Bernice Dots #24

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Bernice Historical Society

Bernice Dots #24

By Cathy Buckley

An article appeared in the September 5, 1948 Dallas Morning News entitled, “Pastor’s Prayer Finds Faith Kept”.  The article told the story of Reverend Henry Washington Jordan, whose first pastorate was at the Bernice United Methodist Church in 1923.

“On November 1, 1923 I took charge in Bernice, Louisiana, farming and sawmill town of one thousand near the Arkansas line.  The $1200 it paid was small to a man who had made $4500 a year selling insurance while a fast halfback and a tall forward at Centenary.  But it would be enough to live on.

At the end of the first month Jordan received about $50 in cash.  Then a member showed up with some potatoes.  The Jordans nodded, they could use them.  Caldwell’s grocery had them at fifty cents a bushel, but the member let Jordan have his potatoes at $1 a bushel. That same week another member paid in potatoes.  One member brought in syrup, another 100 chicks, very fine chicks at $16, not the ordinary $3 breed.

But the potatoes.  The potatoes.  Mrs. Jordan fried floods of them, baked, boiled, scalloped, cooked them with black eyed peas, mixed them with scarce flour.  As the potatoes rolled in, the cash declined.  By the spring of 1924 the Jordans were shabby and owed bills they could not pay: to Dave Caldwell for flour and meat to go with the potatoes; a loan from the bank for $175 to purchase a 6 year old Model T; the drug store, even the post office for 60 cents box rental.  Bills which the church frowned upon.  A pastor must pay his bills.

It made Jordan terribly blue.  If the Lord had called him to preach he would not have let him get in such a mess.  Jordan reasoned as a letter arrived from a friend, urging him to enter Boy Scout work.  The letter offered a post in Virginia, which paid $3600 and not in potatoes.

Jordan drove out into the country, pulled into a pine grove where he would be seen, got down on his knees and told his Lord about it.  He dealt with the bills in detail.  The banker, Lord, said when he loaned me the car money he had never lost a cent on a preacher.  In conclusion he said, “Lord I am starving to death.  If

Thou really called me to preach I must eat to do thy will.  Please give me some manifestation in 30 days or I must conclude my call to the ministry.

The days drifted by.  Twenty eight more days of potatoes.  Jordan duly nodded; he had not been called to preach.  He went to town from the parsonage and walked back because he had no gas.  Jordan took the side streets, slipped into the post office, got a handful of mail from the box and hurried into the alley.  He feared finger pointing at a preacher who did not pay his bills.

He glanced at the mail and shivered.  Bills!  Circulars!  A letter from George James in El Dorado.  James used to live at Bernice.  People still talked about his but Jordan had never met the man.  He opened the letter and read:  About a month ago I got to wondering if you were up against it, the letter said.  Jordan gasped.  That must have been the day he took his situation up with the Lord.  The letter continued:  It slipped my mind.  I know Bernice pretty well and I know that the people don’t have much.  Enclosed is a token.  Don’t count it among your benevolences or contributions or salary but just use it as you wish.

Jordan looked at the token.  It was a check for $250.  It would more than pay his debts.  The Lord had called him to preach come what may and that has meant more potatoes and even a heart attack in the pulpit.”

That same newspaper would publish the obituary of Jordan in May of 1950.  Included in his obit: “His first pastorate was in Bernice, Louisiana where his salary was paid largely in potatoes by church members.”


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