Preacher Riley's Sunday Circuit

Preacher Riley's Sunday Circuit

He gave them what they needed

As a boy growing up in Dallas, Texas, I sometimes skipped my home church on Sunday and instead accompanied my friend and his father—a self-ordained preacher—to one of the small churches he made a circuit of on the Sabbath. Preacher Riley, as he was known, was welcome at the small “Hard Shell Baptist” and “Primitive Baptist” Churches because of the manner in which he was seized with the spirit when called upon to preach.

And he was a sight to behold, a regular force of nature behind the pulpit. Thunder issued from his throat and lightning crackled from his eyes. He danced around behind the pulpit while throwing his hands wildly in the air—one of which always clutched a large bible. At times he stopped dead and flipped frantically through the bible, concentrating mightily with his nose in the good book until finding an obscure reference to substantiate a point in his sermon; whereupon he then shouted out and waved the bible about like the jawbone of an ass; all the while looking heavenward, crying unabashedly and thanking the Lord profusely.

Preacher Riley would leap from the pulpit from time to time with his arms outstretched, striding manically down the aisle between the pews. Suddenly, like divining rods, one outstretched hand or the other would point at a congregant, who instantly cowered in the hard wooden pew.

Reverend Riley would then preach over the man or woman, drawing out the devil and entreating the wretched sinner to testify to their transgressions of the previous week. Seized with the spirit of the encounter and his status as the center of attention, the sinner would usually offer up all manner of thoughts and actions for which he was repentant. He and Preacher Riley would kneel and loudly pray together entreating the Lord for forgiveness. Eventually, the entire congregation joined in and prayed with them until the Lord heard and forgave.

Preacher Riley was always showered with invitations for Sunday dinner and I always ate great when I traveled with my friend and him. During the week, Riley Watson worked at a furniture company, had a real problem with the bottle and was regularly carted away by the Dallas police for charges of domestic violence. But on Sunday, Preacher Riley was sober, focused and filled with the spirit. He put everything he had into what he did and for one day a week was a man to be reckoned with.