Tomorrow morning I am preaching at Woodward Avenue Baptist Church in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. This is a special treat for a number of reasons. Muscle Shoals is only a few miles from Russellville, the small town in northwest Alabama where I grew up. Back in the late 60s, when we wanted to take our dates to "the big city," we would drive to Muscle Shoals and go to a movie or buy a pizza or visit the newest hot restaurant in town, a swanky joint named McDonald's. And during football season (the most important time of year in the Deep South), we would come to the Tri-Cities to play teams from Florence, Tuscumbia, Sheffield or Muscle Shoals. My older brother Andy lives in Florence, across the Tennessee River from the other three cities.
Woodward Avenue Baptist Church is located on the main street of Muscle Shoals. I suppose I have driven past it 300 times over the years. I vaguely remember atending a wedding there 36 years ago where one of our buddies was getting married. So I went along with Phil and Bruce and Alan and Ricky and Rick and Jeff and Butch and Big Mac and Fire and a host of others. About the ceremony itself, I remember nothing at all. The groom had schemed about how he and his bride would make their getaway because he knew we were going to try to follow them. He tried to fake us out by having someone else drive his car around the block to throw us off, but we were on to his game. As soon as they left, we jumped in a car, roared after them and (this is the part I vividly remember) we drove right off the curb and hit the pavement hard, sending sparks in every direction. We followed them long enough to satisfy ourselves that they couldn’t get away from us and then we turned back, leaving the happy couple to their wedding bliss.
Last November I had the privilege of meeting Ron Ethridge, the current pastor at Woodward Avenue, in Birmingham where we (along with three other pastors) spent an evening encouraging each other in the Lord. In February I joined those pastors on a retreat at Cloudland Canyon State Park in Georgia. When Ron invited me to speak, he asked me to preach on forgiveness. In just a little while Marlene and I are going to drive to Florence where we will spend the night with Andy and Betty. Tomorrow I'll preach at Woodward Avenue, we'll eat lunch with Ron and his wife, and then we'll head back to Tupelo.
But all of that is background to what I really want to say. Yesterday Ron told me that he has had a number of people in his congregation tell him that they knew my father. "I remember Dr. Pritchard. He was my doctor," they said. Hearing that brought a smile to my face because my father died in November 1974. It's a wonderful thing to be remembered 33 years after you are gone. He was a surgeon in Russellville and greatly beloved by everyone, not only in that town but across northwest Alabama.
When Marlene and I got married in August 1974, Dad was my best man. The picture above was taken of my Dad and Mom on the night we got married in Mesa, Arizona. I hasten to say that my father is not responsible for the jazzy jacket he is wearing. The jackets the groomsmen wore were my choice. I have taken lots of grief about that over the years, but I still think they look cool. Dad looked great that night as he always did. And Mom was radiant.
This morning I realized that I had never put a picture of my parents on the weblog. So here it is. Nothing makes me happier than meeting someone who knew them. And the finest compliment I ever receive is when someone who knew him says, 'You remind me of your father."