possible.
It took no small courage for Pastor Norman to take in and give a pulpit to a young man who had just been ejected from one of his own denomination's schools. Later on the church meeting in which Brother Norman was asked to give up his pastorate was moderated by a Furman religion professor, Dr. Province, who had been called as moderator by a deacon at Morgan Memorial. Brother Norman then took a number of his members and organized Hampton Avenue Baptist Church as an independent work in 1940. According to J. Bennett Collins a group of local preachers led by Brother Norman, at some point soon after Oliver was asked to leave, went to North Greenville and confronted the President of the college over Oliver's treatment. They got no clear explanation. Similarly, it also took courage for Ernest Driggers to allow the Evangelistic Club of his church, East Park, to participate in Oliver Greene's Laurens Road tent meeting in the summer of 1939. Brother Driggers was also often present at meetings at J. Harold Smith's Tabernacle.
Howard Wilson came from Lyman, a small cotton mill town, to be pastor of Dunean Baptist church, also in a mill community. He also was close to C. L. Norman and J. Harold Smith and often had J. Harold to preach at Dunean. Duck Finley, who pastored near Sans Souci, also came from Lyman where he had been converted under Howard Wilson's preaching. From Victor Baptist Church in Greer where R. P. Lamb was pastor, another mill church at Victor Mill, several good preachers were called, including Dan Greer and Walter Satterfield.
And further on the subject of mill towns my Dad says in his book The Story of My Life that one of the first meetings he preached was at Inman, SC, for Toy Howell, at an old unpainted, frame, sawdust-floored tabernacle, where "Toy would shout and I'd preach." I remember it had a small portable pump organ played by Toy's wife. It had only a single pot-bellied iron stove in the center of the building. You were always warm on the front side facing the stove, and cold on the other. He also preached while a student at Furman in a brush arbor built by Toy at Columbus, N. C., near Landrum. Tommy Ellison said that my Dad came to Belton, another mill town, in 1942 and got permission to hold a meeting in an old tabernacle which was being used only sporadically. This building had once been an automobile repair shop, with concrete floor. He truly was willing to preach anywhere and undertook the risk and financial strain of his own radio broadcast, the Bright Spot Hour, in 1943.
On October 5, 2001 my wife and I visited J. Harold Smith at his broadcast studio in Newport, TN, one week before he entered the hospital for the last time. He had written me and said he wanted to talk with me when he was again in Greenville. Because of his age we decided we wound not wait until he might be able to come again and so visited him there. On the floor of his office was a large model of a red Piper Cub like the one he had flown over Greenville years before. Also there was a large photograph of the radio station XERF in Del Rio Texas. Dr. Smith gave the money from his own pocket, nearly 100,000 dollars, to repair and refurbish the station and get it back on the air. This was done just at the end of World War II. In return for his contribution he got only a contract to be allowed to preach daily on the station for twenty years at no charge; he did not want or receive ownership or part ownership of the station. The station was clear channel and powerful enough, 50,000 watts, to reach all of North America. By 1947 my Dad was also on XERF at night with his soloist Horace Jones and was also able to reach a nationwide audience. His radio budget for the Bright Spot Hour had by then reached about 2000 dollars a month. I think Dr. Smith's radio ministry was an example for my Dad and that their friendship may have helped my Dad to get the opportunity to broadcast over XERF. J. Bennett Collins said that J. Harold Smith was the first to warn him of the problems with liberalism in the SBC seminaries and colleges. As far as I know J. Harold Smith never preached in the First Baptist Church in Greenville which has always had close ties to the department of Religion at Furman.
It may well be that this entire group of local Greenville area preachers was encouraged to stick to pre-millennial guns in some degree by the example of John R. Rice, who, out in Texas, experienced much the same kind of pressure as Oliver Greene at North Greenville, and over the same issues. Dr. Rice came out of the SBC in 1928 and founded the Sword of the Lord in 1934. Remember the masthead of the Sword has always read: "An Independent Christian Publication, Standing for the Verbal Inspiration of the Bible, the Deity of Christ, His Blood Atonement, Salvation by Faith, New Testament Soul Winning and the Pre-millennial Return of Christ; Opposing Modernism, Worldliness and Formalism." It is likely that my Dad, C. L. Norman, B. B. Caldwell, and J. Harold Smith had learned of the controversy in their reading of the Sword or in travel and contact with others who knew of it. Dr. Rice's ministry had been used of God in a great way even though he had separated himself from the convention. He held a city wide revival at Textile Hall in Greenville in 1945, and my Dad and many other local preachers cooperated in the face of what was probably rather quiet opposition by the county associational leadership. Then in 1949 Dr. Rice held a meeting for my Dad at Pelham and spent a few days in our home at Pelham.
