By Leslie Cranford
On just about any given Sunday morning in the past 60 or so years, during the Sunday school hour, if you walked down the south hall of St. John’s, you’d probably have heard a piano and hymn singing from Room 111. The Fellowship Class met there together for about six decades, but it finally disbanded in April.
I was fortunate to sit down with Melba Rickman to record some of her memories of the class. She joined the class with her husband, J.C., in 1959 when they first came to St. John’s. The class was already going when they joined; she didn’t know with certainty what year it started.
“There were around 100 members when we had to divide it. At first we met in the Garden Room because that’s the only place that was big enough. When we divided, our group took the name ‘Fellowship Class,’ and we had a room upstairs. But then when we all got a little older, we got a room downstairs, so that we wouldn’t have to climb the stairs – this room on the south side. We’ve had it for a long time,” she said, gesturing down the hall.
Some of the longtime members she mentioned along with her husband, J.C., were Dr. Royce Lewis, one of their main teachers for years; Bob Cash; Bill and Pat Cantrell; Mildred Wylie, and Tom and Tooley Wilkinson.
Melba said the class always had good attendance when they had that many people who were still coming to the church, before so many got older and couldn’t come.
“When the church needed something done or needed volunteers, they could always count on our class. It was a good church-working class,” she reminisced. “I think most of the people who are still here that were here back then realized that – Mary Vines, Sandy Goodloe – they remember how much we used to work, but since we got older we couldn’t do that much.”
But what about the singing?
“We were the only adult class that sang on Sunday. And we ALWAYS sang on Sunday,” Melba said with a big smile. “That was one thing Tooley LOVED us to do, was sing. I always played the piano all these years. We’d have different song leaders, depending on who was coming, and we sang out of an old Cokesbury hymnal. They were old hymns, mainly, but we LOVED to sing.”
Melba added that Royce Lewis once wrote a hymn verse to the tune of Edelweiss, and then someone else wrote another verse. “It was about God being with us in friendship. We sang it every Sunday until we stopped singing.”
D’Aun Tavenner, a relative newcomer to the class, joined 12 years ago when she and Herb, a retired Methodist preacher, joined St. John’s.
“It was a very active class, and several of the members invited us to join. There were about twenty in regular attendance,” she said. “We enjoyed the singing and the leadership by several good teachers for the Bible study.”
Being a member of the Fellowship Class didn’t mean only meeting on Sunday mornings. Melba and D’Aun both mentioned the class parties.
“We always had a Christmas party,” Melba said. “We would meet at the Women’s Club, or here at the church. The last few years, Cathy Morton would host it at her house. We would have other parties, outside parties, especially at David and Margie Robertson’s house in the summertime. I think we always felt a closeness that probably lots of classes feel. But so many of us had been close friends for years and years.”
One of the major projects the class used to do, according to Melba, was the Crippled Children’s Clinic that they ran for years in the church basement.
“Dr. Royce Lewis, an orthopedic surgeon, was the head of that, and he had other doctors come in to help,” she explained. “We provided crutches and shoes and different things to the kids that would come. It was a real wonderful outreach. We had to have a lot of help, lots of volunteers. Usually it was on Saturdays, about once a month, if I remember. We had people who would come and help the doctors, and we had people who would drive the kids to the doctors if they needed x-rays. That was one of our main projects that was really a success. We helped so many people and so many children. I think that’s one of the main important things that we did.”
D’Aun says it has been very sad to watch the class diminish because of illness, death and people moving away.“We know the class has a great history, with many church leaders and super-friendly, loving people.”
Melba echoed her sentiment.
“We really did hate to disband, but it was just time,” she said. “When it comes to just one or two people being there on Sunday, it’s time to do something else.”