They buried his big Bible on his chest, but it wouldn’t stay buried. That was in 1949 in the Flatt Cemetery sandwiched between our place and the Union Hill Church of Christ. Its message is alive and well today in his posterity. Hiram’s family, the Ways and Pharisses, were among the earliest settlers in Jackson County, Tennessee. Their remains are interred in the Dudney’s Hill community just south of Gainesboro. The expectation of eternal bliss is expressed in the epitaph of his father, Sidney S. Way, “Gone To a Bright Home Where Grief Can Not Come.” His grandfather, and great, great grandfather of your speaker, has a tombstone inscribed, “Hiram Pharris, Minister of the Gospel, Oct. 28, 1849, Sept. 2, 1929, A Crown of Life For Those Who Love Him.”
One of the first cars I ever saw and rode in belonged to him. He bought it new, a model “T” Ford. The first radio I ever remember hearing was at his house. I especially remember the Saturday night Grand Ole Opry on his non-electric set. Fading in and out where Uncle Dave Macon, Roy Acuff and the John Daniel Quartet. The last time I recall sitting up all night in our version of a “wake” was at their house. It was our custom to sing from the old hymn book. It was then I learned many good songs of hope, “Will The Angels Come For Me?,” “The Grand Old Book,” “Home On the Banks of the River,” “O Wonderful City of God,” and “We Are Traveling To A Better Land,” “One By One We’ll All Be Gathered Home.”
This was a multi-faceted man. He even spelled his name two different ways, Hiram and Hyram. An old song included the lyric, “Some folks say that John was a Baptist, others say he was a Jew, but the Holy Bible plainly tells us that he was a preacher too.” Indeed, Pa Way wore many hats. He was husband to Ollie Pricilla Fox Way, father to Leo, Cleo Ann Way Flatt, Lillie, Joe, Ermon, Jessie, Hubert, Fred, Ruby, Helen, and Emogene, landowner of some 275 rugged acres, farmer, consisting primarily of corn and tobacco, schoolteacher for many years, including Union Hill Elementary, where I was one of his pupils, and “old time preacher man” mostly in Jackson, Putnam and surrounding counties. His message was the Old Jerusalem gospel. To preach is “to advocate earnestly to bring, put, or affect by preaching.” You will learn that he qualified as a preacher. Standing some 5 feet 6 inches tall, he was not so much of a man as usually defined in athletic prowess. Those who heard that booming voice and saw that sterling character knew he was a man.
The body of this treatise will center of Pa’s preaching, its content and effect.
THE OLD TIME PREACHER MAN PREACHED ON MORALITY
Moral purity saturated his life and his lessons. I can hear him calling for folks to “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord . . .” (2 Cor. 6: 17). With him there was a definite right and wrong, white and black, and not nearly so much gray. He did not drink or smoke, even a corncob pipe, although it was customary for some to do so. Pa carried on a one-man campaign against alcohol and the bootleggers. They made “shine” (“white lightning”) all around him. He would call the bootleggers by name from the pulpit. This caused his family no little concern, because it was not considered good for one’s health to tamper with their source of income.
Pa’s morals included decency and order in the church assembly I can remember some unsuccessful attempts by some “old rough necked boys” to disrupt his sermon. He would stop and firmly ask them to “hush or leave.” We feared for him, since we often knew the offenders. But Hiram came to preach and he was always successful.
THE OLD TIME PREACHER MAN PREACHED ON THE CHURCH
Of course, it never was brought up back then, but he did have a respectable balance between “churchanity” and “Christianity.” I think he believed you couldn’t have one without the other.
Some of my original memories of scripture about the church I heard him quote from the pulpit: Isaiah 2: l-4; Daniel 2:44; Matthew 16: 13-I 9; Mark 9: 1; Acts 2:37-47; 20:26-30; Ephesians 1:3 7. I can “remember like it was yesterday” a long-standing argument between Pa and another preacher (a good man) as to the birthday of the church. Pa contended it commenced on Pentecost (Acts 2). The other gentleman argued it either started as described in Matthew 16:13-19, or on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt. 17: l-9).
