The "Church On The Hill"
Remains A Treasured Memory
Built In 1924, This Church Building Served The Community
Of Cumberland In Harlan County For Many Years
By Ron Lloyd - 2007
I was carried through the Cumberland Pentecostal Church doors for the first time and placed in a manger as the baby Jesus in a 1945 Christmas play. This little church later played a major role in my desire to know more about the one whom I had portrayed. It was in this church at Cumberland, Harlan County, Kentucky, I made the decision to follow the Christ child all the days of my life. To the many people who kept the doors of this church open, I owe a debt of gratitude. It is a debt I cannot repay. I could never give back even a small part of what the church gave me.
In its primitive and formative years, many modern conveniences, taken for granted today, were lacking in the building and on the grounds. When built in 1924, there was not even a road to the church. It was accessible by a walking path because few of its members could afford automobiles. There was no indoor plumbing. An outhouse served to answer the call of nature. The main source of heat in the winter was a big potbellied stove sitting near the front-center of the room. Many times the old stove glowed red with intense heat. As the black chunks of coal feeding its hungry appetite burned hotter, the stove pipe turned cherry red. In the hot days of summer all windows were opened, and Parker Funeral Home hand-held fans were used by everyone to keep the air circulating. If someone tried to squash a mosquito with his hands, it sounded like clapping, and a yell from across the room would go up, "Bless him, Lord!" The preacher would wipe sweat, swat bugs, and swallow flies, as he preached with great exuberance about escaping the heat of hell.
The heritage of this church was passed to me by my grandfather, William M. Hall. He and his twin brother, Henry, along with Harrison M. Blair and Ed Smith, were the first trustees who started the small assembly and nurtured its young growth. If there was ever a family church, this was the Hall family church. All of Henry's and Will's children, at least the older ones, attended this church in their early years. The Hall brothers along with Harrison Blair, Hop Flannery, and others built the pews by hand. The pews were not fancy but served the purpose and were actually nice for the times. Of course, they were not padded. The Halls were already worshipping in this church before my father and his three brothers came to Harlan County seeking jobs in the coal mines. Three of the Lloyd brothers married daughters of Will and Henry Hall.
Grandpa Harvey Lloyd was later to become the official "bell ringer." No one knows for sure how he got this title. All over the west side of Cumberland the bell from the church on the hill could be heard early every Sunday morning. He faithfully rang the bell for many years, until age caught up with him, and he no longer had the strength to pull the rope and swing the bell. He insisted that the bell had to be swung. He knew the sounds were much sweeter because the to-and-fro motion gave a cadence which one does not get when the bell is simply struck with a hammer.
The Cumberland Pentecostal Church was known by everyone in the community as "the church on the hill." It sat on a rise in Cumberland, Harlan County, Kentucky. At the time of this photo, ca. 1930, there was only a walking path up to the little church.
(Photo courtesy of Ron Lloyd.)
Known to his grandchildren simply as Paw, Grandpa Harvey was affectionately known in church as "Skippy" for his emotional expression of worship. When the music and singing started, he would get excited. By the look on his face, one could see it coming. Something was about to happen. Slowly he stood, pulled at his pants, and then in beat to the music he would start skipping. He would skip across the front, then down the aisle, back to the front, around the altar a couple of times, up to the pulpit, hug the pastor, and then slowly walk back to his seat and sit down. He was at peace with God, himself, and everyone in the congregation. Fellow worshipers understood exactly what had happened and loved him for his unusual expression of faith. To those uninitiated to the Pentecostal style of worship, this act would have seemed irreverent and disrespectful. To Paw, his skipping was as normal as partaking of the consecrated bread and wine in Holy Communion. In my mind's eye, I can see him stepping out on a cloud and skipping all the way to heaven.
My first remembrance of going to church as a young boy was with my family. We put on the best clothes we had and proudly traveled in the old 1950 Chevrolet pickup truck. The road up the hill to the church was graveled and rough with only one lane. Later, funds were raised among church members to pave the street. The fact that a little church could raise enough money to pave the road was a big celebrated event. A basement was added and a modern coal-burning furnace was installed. The temperature control still left much to be desired. About mid-service, one of the elders would leave his seat, walk to the back of the building, and noisily clump down the stairs to feed the hot air blowing monster another block of coal.
Many pastors came and went. Most I only knew historically. Probably the one minister who influenced me most was Claude Ely, a pastor for five years when I was barely a teen. Ely made famous the song, Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down. His musical influence is still studied today by folk music scholars, and at least one of his CDs is available through Amazon. I traveled with him during one of his revival services near Hindman, just to keep him awake during the late night drive back home across Jewel Ridge and Pine Mountain. Other times we would go out and gather food for families when a loved one died. Looking back, those were special times spent with a modest man more regionally famous for his music than he knew.
Other than family, the church was the center of our social life. There were ladies aid meetings for my mother and youth gatherings for Dorsel and myself. My father worked so much in the mine he had little time for anything other than the worship services. The second Sunday in August was set aside as homecoming day. Former members who had moved away to find jobs would come back for that special weekend. A big lunch, we called it dinner-on- the-ground, was served after the church service. My mother would get up early and fry chicken, cook green beans, make fresh cole slaw, bake cornbread, and make banana pudding for the welcomed guests.
Among the things that made this such a special church was the friendliness of the people and the love they showed me as a small insignificant boy. When I was bedfast for five months with rheumatic fever, they came bearing gifts one Sunday afternoon. There were so many gifts the bed was completely covered. Through those formative years, they showed concern for my well-being, both physically and spiritually. The church on the hill may have been little, but it was big to me and remains a treasured memory of a childhood place I once knew. Happy memories of family marriages and sad memories of family funerals conducted within its walls are some of the things that still make this church on the hill precious to me.
The ministry of this church continues today in a modern building in another location under the very able and capable leadership of Mike and Barbara Blair.
Ron Lloyd, 3540 Robinhill Way, Lexington, KY 40513; [email protected], shares this article with our readers.