At Pelham there was an unusual concentration of humble, earnest, God fearing people. I believe my Dad found them congenial and that they reminded him of his folks in Columbia and Olar and of his experiences in his early meetings at the Wardlaw home at Westboro Weaving and at Toy Howell's tabernacle in Inman and at the brush arbor. Morris Satterfield also provided a place in his yard where my Dad could hold an open air meeting, preaching from the front porch as he had also done earlier from the porch of the Wardlaw's home at Westboro Weaving Mill in Greenville.
One of my earliest memories of Pelham Baptist Church was the Christmas program just after the war years, always organized and directed by Mrs. Jennie Christopher, who taught at Pelham School. There was a manger scene at the front of the auditorium, and I remember Horace and Lloyd Jones and John Cox walking down the aisle to it as they sang "We Three Kings of Orient Are." At the end of the program the children were given fruit and candy from a silver painted cedar tree on the right side of the auditorium.
I remember that Henry Greer, chairman of the board of deacons, always sat in the choir on the front row, right side, nearest the pulpit. He was one of the greatest inspirations and teachers to my Dad. He always had a brief testimony on prayer meeting or Sunday nights. Before the days of streetlights Mr. Greer would have several members of Pelham assemble at his house and, using his own large flashlight, would escort them to prayer meeting.
I remember Odell Good and Dan Norris driving an old prewar Ford two door coupe through the streets of Pelham preaching over loudspeakers attached to the top of the car and playing and singing gospel music. It is likely that this public address system with turntable was the same one used in l940-43 by my Dad in his tent and open air meetings. I remember they often played "They Were Walking My Lord Up Calvary's Hill," "Thirty Pieces of Silver," and "Tramp on the Street," by Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper. Odell's house was across the street from the parsonage about a hundred yards away and I can remember him whistling and singing as he went about his chores. He prayed daily, outdoors, near the creek behind the parsonage, loud enough to hear him clearly from our side porch. In those days you could sleep on that porch at night, without fear, and listen to the water going over the dam at the site of the mill, which closed in 1936 and had accidentally burned in 1940.
In 1946 only three people were baptized at Pelham, and so in early 1947 a week of prayer meetings were held at night at the church, prayer only, for revival and salvation of souls, with no preaching or singing. People began to get saved, and the church grew. It was during these meetings that my Dad testified that he was filled with the Holy Ghost. The first of the Greer campmeetings was held in a brush arbor at Pelham in 1947. By 1949 there were two Sunday night servcices at Pelham because of the large crowds, and this also allowed people from Greenville to come down to the second service. The prayer meetings continued, and by 1949 were being held on Sunday nights after church in a pasture belonging to Thomas Leonard, located about 200 yards north of the intersection of what is now Westmoreland Road and Abner Creek Road. These often drew a hundred people and sometimes lasted until one o'clock in the morning. A rock altar was built around a tree. According to Thomas Leonard each represented a person being prayed for by name. On one Sunday night in 1950 there were 64 Baptist preachers in this pasture praying, according to Maze Jackson's testimony on a radio broadcast of The Truck Driver's Special that I heard some time after his death. After a time of praying my Dad asked Maze to preach. Maze replied that it was too dark to read a text. My Dad told him to quote one from memory and strike out preaching, and Maze did it. On this occasion one of the neighbors was frightened by the noise and called the Highway Patrol. I remember seeing the Patrol car drive up to the intersection of Westmoreland Road, which was not paved at that time, and Abner Creek Road. The officer got out, listened for a minute or so, and then drove away without interfering in any way.
On Wednesday June 13, 1951 my sister Carolyn was killed when a drunk driver, travelling 80 MPH, struck the rear of my mother's car on Highway 29, just north of Greer. My mother was in a coma from brain contusion and concussion for days thereafter, suffered a broken jaw and the loss of several teeth, and required surgical correction of the fractured jaw. This left a permanent change in her face. My sister Elizabeth was also bruised and battered, but suffered no permanent effects. Lurleen Jones, widow of Horace Jones, and her two children Ken and Judy were also injured. Judy required neurosurgery. I was with my Dad, who was preaching at Woodlawn Baptist Church in High Point, NC that night, when four souls were saved. I can remember our prayers on the drive back and our arriving at the emergency room of Spartanburg General Hospital early on the morning of June 14, about 2:45 A.M. My uncle Colvin Vaughn, my mother's youngest brother, and my uncle Carey Sightler were there. Carey met my Dad in the hospital parking lot when we came in and when my Dad got out of the car he asked how bad the accident was and Carey replied only "it's bad, Harold." Lila Davis, a faithful member of Pelham Baptist Church, who was also an RN and the unofficial 'town doctor' for Pelham, was also there and was in the emergency room when physicians were trying to save my sister's life.
