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Outdoor Life - Rural Southern churches are a comfort and a joy to me
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Now, I don’t want anyone to think me irreverent here today. Sometimes when you publicly discuss churches and old-time religion, folks can get their dander up a smidgen. The fact of the matter is that I was raised in church and I have been blessed beyond the telling of it through the years. Those blessings are a story for another day.
    First of all, let’s take a look at preachers. I have hunted, fished, played golf, gone to football and basketball games, and discussed philosophical topics with pastors I’ve known, and here are some general observations:  they always catch more fish, shoot a lower golf score, know more about football strategy and are exceptionally well-versed in multiple areas of philosophy. Additionally, I’ll never take another man of the cloth to our dove field because it is utterly embarrassing. I’ve never seen anyone shoot a shotgun like some of those guys can. It’s also discomforting to watch their retrieving dogs in action. Those hounds do exactly what their master says at the precise moment they say it. Mine just wanders around the field looking for a biscuit.
    As for debating biblical philosophy with them, forget it. I’m simply out of my depth in that particular field. Those guys are smarter, use bigger words and have more common sense than I do. Not really sure how to keep score in philosophical debate but if my last encounter had been a football contest the score would have read 49-0 at the half and the first team would already be in their street clothes. Those discussions usually result in my being put on a committee and pledging to do better with my life.
    I have a theory on why preachers are so good at so many facets of outdoor life but I’m keeping that to myself for fear of being chastised. I will say that my hypothesis has something to do with divine intervention but that’s as far as I’m willing to go.
    Then there’s this: preachers are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. If they beat you in golf they say, “God bless you.” I’d probably say something smart-alecky about his missed putt that lost the match. “That’s a good roll but you can get them at the bakery.” If they outfish you, they’ll say something like, “You’ll probably beat me next time.” I’d probably reply, “Kiss my grits.” I guess that’s why they are preachers and I am not.   
    Now, moving along, let it further be known that I truly enjoy church on Sunday mornings. There’s nothing like a good sermon, beautiful music, a serene environment and, of course, the weekly pool on who will go to sleep first. The sermons help remind me of my obligations, the music brightens my day and the tranquil setting puts my mind at rest from the worries of life.
    As for the weekly pool, it simply serves to add a little something if things start to drag. Typically, selections are made by the participants beforehand and the pot is doubled if your horse goes to snoring or gets the broke neck. You win the daily trifecta if your choice snores, wobbles and then slumps completely over. Of course, any money won goes into the collection plate the following Sunday. It’s all in good fun. I, myself, have been victimized by the Sunday sleeping sickness and one of the boys hit a trifecta by betting on me that particular week. He was trading on inside information that time. He knew I’d been out fishing the entire night before and cleverly placed his winning wager based on that tidbit of intelligence.
    There can be all sorts of entertaining little sideshows at church. I like to watch the boys who are ushering that day jockey for position before the service gets started. Everyone is trying to avoid the spot that will wind up in front of the microphone. If you land there you’ll be called upon to say the offertory prayer and not many of us are public speakers by trade.
    There is also the cultural phenomenon of ringing cell phones. We have looked into the possibility of starting a pool on that but have yet to figure out how to positively identify the culprit. Early research into the matter indicates that the person who has a severely flushed face is typically the guilty party but as yet that method is deemed too unreliable.
    I’ll wind things up with a little piece of advice.  If you have gone to sleep in church or think you may have dozed off (if you’re not sure the answer is that you most certainly did) never, ever, be specific when complimenting the pastor on his sermon. What I mean by that is just say, “That was a wonderful sermon” rather than, “I really enjoyed your sermon about sin.” The reason is obvious. If you went to sleep and dreamed about your many sins you may have what psychologists refer to as dream sequencing and actually believe that’s what the sermon was about. If you make that mistake and the preacher’s topic was actually about taking your marriage vows seriously you have committed a grave violation of etiquette.
    The penalty for that blunder will probably manifest itself in several ways. Your wife will most certainly have a hissy fit, the parishioners behind you will snicker and the preacher will most assuredly beat your socks off at the golf course the next time y'all tee it up.

    Alvin Richardson may be reached at