By BILL MARDIS, Editor Emeritus Commonwealth Journal
Daddy was an old time preacher man
He preached the word of God throughout the land
He preached so plain a child could understand
Yes, Daddy was an old time preacher man –– Dolly Parton
Pulaski County and its many churches have lost an old-time preacher man. The Rev. Lloyd “Jerd” Sewell went to rest about 7 o’clock Wednesday night at a nursing and rehabilitation center in Maysville where he has stayed for the past several years. Sewell was 103; he would have been 104 on November 4.
“I felt he had already gone to Heaven for the last little while,” said his daughter, Doris Hensley. “I asked him the other day if he were tired, and he said, ‘Yes, I am.’ That was the last thing he said to me.”
Sewell was a perfect prototype of the preacher man about whom Dolly Parton sang:
He told the people of the need to pray
He talked about God's wrath and judgment day
He preached about the great eternity
Sewell refused to let age stop him. Ah, the old preacher man was slowed a little by a walker, but kept going; continued to preach. He preached a sermon to a full house at a Memorial Day service May 29, 2006 at Pine Hill Baptist Church where he was pastor for several years. He was 96 at the time.
“I couldn’t stand. I had to sit down, but I went back and brought them up to date. I talked about the old saints who used to be there,” Sewell said.
He well remembers. Sewell attended Pine Hill Baptist Church for 90 years, since he was about 7 years old. “I’m the oldest member there,” he told the Commonwealth Journal during an interview in June 2006.
His daughter, Phyllis Whitis, said a Memorial Day service has been held at Pine Hill church for the past 55 years or longer. “And he (Sewell) hasn’t missed but a couple of times.”
Nostalgia is a memory carpet as people get older.
“When I started going to Pine Hill, there were only five or six in the graveyard,” Sewell recalls. “Now it’s full; hundreds are buried there.” While at Pine Hill to preach at the Memorial Day service, Sewell walked through the cemetery, reliving precious memories .
“I’ve been preaching since 1943. I was ordained in 1945,” Sewell recollected. “I have preached in every Baptist Church in Pulaski County except First Baptist Church in Somerset and I’ve attended several services there.”
Sewell pastored churches at McKinney, Mt. Zion, Chimney Rock, West Science Hill, Grave Hill, White Lily, Whetstone, Pine Hill, Cedar Springs in Russell County and Parnell in Wayne County. He also had a Sunday morning radio show.
Churches and traditions have changed during Sewell’s lifetime. Revivals in many churches today have a total of five services, beginning Sunday and ending Wednesday night. In Sewell’s day, revivals featured both morning and evening services and could go on for days, or weeks.
“When I was pastor at West Science Hill we had a revival that went on for a month, day and night. People came from as far as Danville to attend the services and there were 123 conversions. Some of them joined Baptist churches; some Methodist churches ... and others,” he remembers.
Sewell was a master of good, clean fun. He was a joy to be around.
While still active physically he took a group to the 2 O’clock Spring, a legendary stream of water near the Rockcastle River that, according to folklore, stops running each afternoon at 2 o’clock.
“We were going to the 2 O’clock Spring and I warned the fellows to be on the lookout for snakes,” grinned Sewell.
“This young fellow stepped on a stick and it flapped up and hit his ankle,” Sewell related, stopping a moment to laugh before he finished.
“He ran completely away from there,” said Sewell. “He thought he had been snakebit.”
Sewell really enjoyed a joke he and his close friend, James Slaughter, played on this reporter.
Years ago, every autumn, it was customary to do a newspaper story about making molasses. The late Mr. Slaughter, owner of Cumberland Studio and a photographer for this newspaper, usually went to a molasses mill with this reporter. This one year he couldn’t go. He and Sewell were summoned to serve on the grand jury. Sewell was named foreman.
This reporter had to do the molasses story by himself; take his own pictures. On leaving the molasses mill, the operator gave him two small jars of freshly made sorghum. She didn’t mention Slaughter’s name and the molasses didn’t last long with a few hot, buttered biscuits at the reporter’s table.
A day or so later, the reporter’s telephone rang. It was the sheriff’s office informing the reporter that he was to report to the grand jury. He didn’t think much about it because it wasn’t all that unusual for a reporter to be questioned about a story involving crime.
Into the grand jury room the reporter walked, after about an hour’s wait. Sewell, in monotone, read a document indicating the reporter was indicted for “stealing” Jim Slaughter’s molasses. There were two jars of molasses; one for the reporter, the other for Slaughter, the indictment charged.
Then, they broke up. They rolled in the floor and laughed. Other members of the grand jury choked with mirth. There was little an astonished reporter could do but laugh.
Sewell said the funniest thing that ever happened to him in the pulpit was during a revival in the Cincinnati area.
“I kept hearing this strange noise. It was an awful sound. It would almost make the hair stand on the back of your neck,” Sewell recalls. “I asked somebody what in tarnation it was and they pointed out the Cincinnati Zoo was just a short distance away.”
“That’s elephants,” they explained. “They’re down at the zoo.”
Sewell’s faith and ability to laugh kept him going to an advanced age. Part of his success was due to his late wife, the former Madeline Phelps Anderson, better known as “Granny.” She died April 2, 1998 but is remembered as one of the sweetest ladies who ever donned an apron. She set the table every time somebody knocked on the door.
Granny always gave this reporter a big hug when we met. At an “all day meeting with dinner on the ground,” Granny approached to give Slaughter and me the traditional hugs.
I accidentally stepped backward into a ditch and me and granny fell to the ground. As we struggled to get up and regain our composure, everybody looked and everybody laughed.
Granny and Jerd had 10 children. Outside of short times in Indiana and Ohio and Jerd’s recent stay at the Maysville nursing facility, the Sewells lived in the Dabney community all their lives.
Sewell’s body is at Somerset Undertaking Company. Visitation will be at the funeral home Sunday, May 26 from 9 a.m. until the funeral at 2 p.m. Burial will be in the Pine Hill Cemetery.