I remember seeing the doctor, in a corridor outside the emergency room, tell my Dad that Carolyn "had expired." Carolyn had actually died before we arrived, but my Dad was not told immediately. After we had seen my mother and sister Elizabeth, who did not have to be admitted, my uncle Carey took me and Elizabeth back to the home of my Dad's parents in Greenville on Monticello Avenue. Carey carried Elizabeth out of the emergency room in his arms to the car. I will never forget the sound of my grandmother's crying when we arrived; it was exactly what I had heard when my uncle Carey left for service with the Army Air Corps in World War II. My uncle Colvin took my Dad back to the parsonage at Pelham early on June 14. Their most trying moment was seeing the dishes on the supper table, just where they had been when my mother and her guests left to take their short trip to see an antique auto museum. My uncle Colvin washed them and put them away; for my Dad could not bear to do it. Uncle Colvin told me of this about 4 years after my Dad passed away. My Dad never spoke to me, or anyone I know, of the anguish of that terrible moment, but kept it to himself. Colvin married Ruby Good, the daughter of Odell Good, our praying neighbor at Pelham.
I remember especially two preachers who visited Spartanburg General Hospital to encourage my Dad, in addition to Odell Good and Dan Norris. One was Anthony Zeoli. The other was an old white-haired railroad engineer, who pastored Zion Hill Baptist Church at Tuxedo, NC. He used to take steam engines over the mountain from Asheville to Erwin, Tennessee. He wore a vest with a railroad watch and chain. His name was Horace Stansbury. He said to my Dad: "Son, I came down to tell you that I was glad God had a preacher in South Carolina that he wasn't afraid to turn the devil loose on. You can't go any deeper; your next move is up". He also had lost a daughter who died at a young age. My Dad preached at Pelham Baptist Church on the Sunday after my sister's funeral on Saturday. That sermon is available from Dr. Ben Carper who has continued the Bright Spot Hour.
My mother remained semicomatose from a brain contusion at Spartanburg General for about 3 weeks. She then had to be sent to Highland Hospital in Asheville, NC for further therapy and recuperation. She remained there for about 7 months, until about the end of 1951. During that time my father continued his revival meetings and my sister and I saw him usually only on Sundays and Mondays. The rest of our time we stayed with my Dad's parents in Greenville or with my Uncle Bert Adams or my aunt Louise Banks.
Another facet of this tragedy I learned about only in September, 1999, when I sent Dr. Peter Ruckman, whom I had not spoken with or seen for 49 years, a copy of the book I wrote, A Testimony Founded Forever: The King James Bible Defended in Faith and History. I quote here from a letter I received from him of September 17, 1999:
"I knew your father very well; as a matter of fact, he was the first man to give me an opportunity to preach in a church when I was at Bob Jones University. In those days, Pelham Baptist Church, where your Daddy preached, was off-limits. Students were not allowed to go there because of the old fashioned preaching, singing, and shouting, but I went there anyway. Due to my street work, your Daddy found out about me, and one night invited me to draw a picture there at the church. Up until then, nobody would have me. I had just been saved a couple of years, and was rougher than a cob, but your Dad took a chance on me, and it was a good service. I'll never forget something he said to me as I went up into the pulpit, and he came down and passed me and in my ear, where nobody could hear, he said, 'Don't forget, Brother Ruckman, no pew can get any higher than the pulpit.' I've never forgotten that. I play tapes of your Daddy's preaching to my preacher boys' classes here, and have for 35 years. To give them an overview of the different styles, I play them the tapes of Maze Jackson, Oliver Greene, Charlie Fuller, ancient recordings of Moody, and Sunday, and J. Frank Norris, recordings of Bob Jones, Sr., and most of the brethren. I attended the church the Sunday after his little girl was killed in the auto accident, and often use that illustration in a message I have called 'Why Do the Righteous Suffer'."
