Hidden Biscuits:

Tales of Deep South Revivals Told by Heart

A memoir by Audrey Ward

Introduction: Arrivals

…in the highways,
in the hedges,
I’ll be somewhere
workin’ for my lord…

Train doors slid open, echoing voices announcing the Florida Zephyr’s being received into that giant clam shell Grand Central Station, and a barely seventeen year old girl feeling no bigger than a grain of sand was swept onto the platform into the rush, heat, and noise of arrival. Something happened to me in that lurch forward: ecstasy. Without words, a sudden clarity that New York, where so many broadcasts originate, was where I belonged even though at the time I was only headed up the Hudson River to Nyack Missionary College.

There were years I forgot about that voracious young girl. The event that awakened me was seeing the Pearsall Sisters sing In the Highways at a southern street meeting in the film Oh Brother Where Are Thou. I came of age in the Deep South and Highways was a song I sang with all my heart though my mother would have been accompanying me with an accordion rather than a guitar. Most of the time we performed in simple, scruffy churches that had no glass “winder” panes, but only boards fit into openings that were pushed out during warm weather.

Ten months after I saw the film, I traveled to those red dirt roads, gripping the map my father provided for me when I asked for the history of our travels. Just like his sermon notes, he wrote the list of towns in a 5 x 7 spiral notebook and sent it along with a letter and a United States map that did not yet include Hawaii or Alaska. The orange highlighting pen he motioned over the routes directed me to spots on and off the highway, but what I was looking for was that spirited young girl and her true religion I remembered that surpasses anything I have found in church since then. OK, maybe not religion, but a well-founded yet curious faith that’s unrestrained by creeds. The kind of faith you feel around for in the dark.

An older sister and I, along with our Pentecostal Assemblies of God preacher daddy and musical mother—all living in an 18’ trailer, our only home—worked for the Lord by day and were lulled to sleep by crickets at night. We loved the mostly Appalachian people of those revivals.

Hard as they labored with little reward, they found their solace in the backwoods Pentecostal churches where we ministered, calling each other sister and brother for the warmth and connection of family. Revival lifted them into the gifts of the early church, the Book of Acts, when the Spirit filled praying people with fire from on high and they spoke in the language of their heaven.

Bill Skondeen was driven by news of the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles back in the early 1900’s when the Holy Spirit fell and people began speaking in tongues. Participants in the Azusa Street Revival were immigrants, laborers with whom my Father identified, living on the wrong side of town. By those facts they were also free of the restraints of upscale society’s inhibitions. The Azusa Street Revival cracked open religion’s window and beamed in belonging for people who were often shunned and too often shamed. Pentecostal churches popped up all over the map, extending the Azusa Street message everywhere in the United States. But the Jesus-enriched soil of the South may have proven the most fertile for growth.

My one year of public high school after our family settled in Orlando and an additional two semesters of junior college—I was too young at 15 to be admitted to the dorms in New York—served me well in gearing up my inquisitive nature. And I’ve used it, living in France, studying abroad, and as an ordained pastor of United Methodist Churches in Northern California. But audacious was born as the Spark Plug—my father’s name for me—singing revival nights. Those sweet gatherings we experienced from 1945 to 1956 no longer exist, now sifted through leaves of a backwoods reality that incorporates television and the internet, homogenizing speech and making instant all messages. That’s why I’m telling you this.

Hidden Biscuits…tales of Deep South revivals told by heart is about meaning among members of devoted communities hidden from society and reaching beyond lives that could only be endured. Although the years described here define our context in the outer world, our family wasn’t out there. We were sequestered in pine-fringed woods hung with kudzu vines, hearing about that larger civilization by way of brief clips from a short wave radio’s news.

Welcome to these pages and into the lives of good country people you’ve never met but will always remember. Welcome to their undaunted hope and spiritual practice; the comfort of their imagination and their kinships of faith, gathering to bless and to heal each other as they listen for the Word. For me the word was, indeed, made flesh.

I came of age on these highways, confusing my daddy the Preacher with God the Father, and experiencing what matters in the midst of it all. So I ask you to listen to the child. This is her story.