Atlanta Journal (Angus Perkerson) – Like apostles of old, young girl (Ida Hawkins) is preaching in North Georgia – 1914

Sunday Morning, April 19, 1914






By Angus Perkerson




The tent was like a white cup turned down on a green cloth. The hillsides, planted in grain, made a carpet beneath the fruit trees.


The wind, breaking off petals from the trees, blew them through the opening of the tent among the waiting people.


Over the hill came a group of five, one leading…a slender figure walking with raised head and clasped hands.


The rows of blossoming fruit trees reached out until their branches touched and made an arbor of blossoms over the path to the tent.


The people waiting read from Bibles in their laps, or prayed: some looked off, through the opening in the tent at the fields.


The five paused, then entered: four sat down on the canvass seats, and the fifth went to the pulpit.


The people leaned forward, absorbed. This intentness partly caused a strange news story last week.


It was a three-inch item on an inside page. But enough to describe this meeting of plain farmers and their wives at Mt. Airy, Ga., as a queer cult, and the evangelist whose faith suggests a religious Joan of Arc, as an imposter.




The girl preaching was the leader pictured as head of a religious group which worshiped her as divine. “Believing,” added the story, “that she is immune from bodily ills, and that they can see a supernatural light play off her face.”


She is twenty years old, her voice is soft, her manner is simple, her belief is plain. But she has left home and friends—the real point missed by last week’s story, to teach the uncaring of Christianity.


She takes as her example the Apostles.


“They gave up everything, didn’t they?” She asked this abruptly. “Then, why shouldn’t I? I try to live my religion. Perhaps in that I’m different.


But the news caused a religious stir in North Georgia. There was only casual comment here—a moment’s wonder at the extent of credulity. But near Mt. Airy, people came eagerly to see the woman preacher worshiped as a divinity. And the evangelist, who meant to prove Christianity by simple faithful living, became to some a feminine Elijah, the second.


Even the curious had a place with the believers in the small tent on the top of a green hill, circled by fruit trees bearing pink and white blossoms.


The people leaned forward, in intent attitudes. None of them chatted, or looked around.




Some leaned with elbows on the seats in front of them, both hands closed and resting against their cheeks. Some sat with their chins in their hands. Queer how the expressions differed. One’s lips would be pursed, another’s would be wide open, another’s half closed. But all were absorbed in the girl who stood before them on the platform, which made a rude pulpit.


She stood where the light fell on her hair and made it shimmer. The lower part of her face was in shadow, but a full light was on her eyes and forehead. And this light and shadow gave her face the expression of a religious painting.


She was like a picture of youth and faith—a part of the fresh blossoms, the green plants, the blue sky, the fresh earth.


The curious forgot their curiosity, and listened.


The preacher came nearer to the edge of the platform, half raised her hands toward the people, then let them drop at her sides. She was a very young girl with light hair, blue eyes, and the sweetness of expression that prayer and good deeds produce.


She began to speak, but not to preach. Her voice never reached above conversational tones, and she spoke of how she thought it is wisest to live.


“Faith,” she explained. “Is best. It makes you feel best, do your best. The doubtful man is the unhappiest. I am not unhappy. I know and believe.”




The people were quiet. No one moved or spoke. Their absorption was unbroken.


And yet, they listened merely to simple advice, spoken quietly, in which there was no new religious idea.


Perhaps it was her simple words. She told how she thought, how she felt, what seemed best to her.


The writings most read now are personal experiences. A man or a woman tells how he reorganised his business or she remodeled her husband. And, telling it truthfully, they get an attentive hearing.


Here was an example of simple goodness mixed with common sense, free from fault, told in a direct half confessional way, and given emphasis by the personality of the preacher.


Billy Sunday—if you’ve heard him—engrosses his hearers because he has a manner that would make a text from Revelation interesting. But he also gets his effects partly from rousing music and a spirit of excitement with which he stirs his audience.


The girl preaching at Mt. Airy has no such aid. She speaks in a gentle voice, she avoids themes that would provoke hysteria, and the hymns are simple, often without an organ accompaniment.


It is her unusual faith that stirs listeners.


Her conversations—not sermons—on how I live, how you should live, have such earnestness that the effect gave rise to the story that she is worshiped.