I had not known that Dr. Ruckman was present at Pelham on that Sunday after the funeral to hear my Dad preach. On October 17, 1999 I went to White Plains Baptist Church in Mt. Airy, NC to hear Dr. Ruckman give his testimony and life story. After the service I shook his hand and asked why Pelham Baptist Church was off-limits. As I expected, he affirmed it was because of the old fashioned singing, shouting, and preaching found there. There were a few other University students who also came to Pelham, against the rules. My Dad never told me, or anyone else that I know of, that Pelham was off-limits. He may not have known about it himself. I do not know.
It cannot be too strongly emphasized that, even though my Dad was Dr. Ruckman's pastor, Dr. Ruckman, according to the conversation I had with him on October 17, 1999, never mentioned his difficulties with the administration at BJU to my Dad, and my Dad never gave him any advice in regard to those problems. It should also be remembered that my Dad's position on the King James Bible was reached independently, by his own study, as I have shown in A Testimony Founded For Ever, between 1943 and 1947, when the RSV appeared, and that he did not arrive at his position by any influence from Dr. Ruckman and never read Jasper John Ray's book, God Wrote Only One Bible. BJU did not come to Greenville until 1947, and Dr. Ruckman came about 3 years later.
My Dad always tried to, and did, maintain good relations with the University in spite of their differences. I remember that we attended the service at Rodeheaver Auditorium in 1950 when Billy Graham preached there with Senator Strom Thurmond on the platform. My mother and Dad, along with my sister and I, in 1955, had lunch at the BJU dining common with Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. and his wife. They both sat across the table from us. I remember that Dr. Bob asked me where I planned to go to college. I had to reply that I would go to Furman because the pre-medical courses at BJU had not at that time attained the strength and influence that they were later to do. Otherwise, I would have attended BJU, as my sister later did in 1964. The meeting ended amiably and Dr. Bob did not comment on my choice of colleges.
We have mentioned the music played by Odell Good and Dan Norris as they preached on the streets at Pelham. Further on the subject of music, my Dad's sisters, Lucille and Ruby Nell, sang for him on the radio when the Bright Spot Hour began in 1943. Lucille played the piano, but only from books written in shaped notes. She had learned shaped notes from her mother, and used a Broadman Hymnal in shape notes.
My Dad's father had an old hand cranked victrola, and, about 1946, I used to listen by the hour to recordings of Roy Acuff singing songs like "I Saw the Light," "I Didn't Hear Nobody Pray," "The Great Speckled Bird," "Night Train to Memphis," "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," "When I Lay My Burdens Down," and "Fireball Mail." Also there were songs by Gene Autry, such as "Back in the Saddle Again," and Gid Tanner and his Skillet Lickers, singing "Watermelon on the Vine," "Turkey in the Straw," and "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane." My Dad was not a record collector, but this was the kind of music often heard in the house in which he grew up.
They also had "The Old Rugged Cross" and "Life's Railway to Heaven" recorded in the late 1930's by Homer A Rodeheaver (for whom the Rodeheaver Auditorium at Bob Jones University is named) and Virginia Asher, "My Blue Ridge Mountain Home," and "Where We'll Never Grow Old." Country music has its roots in gospel music of the mid-19th century. Gospel music came first. The primitive Scottish pentatonic tunes heard in the old hymns, Amazing Grace is a good and familiar example, were heard in the country and bluegrass tunes of the 1920's and on until the unfortunate advent of comtemporary music in the 1970's.
At the present time Chuck Sightler and his family have a gospel singing group which uses stringed instrument accompaniment. He is the grandson of Jerome Sightler, who was my Dad's uncle. Claude Lucas, recent national champion fiddler, is married to Melva Sightler, sister to Marvin Sightler in Gaston. Marvin and Danny Sightler tell me that there once was a country store in Gaston within sight of my Dad's grandparents home place, where folks would gather to play and sing country or bluegrass music at the store. Marvin's father, George, played the guitar and banjo and Harry Lee Sightler and Bill Sightler, both now deceased, played the banjo and guitar. These men would now be 85 to 90 years old. It is likely that my Dad encountered their singing and playing when he lived in Columbia and visited Gaston.Later on when he was pastor at Pelham and Tabernacle we always listened every weekday to broadcasts of the Blue Ridge quartet and on Saturday night to singing broadcast from the Tremont Avenue Church of God and woke on Sunday morning to the sound of the Hi-Neighbor Quartet on the radio from Anderson. To grow up in a Baptist household in Greenville in those days was to be immersed in the best of Gospel music in its golden age.
