Back Row Baptist

By Reba Phelps

I don’t know what it is about hearing the familiar words, “Back row Baptist”, that makes me smile so much, but it does. It just tickles me right down to my non-denominational soul. It’s just fun repeating it.… Almost like it could be derogatory or it could have been derived from a specific incident. I call people, “Back Row Baptist”, all the time…especially sinceI I sit behind them in the little cubby hole at my church.

So, I am actually a back, back row Baptist.

I never really knew where it came from so I Googled it and the Urban Dictionary came up with the first definition. I was a little nervous to actually look there, mainly because Urban Dictionary is known for being a little too honest and not very censored for my holy eyes. Much to my surprise, it was very family friendly.

“A Back row Baptist is a free will Baptist who sits on the back to row to sleep and hope not to get called out.”

As I sit here and think about the term so often used I cannot help but think this couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to the back row that I knew in Winnfield, Louisiana circa 1994 to 2000.

This back row was filled with the most spirited and elegant group of ladies one could ever imagine. They were famous for their oh’ so Southern names given at birth and even sassier nicknames. The greatest of writers could not have penned better names for a novel.

Annie Lee…. Inez…. Tootsie….. Snooks…..and Minnie….just to name a few.

They were always dressed in their Sunday best and could not whisper very well during church. It wasn’t unheard of for you to hear what they were having for lunch or if they thought the preacher was too long-winded. It was actually one of my favorite things that would happen during services.

Once my oldest daughter was born it was made mandatory that I make a pass by their pew before I brought her to the nursery. As soon as they would see her, they would size her up and pass her around.

“She’s getting so big and filling out nicely.”

“She has the cutest dress, did you get it here in town?”

“She looks more and more like her daddy.”

“Where did this scratch come from? You really should clip her nails more often.”

“If you rub just a dab of baby oil in her hair it will stay in place all day.”

I always told my friends that I never had to keep her Pediatrician appointments, I could just take her to the back row of the church and they could diagnose any ailment and offer the cure. My daughter wasn’t the only one who got the “once over”.

They were famous for doling out dietary advice, gardening advice and relationship advice even if you didn’t let on that you had a need or a question. At the time, I am not so sure, that it was appreciated as much as it is now.

They were famous for their Southern lady ritualistic ways…. Hair salon, dress shop, grocery store, doctor’s appointments, fried fish dates once a week and church on Sundays.

Most of the ladies rode together wherever they went. It was unmistakably them because they were always in a Buick. You could see four or five, perfectly coifed hair, figures in the car. When they drove to church the parishioners knew when they parked that it may be a little crooked and when they backed out the parking, they knew to be on the lookout. The whole church looked out for them and they looked out for the church.

They were so special for a multitude of reasons that really created their legacy.

There was so much love and wisdom to be found on that back row full of Baptists. They would love and carryon with anyone who would stop and sit for a spell. They showed love to their church family and cooked for as many of them as they could until time took its toll. They remembered everyone’s birthdays until they could no longer remember. They were faithfully in church every single Sunday until they were no longer able to leave the house.

I loved jokingly telling that back row of Baptist ladies that their pew is where the troublemakers sat. They never disagreed with me and always giggled a little with a knowing smile.

Our church pews are filled with elderly members who have so much to offer the youth of today. They are leaving us one by one as time quickly passes. Once the shelter in place is lifted and our senior citizens come back to church I encourage you to look at them with a deeper appreciation. For, we will all be in their shoes one day…. We will be the ones not whispering very well from that back row.

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” + Psalm 90:12


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