Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.
For Baptists who live in the northern part of the county, the arrival of June means that it is time to get ready for Homecoming. Homecoming is a day of special activities at the community church. It is a time for those who do not live in the community anymore to come back to visit.
Traditionally, each Baptist church in the area has had Homecoming on a different Sunday in June. That allows people from miles around to attend all of them if they want. They can visit friends and relatives they might not see but this one time a year. In the days before automobiles, they came in wagons, buggies, surreys, on horseback or they walked the dusty roads to the church.
Springhill Baptist Church has its Homecoming the first Sunday in June. Bethlehem Baptist Church at Shady Grove always schedules its Homecoming for the second Sunday in June. In the past, Pleasant Valley Baptist Church at Wooster always had its Homecoming the third Sunday in June but moved it to July several years ago to accommodate those who wanted to spend the day celebrating Father’s Day. Needs Creek Baptist Church finishes out the month, celebrating Homecoming on the fourth Sunday in June.
In the past, Homecoming was an especially important day for the community. Everyone always dressed up for the occasion. Extra money would be earned hoeing cotton so that material could be bought for new clothes. Mothers would sew new clothes for the whole family. Children might even get new pairs of shoes.
Homecoming Day festivities usually began with a morning singing. Invitations would be mailed on penny postcards to singers throughout Faulkner County. Many of the singers prepared themselves by attending singing schools held at various places in the county.
The first singing school teachers were traveling teachers who came to the county from Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee or Mississippi. They usually represented a particular hymn book company such as Stamps-Baxter. Later, local leaders emerged to conduct the singing schools.
People of all ages attended the singing schools. The fee per student ranged from $1 to $5. Teachers used a five by six foot wall chart, lined off with five lines and four spaces to teach the students how to read music. Sharps and flats, key signatures, whole notes, quarter notes and half notes all had to be taught. During the breaks they would all sing favorite gospel hymns.
The time of singing was often followed by a time of reminiscing and a few words from the preacher. During this time, the ladies of the church would slip out to set out the food for the “dinner-on-the grounds.” For many years it was just that. Tablecloths and quilts would be spread out on the ground. Sometimes church benches would be taken outside to use as tables for the food. In more recent years, Homecoming dinners have often been held in the church fellowship halls or activity centers.
In the past, “fixin’ the dinner” for Homecoming was a family affair. The children would catch a spring pullet for their mother to fry. All sorts of vegetables would be prepared. Pies, cakes and bread would be baked. There was always an abundance of food.
Noontime was not only for eating but for visiting and exchanging news. People shared the joys and sorrows that had occurred in their lives over the previous year. New babies were introduced and condolences were expressed for the loss of loved ones.
After lunch, some would go back in to the church for more singing. Windows would be raised and funeral fans would be flapping in the still summer air trying to catch a breeze. The singing would drift outside to where the men were discussing their crop conditions under the trees.
Most of these Homecoming traditions are still carried on today but changes have taken place over the years. Many of the life-long residents of these communities have passed away and their descendants don’t come as often. Bethlehem Baptist Church is celebrating its Homecoming this year by commemorating the 125th anniversary of church’s founding. First Baptist Church at Wooster, although not part of the traditional cycle of Homecomings, is celebrating the 100th anniversary with special events scheduled for June 26.