There was a shape note singing school at Pelham Baptist Church, at that time it was called Corinth Baptist Church, as early as 1907, and most likely others before that. Horace Jones, who sang on the Bright Spot Hour from its beginning, and his brother Lloyd, who led singing at Pelham, both learned what music they knew from these periodically held shape note schools at Pelham. In the 1930's the Gainus Brothers had taught shape note schools there. J. L. Williams of Victor Baptist Church in Greer also held a singing school there.
There were at least two church quartets at Pelham, the Harmony Quartet and the Gospel Four. Horace and Lloyd sang at times in these quartets. The Harmony Quartet consisted of Hubert Kirby, J. L. Jones, Horace Ward, and John Cox. Mrs. Paul Greer (Louise, daughter in law of Henry Greer, who was Pelham's chairman of the board of deacons) played for the Harmony Quartet. She also played the organ for Horace's solos before Minnie Brewer took over that task. Horace and Lloyd Jones also sang as a trio with Wyatt Garrett. Horace later went on to develop his singing style through educating himself by close observation of popular and religious soloists.I remember hearing my Dad say that he first heard "Looking for a City" at Brightwood Baptist Church in Greensboro where H. P. Gaulden was pastor, about 1948. He was so impressed with their singing and with that particular song that he had it sung at Pelham, from small paper back Stamps-Baxter songbooks that were used to supplement the Broadman Hymnal. At that time the Broadman was available in shape note form, and naturally that was what we had at Pelham.
As early as 1950 the Baker family of the Parker Community in Greenville, the center of the mill communities, began to attend the late Sunday night services at Pelham singing Southern Gospel music. They also sang live on the Bright Spot Hour. John Baker led the group and Betty Baker played the piano. Charles Baker, along with his brother Bill, also sang. Several people from Greenville, including the Thomas Chappelear family, had asked my Dad to organize a church in Greenville. Before he did this he asked Maze Jackson to do it, but Maze did not feel led to do so. Cottage prayer meetings began to be held at the home of the Chappelears, both before and after the organization of Tabernacle.
In March 1951 my Dad bought a lot on E. Lee road. Our house there was well under way in the summer of l951 and was completed sometime in late 1951 or early 1952. We moved into it about June or July of 1952. The contractor who built it was Ollie Neal who lived on Beechwood Ave. parallel to Monticello and just behind my Grandad's house. He had also built a house for the father in law of Carey Sightler.
Very early in 1952, I believe about mid January, my Dad announced on a Sunday morning that he would be leaving Pelham in a few weeks. Henry Greer asked him to reconsider but he felt he could not. Also at that time my Dad and his close friend Benjamin Ross located an old closed gas station and grocery which sat in the triangle formed where White Horse Road and Old Easley Bridge Roads met. Benjamin Ross was Jewish, had been saved for many years, and was a preacher who often traveled with my Dad to his revivals. Behind the store early in 1952 my Dad and Preacher Ross prayed on several occasions for quite a while, and he and my Dad felt that Tabernacle Baptist Church should occupy that location, and that the spot was God’s will for the new Church.
Tabernacle was organized on the third Sunday in July in 1952, after a two week meeting had just been held in the new building, now known as the chapel portion of the church. Some of the preachers present were Tom Leonard of Pelham, Clyde Billingsley, and Curtis Carpenter, of Cornelia, Georgia. The organizational meeting was moderated by J. Henry Jenkins, pastor of Hatch Memorial Baptist Church in Paris, SC, near Taylors. The associational missionary, O. K. Webb, was also present. At the first service at Tabernacle Ruth Baker played the organ and Betty Baker the piano.
Mr. Wallace Cordell had built the brick building, the chapel, between May and July of 1952; the first floor was shavings on the ground, and the seats were tent pews. My Dad, Wallace Cordell, Thomas Chappelear, and Norman Long borrowed the money for building the church by putting up their automobiles and homes as collateral. Their wives signed renunciation of dower on the loan for 5600 dollars to buy the land and get started. The money was lent by Mr. J. A. Roper of Roper Motor Company in Easley. Dr. J. Harold Smith told me that Mr. Roper had also befriended him and kindly and readily loaned him money for his radio ministry. These men who had borrowed for the first building were among the first deacons of the church. People often came by the site and gave money for the building while it was under construction and even before the revival in July and the organization on the third Sunday in July. In August 1952 the church, by that time organized, borrowed the remaining money, 21,000 dollars, for the building from Atlantic Gulf States Insurance Company. My Dad, Mr. Cordell, Mr. Chappelear, and Mr. Long signed that mortgage; the finance committee was my Dad, Mr. Cordell, and Mr. A. G. Thompson. In August 1953 the men who bought the land gave it to the church for one dollar.
