I don’t often give speeches at Baptist churches. I speak at lots of other churches, but not usually Baptist ones.

KENTUCKY—Right now, I am in the fellowship hall of First Baptist Church in Richmond. I’m about to tell stories to a room of Baptists.

The entree tonight is barbecued pork. The beverages are sweet tea and extra-sweet tea. These are beautiful people.

I don’t often give speeches at Baptist churches. I speak at lots of other churches, but not usually Baptist ones.

This is probably because I tell a lot of Baptist jokes. I do this because I come from fundamentalist Baptists who will forever be in my blood. They were people who wore lots of Brylcreem and ate too many congealed salads.

But I can’t help it. My people are too easy to make jokes about. The punchlines practically write themselves.

Here’s one a preacher told me:

One day a Catholic priest, a Methodist, a Presbyterian, and a Baptist minister were fishing. They were arguing over which denomination Jesus would be.

The Catholic priest said, “He’d be part of the Roman Catholic Church, no doubt.”

The Methodist said, “No way. I think after all John Wesley did for the Christian faith, he would certainly be a Methodist.”

“I think he’d be Presbyterian,” said the Presbyterian. “I have no doubt he’d join the Reformed Tradition.”

The Baptist minister shook his head and said, “I’m sorry fellas, that boy’s going to Hell unless he cuts his hair.”

It is hard to make a Baptist laugh. Chances are, if you’re Baptist, you didn’t laugh at that. In fact, you might have even read it and remarked aloud, “Bah humbug,” then went into the other room and horsewhipped your firstborn child.

Again. I’m kidding.

See? That’s exactly what I’m talking about. The people I came from didn’t laugh. In fact, we laughed less than all other denominations combined.

For instance, I once attended an Episcopal church in Mobile that had cocktail hour in the parking lot with a rock band and everything. The band played “Runaround Sue.” Everybody laughed a lot.

I’ve attended a Methodist Fourth-of-July party in Little Rock where the preacher wore shorts and did stand-up comedy.

I was at a Catholic service in Huntsville, where the priest brought his terrier to church and placed the dog in the front pew.

But my people were not like this. We believed Catholics were loose. And the Methodists had the gall to wave at each other in the liquor store. In other words, my people were no fun.

We were the kind who prayed against marching bands because rhythmic movements awakened carnal desires.

We did not believe in buying life insurance because it was gambling.

We were quiet, reserved, distrusting, and skeptical. We tucked in our shirts, kept our hair short, and on weekends we ironed our slacks. We did not believe in loud music, or hand clapping.

Once, during church, Mister Danny Johnson started clapping to the choir’s rendition of “Power in the Blood.” Whereupon Mister Danny was dragged behind the church and shot.

But all that aside, the older I get, the more I love the people I came from. Sure, they were a little strict. And yes, because of them I cannot watch PG-13-rated movies without feeling like a hedonist. And certainly, these people are responsible for my childhood struggles with constipation.

But there were also some wonderful things I remember about my people. Things I miss.

Like all-night singings. You want to talk fun? You would show up at church and basically sing until you were pooped. And it was great.

Summer revivals. I cannot see a big tent in an open field without remembering out-of-town preachers who would burn up the night hours with fiery sermons.

All visiting preachers had a squiggly vein in their forehead that made a cameo appearance whenever the word “Hell” was mentioned.

Covered dish suppers. I miss these most of all. I don’t know why mega-churches did away with potluck socials. I miss the Corningware casserole dishes with glass lids.

Hospital visits. Our preachers visited the hospital twice per week, sometimes more often than that, if death was coming in threes.

Tonight, that’s what these Eastern Kentucky Baptists bring back to me. They aren’t like the stiff people I grew up with who hated jokes. These people are easy, cheerful, and they laugh.

The music minister, Brother Tim, is so happy and jolly he makes Santa Claus look like a jerk.

And this gives me a smile. It makes me proud. These are my people. And I belong to them.

When I finish telling stories and jokes, I meet a woman. She sounds like the hills of the Bluegrass State. She is elderly, carrying a walker, wearing hearing aids.

The old woman hugs me and kisses my cheek. “I just love you,” she says. “I am a lifelong Baptist, and I want you to know that I love you, baby.”

And I am so touched by this that I get teary eyed. Her hug feels so honest. And real. Like going back in time one hundred years, to all-night singings, and the covered-dish suppers of my youth.

Then the woman holds me close and whispers into my ear, “Do you know the difference between a Methodist and a Baptist?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Baptists get out of the shower to pee.”

They’re doing just fine up here in Kentucky.

17 comments

  1. Melanie - August 4, 2019 10:23 am

    Sean maybe some day you could write “Religions of the South – A Heathen’s Field Guide”. I am a product of both sides of the Mason Dixon line who was born and raised in the North with scant exposure to the wonderful world of L. A. (lower Alabama – Dothan). Had I had any say at the time would have demanded relocation reparations.

    Reply
  2. Janie F. - August 4, 2019 11:28 am

    Sean, you did it again! I laughed till the part about the lady hugging you, cried as I read that part to my husband & then laughed again at the ending. By the way we are Baptist’s & my husband’s dad used to hand brochures out at church about the evils of long hair to the wannabe hippies in our church in the 70’s. If he heard you talking while the preacher was delivering the sermon he Would admonish you with a look. If you kept it up & were in front of him he’d give you a thump on the back of the head. Awww, such sweet memories!

