Some years ago a young minister from Florida was called to pastor a church in a rural area of Tennessee. Being unfamiliar with the local customs and terminology he was roused and irritated when shortly after assuming his new pastorate the Head Deacon stood and made an unexpected announcement at the conclusion of Sunday Worship Service. The deacon reminded the congregation that they would not be meeting there as usual the next weekend seeing that it was going to be Grave Decoration Day at the old community church by the cemetery.
The local custom was for all the churches to meet together in the old community church for a joint worship service remembering the history of the community. This day would be preceded by one or more work days in the old cemetery cleaning out leaves, grass, weeds, etc. and trimming nearby trees and vines. On Grave Decoration Day each family would bring new flowers and ‘decorate’ the graves of their loved ones. After the joint worship service and the honoring of old departed faithful ones of the community a ‘dinner on the grounds’ picnic or buffet would be spread and all would eat together. After lunch the children were then given extra flowers to go through the cemetery and place flowers or “decorate’ the old graves of those who no longer had living relatives to do so. All in all, this was a very wholesome and community minded event that fostered goodwill and good feelings among all in the area as well as family members and friends who lived in other regions, many of whom would make special trips to attend their beloved Grave Decoration Day.
The new pastor being entirely unaccustomed and therefore unfamiliar with emotions attached to the event could not contain himself when his turn came to say a few words in the Decoration Day service. He waxed quite spiritual and elegant and expounded on how “he could not understand what in the world they were doing there celebrating the dead when he believed the church was supposed to be preaching and calling attention to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the hopes of resurrection of all who died in faith in His name!”
He had noticed as he had become quite ‘preachy’ that many had folded their arms and seemed to become frustrated with him, including several from his own newly assumed congregation. Afterwards while eating lunch he observed several of his church members chatting privately with the church’s deacons. Shortly afterwards the Head Deacon rose and said he had an announcement for the members of their church.
The Deacon then went on to say, “Folks don’t miss next Sunday. We want all our church members to be there, for sure. We’re gonna give our new pastor and his wife a Pounding and we want it to be the biggest Pounding we have ever given to any pastor in our church’s history.” The pastor and his wife were unfamiliar with the term ‘Pounding’ which came from older days when churches could not afford full salaries for the preachers and their families and would supplement by different ones in the church sharing their groceries with the pastoral family. One family would share a ‘pound’ of butter, another a ‘pound’ of flour, another a ‘pound’ of sugar, and so on, hence the benevolent event was termed a ‘Pounding.’
Being somewhat confused at the announcement of the upcoming ‘Pounding’ the pastor’s wife leaned over and asked her husband did he know what they were talking about. The young pastor shrugged at his wife and said, “Honey, I guess I’ve embarrassed them and made them so mad preaching against the Grave Decoration Day, they’re going to ‘beat the hell out of us!'”
-Donald R. Sansbury, 2013
~Special thanks for inspirational input from my friend, Rev. Charles Hansen, for sharing those parts of this story shared with him years ago. And thanks to Susan Hansen who shared the history of the tradition of “Pounding”~