The deacons, along with my father-in-law, Mr. J. E. Sparks, who later built the main auditorium in 1957, were present at a meeting with associational leaders in late 1952 at Earle Street Baptist Church in Greenville. No minutes of the Earle Street meeting were kept by that church or the association, but we know from testimony of those present that Tabernacle's membership in the association was discussed. In 1942 Rev. G. B. Lee, who had baptized my Dad, took my Dad to see the registrar at Furman and asked him to get my Dad enrolled. His expenses had to be paid by the State Convention and by Furman. I believe my Dad applied for membership in the Greenville County Association and the SBC in part out of loyalty to those Southern Baptists who had ordained him and encouraged and supported his ministry. But at that meeting it became clear that Tabernacle would not be a welcome member of the association, because it would not support the Cooperative Program or the WMU and BYPU, vowed to use only the Bible as its Sunday School literature, and was viewed by the associational leaders as being more than tinged with religious fanaticism. Tabernacle's application for membership was never brought to the floor of the county association or state convention. In fact, it was never mentioned in the minutes of the county association that Tabernacle had even made application. If it had been brought up a floor fight would have ensued, for there were a number of Southern Baptist Churches in Greenville and elsewhere who would have supported our application. I believe J. Dean Crain, pastor of Pendleton Street, Henry Jenkins, pastor of Hatch Memorial, Maze Jackson, Howard Wilson of Dunean Baptist, Dan Greer, J. Harold Smith, Duck Finley, Ansel Pruitt, Tom Leonard and many others would have supported us. In the providence of God the matter was simply dropped by both sides.
In 1953 the county association, because it was, I believe, determined to keep out churches such as Tabernacle and Tanglewood, who would not hew to the party line, passed a resolution which required that the application of any new church for membership would have to lie on the table for a year before it could be acted on. But most of the charter members of Tabernacle were millworkers from Greenville who had been coming to Pelham for some time before the church was organized. They were happy to remain independent and to keep their old time religion. The deacons who left that Earle Street meeting then knew exactly what the score was. This knowledge soon also became apparent to the entire church. I believe my Dad predicted, at least to himself, what the outcome would be before the meeting. Thus when Tabernacle was refused membership in the Greenville Baptist Association in 1952 and became independent it should be seen as the culmination of a process that had been going on in my Dad's heart for some time. He would have encountered liberal attitudes in some of his professors at Furman between 1942 and 1946. My Dad was certainly saddened by the behavior of the Convention and Associational leadership, but he was not discouraged. God had turned events so as to assure my Dad that he had the support of many Baptists locally and across the country.
Several shape note singing schools were held at Tabernacle in the early days, taught by Rupert Craven, who was a representative of J. D. Vaughan Publishing, and by Jim Poole of Renfrew at Travelers Rest. Harold Taylor was a charter member of Tabernacle who had come from Pleasant View Welcome Baptist Church, and was appointed as songleader. He chose the early hymnbooks, first a paperback Stamps or Vaughan type book, possibly Heavenly Highway; later when the floor and pews were installed the shape note Church Hymnal, the old red book, was ordered. This book alone was used until about 1961. Harold Taylor left early in 1964 to join Triune Baptist Church, which soon became White Horse Heights Baptist Church.
In 1952 Bill and Charlie Baker and Hubert Kirby and Harold Taylor formed the Tabernacle Quartet. Ruth Baker, Bill's wife, played the piano for this group. Three other special singers in the early days were Winkie Redmond and Frank Lark and Furman Nelson, playing bluegrass and country gospel music. They helped me to learn to sing and play a guitar. Other notable singing groups who came to Tabernacle in the early 1950's were the Blind Davis Trio of Grady Costner's church in Gastonia, NC, the Koone Sisters Trio from Kingsport, TN, and Becky Blackburn Luther of Landis, NC, daughter of Mr. Campmeeting, Arthur Blackburn. The Gospel Trio from Landis, NC also came several times. The Clyde Carter Family from Dante, VA also came at an early date. The Burns Trio first sang at Tabernacle in late 1956, in the chapel, with C. J. Burns, Harold Burns, and Bonnie Burns. Naomi Burns played the piano. In 1959 Bonnie moved and Jimmie Burns, who was about 12, took her place. Naomi also played for the Grace Trio, which sang from about l956 to 1959. Harold Taylor, Christine Talley, and I formed this trio. The Talley trio also sang, consisting of Christine Talley, Vance Talley, and Tommie Talley. In 1957 the Melodyaires Quartet was organized by Bill Baker. C. J. Burns and I sang with him; Charlie Baker sang bass, and Ruth Baker played. Hubert Kirby became owner and manager of WBBR, AM radio, and remained a faithful member of Tabernacle to the end of his life. The Bright Spot Hour was broadcast over WBBR before WTBI was organized. The Weatherford Quartet, The Inspirations, and The Statesmen Quartet also came during the 1960's.