But there is no cult, no strange leader, no queer or foolish belief. Simply a girl of twenty who thinks she has been called like the apostles of old to preach. Yet she has no faith in visions. She says that religion must be practical, and she insists to her congregations:


“Do the possible things in life. Believe the sane ones. Don’t be a fool in the name of religion.”


“A few years ago I was the one daughter in a well-to-do family in Baltimore. Her brother was a cashier in a bank. Then, both decided that preaching was the thing for which they were intended, and both left home and people to teach the

truths they consider the secret of happiness. This is how she told it: Her words to the people meeting in the tent had become faster. Her earnestness had increased, her voice had grown the least bit louder. Then, abruptly, she ended. “That is all I have to say.”




The people, by groups and twos, followed a path over which the fruit trees, reaching out their branches, made an arbor of peach blossoms. Beneath the trees was the deep, perfect green of the growing plants. The path wound down a hillside and then upward.


At the top, all turned to look back at the tent—the white cup turned down on the green cloth.


The five, turning to the left hand, separated from the worshippers. The roof of a house could be seen in the direction they walked.


An old man, with a plain red face, tanned until it was the color of brick, put one hand to his ear as though not understanding.


“What’s that?” he asked. “Oh, yes,” with a nod of his head. Then pointing toward the roof showing above the trees: “They’re staying there.”


The countryside seems covered by green plants. One hill of green rises after another and the fruit trees here, where the northern peach belt begins, all blossom in pink and white.


The road was like a path through a garden. But abruptly it ended at the weather-beaten, brown, age-worn house. There was nothing about the house suggesting spring except the straggling flowers in the yard.


A woman who was bent and whose hair was gray opened the door.


“Yes, of course,” she agreed. “Come in. Sit in there. They’ll be glad to see you,” she added, turning back from the door. “There’s nothing to hide. The other chair’s more comfortable.”


The bedspread was worked in raised circular figures, and on the walls were lithographs. The floor was bare, but there was not a spot of dust in the room.


Then, again, the door opened. The preacher and the others entered. There were not enough chairs for everyone and some stood up. She sat waiting for the questions that were to be asked.




Her hands were folded, her eyes were lowered, and she seemed younger than when she had stood on the platform. She looked up at the inquiry.


“Do we know about this report: Why, yes.” Her voice was unusually low and gentle. “I’m afraid it will handicap our work. It may make some lose faith in us. To try to correct it, though, would only make matters worse.


“We believe in living simply and plainly and honestly as we teach our belief. It’s just Christianity. Just everyday belief in the Bible. We urge people to greater faith. We are not Baptists, or Methodists, or Presbyterians: we are

all of them. There’s nothing unusual about us. We do try to live our religion as well as preach it. Maybe we are different in that way.


“We are teaching that one should not only believe a thing, but live it.


“Divine healing? No. We don’t believe in such things as that. We teach only the possible things, not the foolish.


“It was two years ago, when I first came here, and since then I and the others have gone from place to place, wherever the people will listen to us, and have taught what we know is the truth.”


She hesitated over the next question. “Why, yes, I’ll tell you our names. There are five of us. George Walker is from Philadelphia; George Burge, from Newfoundland; Annie McLaughlin, from Paterson, N. J., and Edgar Hawkins, who is my brother, from Baltimore. I am Ida Hawkins. That doesn’t sound mystic, does it?


“We believe it is meant for some people today to go from place to place and preach as the apostles did. And that is all we are doing.


“I and my brother came to believe this at a meeting in Baltimore. And we decided that we’d leave everything and everyone and preach.


“So we did. Of course, it meant sacrifices. Yes, it was hard for our people. But when a girl marries doesn’t it often mean heartaches for her father and mother?


“Shouldn’t”—she leaned forward—”shouldn’t any sacrifice be made in the name of religion?


“Whoever knows the truth about anything, should feel himself bound to give that knowledge to everyone. The greater good it will do them, the greater effort he must make to spread his knowledge.


“We think we know practical spiritual truths that are worth teaching—that is why I left home to teach as the apostles taught, to go from place to place, and to show, if I can, how one should live. That is all.”