“Backsliders celebrate 60th” (H-C 2009)

By JIM ROGERS

COOKEVILLE — In 1949 or 1950, when Bobby Greenwood was a young boy, his father, Bob Greenwood, started taking him to Backsliders Class at First United Methodist Church in Cookeville. Impressionable Bobby was especially taken by the President of the class — smart, polished and a deeply committed Christian. Although Bobby thought he could never be good enough to hold that position, in 2006-2007 the class elected him president.

Organized on Oct. 1, 1949, the Backsliders met for the first year at Vaughn’s Grill on the Square near the church building. “Young Men’s Fellowship” was the original name for a variety of reasons, chiefly because ladies were not invited for several years. Men continue to outnumber ladies in the class, but not in significant numbers.

In its early days, the group did not sing because they claimed they could not. Mr. and Mrs. Jeff Wall, he a noted local Gospel singer and she a gifted accompanist, began leading them and all heaven broke loose. Greenwood testifies that their music was instrumental in his accepting Jesus as Savior and Lord of his life. Although the Walls went to their reward years ago, echoes of old Gospel hymns reverberate through the building in which Jeff Wall Hall is located. Members who wish to contribute funds may, and those moneys have gone to support numerous struggling churches and para-church organizations. In addition to supporting church ministries such as the Ministers’ Emergency Fund and the Food Pantry, they reach out to the community with financial aid to Mustard Seed Ranch, Cookeville Rescue Mission, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Heart of the Cumberlands and many others.

When former class president Jim Ross became a Backslider in 1969, he was struck by the diversity of class members ranging from top-level executives, local business owners and millionaires to regular working people who had not been accustomed to participating in religious activity. Retired Army Col. Hubert Crawford served as the city’s police chief and would on occasion bring inmates to class on Sunday mornings. As its name suggests, pomposity is far from being a trademark of the Backsliders. When the Pharisees attacked Jesus for hanging out with tax collectors and sinners, he answers them, It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.” (Matthew 9:12) Their goal has been to search out and help those who were not connected with any church and proclaim the Gospel to them.

When Fred Moore, a history professor at Tennessee Tech, was one of the regular class teachers, he provided them with this unofficial motto: “They ain’t no hypocrites here cause we don’t claim to be nothin’.” The official motto became and is this: “Any person regardless of state can become the person he should be through the power of Jesus Christ.” For several years, teaching duties were assigned to specific teachers for the various Sundays of the month. In more recent years, a committee of six people, each of whom arranges two months of programs, has been in effect. This has resulted in an interesting array of speakers and subjects.

On Sunday, Oct. 11 in the Christian Life Center of First Methodist Church, beginning at 12:30 p.m., there will be a 60th birthday celebration for the Backsliders Class. The program will include music by the Webb Sisters. All former Backsliders are urged to attend this joyful celebration. To determine how many porkers need to make the supreme sacrifice, notice of your plans to attend would be appreciated by the planners.

I may have to be a few minutes late but I plan to be there. I hope to see many former and present Backsliders.

Source: Herald-Citizen, published Sunday, October 4, 2009, Cookeville, Tennessee.

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