A new auditorium seating 1500 people was completed in 1957, and, as growth and success followed, it became one of the leading churches in the fundamentalist movement. Tabernacle Christian School was founded in September 1960; the Bible College followed in 1963, and, I believe because of those developments, Tabernacle at some time was no longer considered 'off limits' as Pelham had been. My Dad was given an honorary doctorate at Tennessee Temple in 1964 and became an organizer, with John Waters, of the South Carolina Baptist Fellowship and later of the Southwide Baptist Fellowship. My Dad's association with Lee Roberson came as early as 1953 and was from the first focused on support of independent missionaries.
During the 1950’s Tabernacle Baptist Church was not able to underwright the cost of the Bright Spot Hour, as it later did in the 1980’s, and my Dad on numerous occasions personally borrowed money to keep the program on the air. For the first 13 years of the Bible College, from 1963 to 1976, Church History was taught by the faculty but Baptist History was not offered because the faculty, largely from BJU or Tennessee Temple, did not think it necessary to teach it. My Dad taught Hermeneutics but no history. At Furman he would have been taught that Baptists began in England in 1641 with the sebaptism of Smith and Helwys. Then in 1976 my Dad, dissatisfied with the absence of Baptist History, made the decision to offer Baptist History and to teach it himself. Dr. Clark obtained several Baptist History books for him, and from these Daddy chose Orchard's Concise History of the Baptists published by the Bogard Press in Texarkana. This book had an introductory essay by J. M. Graves, the 19th century editor of the Tennessee Baptist, which my Dad always recommended that his students read. Daddy also used The Trail of Blood in his course. These books teach that the Baptists began when the church began and that they have always existed outside the Roman Catholic Church and were not a product of the Reformation.
In 1985 Daddy obtained, from the Bogard Press, permission to reprint the sermon Why Baptists are not Protestants, by Dr. Chester E. Tulga (1896-1976). This was combined with the book Baptists in History by W. D. Harvey and the combination was offered as a 38 page booklet by the Bright Spot Hour. Daddy taught until 1990 when he became unable because of illness to carry on his courses in Baptist History and General Biblical Introduction. He then asked me to take these courses and I have taught them to the present, in the same way that he did.
Because of challenges at that time within the church and school to the authority and accuracy of the King James Bible it became necessary to begin to teach the history of the transmission of the received text and the superiority of the received text and the King James Bible also beginning in 1990 in Biblical Introduction. The task of teaching this was so great that it took up most of the course in Biblical Introduction.
Almost imperceptibly, as the schools were staffed and the church grew, the singing changed, over a period of 19 years, from 1961 to 1980, from Southern Gospel to a more formal 'singspiration' style, in a way that could not have been foreseen, and in a way that the 'off limits' rule, that Dr. Ruckman and a few others had ignored at Pelham, could not have accomplished.
A green backed songbook, specially ordered in shape note format, called Tabernacle Hymns: Number Four, was adopted sometime between 1957 and 1962, and used in addition to the Church Hymnal for choir and congregation. According to Harold Taylor, who held out for shape notes because they were familiar to the choir and congregation, the Tabernacle Publishing Company in Chicago was astonished to receive such a large order for shape note books. Their astonishment came because shape notes only rarely had been used in the North for over a century. This Number Four edition was first published in 1941 and was reissued in 1956. The first edition of Tabernacle hymns dates back to about 1926. When these wore out they were replaced, about 1968, by the round note Hymns of the Tabernacle. The old time shape note singing schools had long since, before 1959, disappeared.
Tabernacle Hymns had a number of songs which the later Hymns of the Tabernacle and All-American Hymnal did not have. Space permits listing just a few: "All Things in Jesus," "Calvary Covers It All," "Grace Greater Than Our Sin," "Since the Fullness of His Love Came In," "Jesus Has Lifted Me," and "O My Soul Bless Thou Jehovah." But because Tabernacle Hymns had none of the Stamps and Vaughan songs, it was, necessarily, supplemented by continued use of the Church Hymnal.
