The Parkers of Lawrence and Pike County Kentucky grew with a community obligated to raise up their children in the “good old fashioned way.”
Walter Parker (1911-1986) was known for his no-nonsense manner. He was a stern, strict father who demanded compliance with what he knew to be right. He’d often mete out physical punishment if a child (or grandchild) misbehaved. Some of his offspring believe he was a “mean spirited” man, others felt he did what he had to “keep everyone in line.” The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Walter spent much time socializing with church members. Walter and other Brothers of the Church would meet at his home to discuss aspects of doctrine, church business, and the behavior of its members. Walter’s keen insights and witty comments of human behavior would often short-circuit growing tension between members. He was often heard telling them, and his children, they were confounded fools, admonishing them to “use their heads for something besides a hat rack.”
Old Regular Baptists are known for their community-based support. Preachers have outside sources of income, and do not require religious education to preach. Old Regular Baptists do not separate children in Sunday schools, but include them patiently in their 3-to-4-hour long, once-a-month services (the other Sundays are days to visit other Old Regular Baptist Churches).
Old Regular Baptists literally follow Jesus’ admonitions. They continue to baptize church members in bodies of water, practice laying on of hands for the anointing of preachers, and foot washing for all members during annual communion.
Members are admonished publicly for un-Christian behavior including drunkenness, womanizing, or feuding. Through public acts of remorse, an erring Member may be “retained” or “restored” by and to the Church.
Church Minutes of the pre-Civil War era noted “disclusion” or being dismissed by the Church for various offences including lack of attendance, dancing, using foul language (usually spoken by women), beating of slaves (slaves, denoted as “Brothers” in church minutes, were also members of the white Baptist church), gambling on horseraces or elections, card-playing, gossip, and physical fights with another Church member.
Church members could, by means of a written letter of dismissal/dismission (akin to a letter of introduction), join another Old Regular Baptist Church. Each Church would, through the letter, vouch for the character of the Member, as the Brothers would jointly bear all responsibility for the behaviors of their church fellows.
Worship is conducted in plain churches. Members gather around 9:30 Sunday mornings. Services begin with hearty handshakes and a song sung a cappella by a member so moved to begin the service. The ancient hymns are sung in what is known as the lined-out manner. The member that has begun the song will, throughout the song, sing the verse before the congregation repeats the slow singing of that verse. Members are encouraged to personalize their worship through emotional, forceful singing.
Membership in an Old Regular Baptist Church required the members display public modesty, humility and strength of character. The physical rites of handshaking, baptism, feet washing and singing encouraged long-lasting friendships and emotional rites of healing among the members.
Although demanding, the church also encouraged emotional expression and offered a safe place to experience the joyful grace of living in the Spirit.