It was a beautiful Sunday morning when I boarded the church bus along with my son, daughter-in-law and two of my great grandsons, then we headed to our church to pick up some others to go to Lake Martin. We made our way to the Church in the Pines, only 15 minutes from our church in Kent.
Can you imagine only 15 minutes from where Hank Williams was inspired to write “Kaw-liga,” one of the most famous of all country songs?
Hank also wrote the gospel song, “I Saw the Light,” which would have been fitting for our trip to the Church in the Pines which was built 100 yards from the cabin Hank stayed in. The Church in the Pines was started during the year of 1953 some months after the death of Hank so he never saw the end results of a place that he made so famous.The building we now see was constructed in 1956 and other items added since that time.
The Church in the Pines is one of the most unique worship services in this country and for 65 years — wow. A lot of couples have been married there with the waters of the lake in the background.
When we drove up I could see the American flag flying proudly. We got there a little early and in just a few minutes later the crowds started showing up. Pontoon boats were coming in and just about all were dressed casually. Men, women, teens and children were arriving and you could tell by the smiles on their faces they were in a happy and friendly mood.
The sound system was excellent and the music was furnished by a pianist and guitar. After an old hymn, we sang “God Bless America.”
The speaker and the reason we were all anxious to be there on that particular Sunday was for Jeremiah Castille, the great cornerback for Bear Bryant and the University of Alabama. He played football for Phenix City and went to the University of Alabama in 1979.
Jeremiah explained it this way: “I was born into a family with a mother who had a fourth-grade education and was an alcoholic and my dad was abusive. There were nine children and I was No. 8 of nine. I was athletic and was noticed in high school for my athletic ability. I was saved when I was 13 and I found out my athletic ability was my ticket out into the world. I worked and studied hard.
“In 1979 I went to the University of Alabama and played as a freshman. I told my friends that coach Bryant didn't like me because after each play good or bad he grabbed me by my facemask, put his face up against my face and hollered at me. Coach Bryant had a habit of spitting as he talked and sometimes when coach talked that close and finished, your face was wet.
“My friend replied, ‘The coach likes you and the players he treats that way gets to play on Saturdays.’ Sure enough I got to play as a freshman, sophomore, junior and senior and we went on to play in bowl games.”
Jeremiah played in the very last game Bear Bryant coached. He was proud to be selected by the coach’s family as a pallbearer at his funeral. Jeremiah said he looks back on those years when he was 18 up until he was 22 and remembers he had God and coach Bryant.
Jeremiah married his high school sweetheart and they have three boys and three girls — all of whom attended the University of Alabama. Two of the boys, Tim and Simean, played football at Alabama and the other one, Caleb, went to Hollywood as an actor.
Before I forget, Jeremiah's mama was saved at the age of 51 and never drank again. She died about three months ago at the age of 85. She turned out to be a close friend of Bear Bryant.
I don't know who got up the program but it could not have been better.
Three women and a man from the Alex City and Coosa County area provided special music. They are called the Southernaries and I hope you get to hear them sometimes.
By the way in the year 2001 the University of Alabama athletics chose Jeremiah Castille as their chaplain and he still holds that position. Look up his record sometime; it speaks for itself.
Isn't it amazing what goes on just 15 minutes from us? This was one Sunday my cup was full in so many ways.