Some time between 1965 and 1968 my Dad persuaded the Benson Music Company in Nashville to make a special printing of the All-American Hymnal with the name changed to Hymns of the Tabernacle. Both had responsive readings, but these readings have never been used at Tabernacle. There were none in the Church Hymnal, and those in Tabernacle Hymns were not used. Hymns of the Tabernacle did have about 6 of the old Stamps and Vaughan songs, including "Victory in Jesus." This book, published by Benson, was compiled in 1957 by Earl Smith, songleader in High Street Baptist Church in Springfield, Missouri, a BBF church. Mr. Smith was a friend of John T. Benson. It seems that there was some hope on the part of the BBF that Tabernacle would join the BBF fellowship, but this did not come to pass.
As Hymns of the Tabernacle wore out, and could no longer be obtained, they were replaced about 1974 with the All-American Hymnal, which was equivalent in that it had the same songs and the same responsive readings. In a sad, striking, and unexpected development Benson Music Group now has been acquired by Zondervan and Rupert Murdoch, publishers of the NIV.
But the old Church Hymnal, which still is and always has been in use at Gospel Light Baptist Church in Walkertown, NC and many other country Baptist churches in the South, continued for a long time, in diminished use, until, after almost all were worn out, it was left in the choir only. After 1978, because of continued agitation against it, the Church Hymnal was discarded completely. The objections were based on its content of old time camp meeting songs and on its publication by a division of Pathway Press, Tennessee Music and Printing Company, in Cleveland, TN, which is associated with the Church of God. Most of the country churches which still use the Church Hymnal are Baptist and not Pentecostal; Pentecostal churches have ironically moved very rapidly toward contemporary Christian music. "Looking for a City," and other old time songs, were not heard again at Tabernacle for 11 years until the Church Hymnal was brought back for both choir and congregation in 1989.
Sources:Harold B. Sightler, Helen Vaughn Sightler, Horace C. Sightler, Pauline Sightler, Aubrey Sightler, Carey Sightler, James H. Sightler, Danny Sightler, Marvin Sightler, Lucille Sightler Cothran, Ruby Nell Sightler Ellison, Colvin Vaughn, Ruby Good Vaughn, Benny Carper, Elizabeth Sightler Carper, Phyllis Cothran Foster, Oliver Greene (biography), Jack Greene, Maze Jackson, J. Harold Smith, Odell Good, Lottie Good, Toy Howell, J. Bennett Collins, Peter S. Ruckman, Jess Stephens, Hobart Stephens, Melvin Aiken, Curtis Carpenter, Mrs. J. Henry Jenkins, Frank Lark, Larry Jones, Don Wardlaw, Thomas Leonard, Tommy Ellison, Betty Baker, Ruth Baker, Wallace Ann Cordell Medlin, J. D. and Sarah Gossett, Bill Norman, Curtis Carpenter, Thomas Leonard, Florence Ashmore, Wyatt Garrett, Horace Jones, Lloyd Jones, Esther Greer Jones, John Cox, Harold Taylor, Hubert Kirby, Bill Baker, Charlie Baker, Sybil Baker Davenport, Imogene Daniels, Mrs. Paul Greer, Mrs. Henry Greer, Furman Ross, Mrs. Furman Ross, Lurleen Jones, Lila Davis, Elsie Davis, Virgil Smith (Memories of Pelham and Batesville, published 1999), Dot Greer Howard, Ruby Good Vaughn, Miss Jennie Christopher, minutes of the Greenville County Baptist Association, 1950-54.
JAMES H. SIGHTLER, M. D.br /> DDecember 12, 2003
Research and copyright by Sightler Publications
175 Joe Leonard Roadbr />
Greer, SC 29651
 It has been impossible to fix the exact date of purchase of Tabernacle Hymns, since there is no mention of it in the church minutes from 1956 through 1964. Harold Taylor remembers using this book and asking for shape notes, but he did not leave until 1964. It could have been obtained later than 1957. It has also been impossible to fix the exact date when Hymns of the Tabernacle was adopted, and we can only say that it probably happened sometime between 1965 and 1968.
 It is of interest that the responsive readings of the Tabernacle Hymns: Number Four began with a section entitled The Holy Scriptures and that that section included II Timothy 3:16 "All scripture is inspired of God". In the All-American Hymnal copies we now have left, the responsive reading on God's Word comes after about 7 pages of other material and omits II Timothy 3:16. That makes it consistent with the translations based on the critical text, such as the ERV, RSV, and NASV footnote, which all read "every scripture inspired of God is profitable".