Concerning the time my Great-Great Grandfather floated to the ceiling of the church. And lingered.

Rev. John H. Parks, looking iconic

I’ve decided to dust this off and look at it again with fresh eyes. In many ways it’s more the story of a story than anything else. Anyone who would have been in attendance then is not alive today. So there’s no way to verify any of this, but it’s not as though verifying it makes it any more or less important. 

I’ve been fascinated with this story since I heard it from my grandmother at a young age. And I heard it over and over! Her version never varied.

First, a bit of background: John Parks was born around 1861 or so and was a Baptist Minister in the mountains around Jellico Tennessee. Around the turn of the century, as his beliefs began to change more toward recognition of certain spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament, he formed a church called The Church of God of the Mountain Assembly. Of course, this is a simplification as this did not occur in a vacuum and I am sure the influences of the meetings at Cane Ridge in northern Kentucky in the early 19th century had made their way as far as Jellico, TN, even with the isolation of the mountains. In short, he left the Baptist faith and moved toward pentecostal/holiness type beliefs.

In my grandmother’s version, he was “preaching and became overwhelmed by the spirit of God and was raised to the ceiling of the church.” That’s the basic story my grandmother told me. Either she never heard more details or long since discarded anything she didn’t feel was relevant.

Many years later, we came into the possession of a book detailing the history of the church. The early years of the church read like a biography of John Parks. This book and a later history are detailed in the following, as quoted on the official website of the CGMA which is still in existence and still headquarted in Jellico. You can find this yourself by going here:

According to the website:

“This doctrine of sanctification and of the baptism of the Holy Ghost, accompanied by speaking in tongues, caused great controversy in the community and the church was persecuted. There were examples of ministers being beaten and worship services disturbed with rocks being thrown. One notable instance occurred at the Hackler Church in Lower Elk Valley (near Jellico). A group of three men brought weapons to the worship meeting for the purpose of breaking up the worship service with threats of doing harm to Pastor John Parks. But God intervened! When Pastor Parks rose to preach that evening, the power of God lifted him off the floor. Some reported that the men that had come to do harm fainted as though dead. But for sure the sight was enough to deter them from their evil purpose. Tragedy soon struck these men, as one lost his speech, another went insane, and the third committed suicide. This was told to me personally by John Parks’ daughter and son-in-law, Lucy and Dewey Litton. Sister Lucy Litton told me that her father was lifted to the ceiling with his shoulders touching it. She said her mother was afraid that God was taking her husband and began to scream and cry. There were many other witnesses. One well known testimony is that of Dan Moses, who was sitting near the pulpit when the event took place. He would tell the story with such emotion that those in the congregation could not help but know of a certainty that this event was a true story. He would testify, “And when he came down, he put his hand on my shoulder.”

This is the official version of the church. It is also the version of the story told to me by Helen Cadle Seal, my grandmother’s longtime friend, in 1990. She said she got the story from Sister Parks, meaning John Parks’, wife. The words Helen used were that “she was afraid he was going to be ‘trans-uh-lated…” Like Enoch.

I am not sure that any of these writings prove to me whether this happened or didn’t happen. Some of our famliy members have resisted accepting the story. I, too, have had my doubts.

My grandmother’s first cousin, Ruth Widener, had her doubts. Her mother, my great-great aunt Jalie Parks Moses, a daughter of John Parks, came to believe that he probably didn’t float but that he jumped and scared the men. That said, Jalie left the CGMA and aligned herself with the Baptist faith. As one of the older children, she was likely raised Baptist—her father’s conversion happened after she was an adult.

Aunt Lucy’s story is the accepted version, but I am not sure that her account of the event can be accepted as necessarily valid either. She was the youngest child. Because of her relative youth at the time of the event, her views could have been strongly influenced by the perception of her parents.

There’s no one living today who witnessed the event. In 1990 I did manage to make a recording of my grandmother’s childhood friend Helen Seal telling the story as she “heard it from Mrs. Parks mouth herself” and then Ruth Moses Widener’s attempt to debunk it. It’s all very fascinating but I can’t seem to find it in the attic with some of the other cassettes I have.

People have asked me through the years what I believe about this.  For many years, I always stayed comfortably detached from having a strong opinion about it. I am a career academic who was educated to be skeptical and to look critically at things.  And the story of the story has always fascinating enough to me.

And yet I do find that as I get older and my opinions about things change, I am finding that it’s well within the possibility of my belief system to include this as real. Why not? I’m convinced more things like this don’t happen because folks are less and less likely to believe things they can’t quantify with the notion of reality they have been conditioned to accept as fact. These were people who were primed to believe in miracles. They probably hadn’t had it beat into them that certain things are just not possible and were probably able to accept a more supernatural version of their religious experience than most folks in the mainline churches today.  I guess that’s my intellectualized way of telling you that I think it could be true.

At any rate, I do know this:

Miracles abound. Sick people are healed. Alcoholics get sober. Seemingly impossible situations resolve in just a few moments of time if we are willing to notice it. I find that the more willing I am to believe in miracles, the more miracles I have in my life.

I have not had reason to float to a church ceiling yet but I believe if the need were to arise it would be entirely possible. This is not simply a matter of faith.

For me this is merely a matter of accepting that there can be a reality that exists beyond the one that I currently know. In that space, anything can happen.

And it probably will.

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