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  3. Joe Patterson - August 4, 2019 11:45 am

    Beautiful thanks again it’s Sunday

    Reply
  4. Connie Havard Ryland - August 4, 2019 12:17 pm

    Wonderful. As a life long Baptist, I laughed til I cried. I miss the old church in a lot of ways. Dinner on the ground. Preachers who were actually pastors, who visited churches and cared about their congregation. I don’t see that much anymore. Thanks for today. Love and hugs.

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  5. Marilyn - August 4, 2019 12:35 pm

    Thank you for the morning laugh! Keep writing and inspiring us, Sean.

    Reply
  6. judemiller1 - August 4, 2019 12:45 pm

    I come from a small town. Two churches–Baptist and Methodist, both on the same street. I felt kind of sorry for the Baptist kids. They missed out on school dances and roller skating parties, they seemed so prim and proper.
    Lots of them were in the High School band though and when we’d be coming home, late at night from a band festival, those Baptist kids were in the back of the school bus, necking like crazy, while us Methodist kids were using Saxophone cases as tables to play Eucher.

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  7. Bette - August 4, 2019 3:14 pm

    There’s a big difference between Fundamentalists and Southern Baptists.

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  8. Ann - August 4, 2019 4:04 pm

    Happy Sunday…from a Methodist! 😂🙏🏻

    Reply
  9. Susan - August 4, 2019 4:21 pm

    Oh my gosh you make me laugh out loud!! I guess you can tell I am not a Baptist by that remark!
    Honestly, thank you so much for humor in this world that is becoming humorless. I long for the “good old days” when people did not get offended by EVERYTHING! I live to laugh…it fills up my soul and I think Jesus would want that! I pray my grand kids grow up in families and a place that allows for much laughter and yes..a potluck supper now and then!
    Carry on!!
    Maybe someday you will do a show at Festival Park on Roanoke Island…I would be there to see it!

    Susan

    Reply
  10. Linda Moon - August 4, 2019 4:21 pm

    Your stories to a roomful of Baptists made me wonder if my dancing will send me to hell. (Just kidding, Satan!). During my liver surgery, my nick-name on the whiteboard the nurses used to identify patients was “Comic”. When I was in the 29th hour of labor with my first-born child, the doctor told my husband as he was about to pass out in the waiting room that I would never deliver that child until I got my foot out of his shirt pocket and stopped cracking jokes. My husband was revived with a Coca-Cola, and the baby was born at the 30th hour. Thankfully, I know and love some Baptists like those Eastern Kentucky Baptists. They’re doing just fine, baby!

    Reply
  11. Rebecca, Columbiana, AL - August 4, 2019 4:29 pm

    You are an excellent writer and I read your column every morning right after I finish my devotional! I start my day off with God then follow up with you! I cackled so loud reading today’s column, I woke up our deaf cat! In other words, I need the Lord and then the laugh you provide! I was raised a Mississippi Southern Baptist, but have been a Methodist, Presbyterian and Non-Denominational and since God knows our hearts, he is still pleased as long as we honor Him! You are doing God’s work by making us laugh at ourselves by bring the joy of laughter to our daily lives! God bless!

    Reply
  12. Linda Moon - August 4, 2019 4:37 pm

    P.S. “A Merry Heart Doeth Good Like A Medicine” – Proverbs 14:13. Thank you for all the medicine you send our way!!

    Reply
  13. Virginia Popper - August 4, 2019 5:27 pm

    Sean, You need this joke:

    A cowboy, who just moved to Montana from Texas, walks into a bar and orders three mugs of Bud. He sits in the back of the room, drinking a sip out of each one in turn. When he finishes them, he comes back to the bar and orders three more.

    The bartender approaches and tells the cowboy, “You know, a mug goes flat after I draw it. It would taste better if you bought one at a time.”

    The cowboy replies, “Well, you see, I have two brothers. One is in Arizona , the other is in Colorado. When we all left our home in Texas, we promised that we’d drink this way to remember the days when we drank together. So I’m drinking one beer for each of my brothers and one for myself”

    The bartender admits that this is a nice custom, and leaves it there.

    The cowboy becomes a regular in the bar, and always drinks the same way. He orders three mugs and drinks them in turn. One day, he comes in and only orders two mugs. All the regulars take notice and fall silent.

    When he comes back to the bar for the second round, the bartender says, “I don’t want to intrude on your grief, but I wanted to offer my condolences on your loss”

    The cowboy looks quite puzzled for a moment, then a light dawns in his eyes and he laughs. “Oh, no, everybody’s just fine,” he explains. “It’s just that my wife and I joined the Baptist Church and I had to quit drinking.”

    “It hasn’t affected my brothers though.”

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  14. Ginger Smith - August 4, 2019 6:40 pm

    First, Sean, you can never have too much congealed salad! And I have learned new things from you about Baptists, though I have been one all my life. I have always thought if you get 100 Baptists together, there will be 101 opinions about what it means to be one! Half of the family is Methodist, perhaps the more sane part. And Presbyterian and other denominations.

    I had family in Burnt Corn, Castleberry, Repton and all that area. I’m so glad I found out about you and your blog. Thank you and God Bless you and your family!

    Reply
  15. Margarett Jane Vaught - August 4, 2019 7:36 pm

    my brother said Baptist folk don’t make love standing up because someone might believe they are dancing … yep, I was raised Southern Baptist !

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  16. Mike Bone - August 4, 2019 7:55 pm

    2 requirements for being a Baptist…….a deep love of Jesus and a 13 X 9 Pryrex casserole dish

    Reply
  17. Dolores - August 5, 2019 1:09 am

    I go to a Methodist church and we have some of the very best covered dish suppers great songs, and lots of visitation to sick, shut-ins and hospitals. Thanks for a great laugh, Sean. I just love your writing and your way with words. Please don’t ever change.

    Reply

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