Reverend Arthur B. Hosea was a remarkable man in my youthful eyes. I was around 10 years old when he became our interim pastor at Harmony Baptist Church. He had served as pastor of First Baptist Church of Unadilla for 12 years. He resigned in 1961, then came to Harmony not long afterward.
He was a distinguished-looking gentleman. His silver hair was always neatly combed and his wire rim glasses spotlessly clean. His white shirts were heavily starched to hold their sharply ironed creases. In the humid summers of middle Georgia, he sometimes changed shirts several times a day.
He had a pleasingly graveled voice and a dynamic manner in the pulpit. When he spoke of Elijah confronting the 450 prophets of Baal, I forgot about the hardness of our slatted wooden pews. Brother Hosea wanted all of us to have a confident faith like that of Elijah. He made it seem almost possible.
It was probably 25 or more years ago when Mr. Emmett Stephens took me on a tour of rural Crisp County, mostly around the Pateville community. I loved hearing a variety of recollections from a man born in 1912. He even pointed out a wet bottom where a calf got stuck in the mud and had to be pulled out by ropes. But the place I found most intriguing was the long-vacated site of a country school.
Mr. Emmett mentioned that Arthur Hosea had grown up in that area. He had quit school at an early age, something not unusual for a country boy who was born in 1897. God called him to preach when he was a young man, still in his teens, I think. He returned to a one-room grammar school as an oversized student surrounded by the giggles of young children. An accommodating teacher cut a hole in the floor so that Arthur could spit his tobacco.
Mr. Emmett said Arthur worked at the train depot in Cordele at night. A couple of fellows about Arthur’s age decided they would test his commitment to ministry. They sent a girl to call on him, a girl whose looks were much better than her reputation. The boys hid behind a pile of coal and watched, expecting that Arthur would be easily distracted from his calling to preach. But there was nothing to see. Arthur sent the young lady on her way and continued with his work.
In 1955 Brother Hosea started a men’s Sunday School Class at Unadilla First Baptist. Allen Head was their teacher the first year. They began with a group of mostly unchurched men that Brother Hosea rounded up from all sorts of places. He even found some of them on the barstools of downtown Front Street. He told them they didn’t need to hide their beers, but that he really wanted to see them in church on Sunday. He had a talent for meeting people where they were, for sharing his faith in a way that made others want to know more.
On Easter Sunday in 1958 that class had 56 men present. Charles Speight, who has taught the class since 1956, was there, as was James Ray Irwin. Clint Shugart was in the group. He’s the only member left from the original 1955 roll.
I visited with those three gentlemen recently in Mr. Clint’s home. They recalled a Sunday morning when Brother Hosea said that if God told him to lie down and preach, then that’s what he would do. He stretched out on the floor and preached for a couple of minutes. He taught his congregation in a memorable way to follow God’s direction, regardless of how it looked to others.
James Ray said Brother Hosea didn’t have much formal education, only through the seventh grade, he thinks. He smiled broadly when he quoted his beloved former pastor on that subject. “I may not know the King’s English,” said Brother Hosea, “but I know the King.”
Those three Unadilla men have more memories than a short column will hold. They recalled a man who had told Brother Hosea that he planned to make a public profession of faith at the next service. When he stayed put during the invitation hymn, Brother Hosea walked to the pew and took him by the hand. The man’s heart was more than willing. Brother Hosea knew that it was his legs that needed some help.
The one-room schoolhouse that Arthur Hosea attended is long gone. So are the pranksters from that night at the train station. But there’s a Sunday School Class in Unadilla that still bears witness to the efforts of a godly pastor. There’s a longtime teacher and a dozen or so members still looking on Front Street for unchurched men. Their faithfulness is a living testament to a remarkable man, a man who knows the King very well.