He died two years before I was born, but people who knew him, often told me I sound just like him in the pulpit, and have similar mannerisms.
I’m talking about my great-grandfather, the Rev. John W. Hamilton. Similar to Saul of Tarsus, God grabbed him up from a checkered past, saved him and planted his feet on a pathway to ministry.
Born in 1859 in Indiana, Granddaddy Hamilton taught school in the Oklahoma territory when he was in his 30s, and when he was 36 years old, he married one of his pupils - a 16-year-old girl named Nancy. (I think that would be against the law today) As the story goes, they ran off to get married, and, according to my grandmother, (their youngest daughter) they had to move in the middle of the night several times during the early years of their marriage because they knew someone was after them. It has been a family mystery to this very day.
Later they migrated south to Texas where they settled in Freestone County. He was selling insurance by this time, and did a lot of traveling — and drinking. His life had spiraled downward. One night on a train ride home from Dallas to Teague, he came to realize he was in desperate need of God. On that trip, he gave his life to the Lord and took the bottle he had in his hand, about one third filled, and threw it out the window. When he arrived home, while still feeling the effects of the alcohol, he walked into the house, fell across the bed, and told my great-grandmother, “Momma, I think I’m gonna be a Baptist preacher!” He was 52 years old at the time, which would have been, according to my math, around 1911.
It eventually became evident that his calling to the ministry was genuine, and from then on, he never touched another drop (with the exception of an occasional hot toddy before bedtime) He preached many places, ranging from a Baptist church in Dalton, a small community between Palmer and Bristol. When he was 58 years old, he was the founding pastor of what is today, my old family church in Teague - the Eighth Avenue Baptist Church, which incidentally celebrated its 100th anniversary in March of 2017. In fact, I had the incredible privilege of being pastor of the church in the early 2000s.
Granddaddy Hamilton was county missionary in Freestone County for a couple of years and was a pastor in a couple of churches in Grimes County near College Station for 13 years. He drove there from Teague each weekend in a Model T Ford and often took a couple of his grandsons (my uncles) with him. They told stories about how granddaddy would drive up to a home on Saturday, honk the horn, and when the lady of the house came out on the front porch, he would ask her what they were having for Sunday dinner. He stopped by a few other houses, honked the horn, and asked the same thing, and would then decide which menu he liked best for his Sunday dinner. He was often paid in sweet potatoes, turnip greens or chickens when he preached revivals.
From age 52 until he died in 1946 at age 87, he was actively involved in the ministry throughout central Texas. In fact, he died in a way that would make most preachers envious — he drove down to a former church near Normangee, to preach in their homecoming service. He dined a little too sufficiently during the “dinner on the grounds” and grew sick. A couple of days later the Lord called him home to heaven.
A perfect man? He would be the first to say “No!” But today, I am grateful for having descended from such a giant in the faith. And I am also grateful that God calls flawed people to do His work on earth. After all, that’s the only kind of people He has to work with — myself included.