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


10 thoughts on “Back Row Baptist

  1. Sitting on the back row historically was were the backslidden and wayward Baptist would sit. I found the best reason to sit on the back row is to avoid the drippings of the sanctuary (spit from an overly spirit filled pastor!

  2. Great thoughts and reflections in this. In my old church, the women that you wrote of occupied the first 3 or 4 rows, I guess they could hear the sermons much better. My mother was one of those women, and I had several “other mothers” who were friends of my mother’s but I loved them dearly. They knew how I respected them and their knowledge of the Bible. I knew their little quirks. One could explain things so well, but she was deaf as a post and interrupted others often. One could not pray in a group she was so shy. One would not read the scripture verses because she felt dumb (her words) because she failed one grade in school. But what she could not understand, it was not because she was dumb, it was family issues that caused her to fail. She was a smart woman, but childhood words still haunted her. Most of those wonderful women have a fine home these days with no trouble and no more pain. They reside with their Father, in that heavenly place. I miss them all so much, but I find a certain joy in knowing they are there, safe from all harm.

    But Reba, your words got me to thinking. How in the world did I get to being a back row Baptist so quickly. It seems just yesterday that they were here, and I can almost hear their voices and know what they will say, and hear their laughter. Awe, really now!! Why did I say that, because now I sound just like them…….

    p.s. For those of you not from the South, or not of a certain age, the term ‘deaf as a post’ is an accepted way of saying someone is hard of hearing. At least, that is the way the back row Baptists think. Love y’all.

  3. Oh Reba you hit the nail on the head girl!! Yes young folks have no idea the vast knowledge our senior fold have. I’m a hair dresser and this applies perfectly to me trade. When I had my salon in a shop behind my house for me years mine were “ the Friday ladies”. You could change the way the earth rotates before you could change their appointments, you could set your clock by then. God sent them to me in the very stage in my life when I needed them, they saved my marriage, my husbands life (kept me from killing him), raising children knowledge, some dang good recipes, business advice, how to dispose of a body lol, you name it they could help. They had and those that are left still have a heart after God and of gold. We could learn a lot from them. Thanks so much for the article.

  4. FBCNATCHITOCHES- Piano side BACK ALCOVE! Sweetest Hen House ever!!! With a few Roosters…. yes, you may see dozing but pews are filled with love and hospitality! Love MY PEEPS!!

  5. Next time you see Robbie and Misty, you can call them BACK ROW BAPTIST

    Enjoy the humor in the article. I always thought that Back Row Baptist wanted to sneak out early.

    • Well, that’s why I sit back there. If you pay attention, you can get out the door before the preacher has time to walk back for the obligatory hand shake. No, I don’t go to church anywhere in this parish, so I’m not targeting any specific preacher. But they all seem to have a gift for looking into your eyes and seeing what you have to hide.

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