Pa Hiram did not do a lot a “mudslinging” or name calling of other churches. I have wondered if that might have been because other than the church of Christ there just were not many in our part of the world. Folks in the upper Cumberland of Tennessee will still tell you that “Harm” (the usual colloquial pronunciation) Way either personally started or significantly edified existing congregations all over those sacred hills.
THE OLD TIME PREACHER MAN PREACHED ON UNITY
He dearly cherished his Savior’s request “that they all be one” (John 17:21) and Paul’s tutelage “that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you: but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1: 10).
He was not a rabble-rousing trouble maker. The Sunday School issue was a great example. He did not want to, nor ever did he, split a church over this vital matter. He actually preached to a congregation that held opposing views in these regards. I remember thinking that he should “come down harder” against what we deemed as the “liberal” Sunday School people. I was later “converted” by the Baxter Church of Christ as I attended with my girlfriend, Lu Thomas. Immediately thereafter I attended Freed-Hardeman College solidifying my newly-discovered faith. I then wondered why Pa had not more sternly condemned the “Anti-Sunday School” group. He was a wise man. Apparently Pa Way and Ira North were on the same spiritual wavelength. Brother North often stated that it takes the church fifty years to recover from a split. Hiram never knowingly contributed to producing a schism in the body.
THE OLD TIME PREACHER MAN PREACHED ON THE CROSS
His was not a dry, intellectual treatise on the cross, but rather a tearful, personal description of the suffering Savior. Pa must have read John 11:35 often for he was a weeping preacher man. One lady said of him, “I often saw him cry when he was describing the crucifixion.” The same person noted that he would frequently extend such sermons well beyond an hour. She was still visibly touched when describing such memories. Hiram Way had a gift for personalizing the death of Jesus. I can still hear his big bass voice singing, “On A Hill Far Away Stood An Old Rugged Cross.” Even though I did not then believe so strongly in the cross, I had no doubt that the preacher who inspired me most believed it “from his heart of hearts.” Pa specifically pled the blood of Jesus as the atonement for sins. He made sinners very ashamed if they did not acknowledge and accept the supreme sacrifice for them. As I now look back at his sermon content, there is no doubt that his central theme was the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15: 1-8).
THE OLD TIME PREACHER MAN PREACHED ON THE HOME
Pa Way was pro-marriage; he was anti-divorce. He officiated for many weddings, mostly of a simple, country variety. It was a common practice for someone to interrupt his plowing, and other important chores, for him to “marry someone.” Now please don’t misunderstand because he wasn’t overly anxious for his children to “jump the broomstick,” which being interpreted is becoming husband and wife. His oldest daughter, my mother, was stolen away at night by one Benton Madison Flatt. They were in such a hurry on that May 4, 1929, evening that mother lost one shoe.
This old time preacher man’s formal sermons have faded in our memories, but the product of his own family was possibly his noblest work. “Though he be dead, yet speaketh” in his heritage. There was magnetism about this home. It was forged in deep love and bitter tears. It all started even before it started. When Hiram Way was courting Ollie Pricilla Fox, he once wrote her a letter with the biblical admonition, “Let love be without dissimulation.” (cf. Rom. 12:9). Their marriage took place in 1907. To this union were born eleven children, four of whom died as children, ages 1,7,8 and 9. Three of their babies, Ruby, Fred, and Ermon, died of causes that would probably be routinely successfully treated today. Jessie was almost ten when he went to water a mule down under the rocky hill from the house. The excited animal returned alone. They theorized that Jessie had been partially thrown off and caught his foot in the harness and was dragged. Pa Way held Jessie in his arms as he breathed his last on earth. Between Mama’s years of 7 and 20 she lost four siblings. Certainly the whole family never truly recovered from these losses. This was especially true with Hiram and Ollie Way. Ma Way grieved so much that she was unable to function to her full potential in later years. Pa was made a better preacher by all of this, especially a caring, sympathic and loving man. From the seven Way children who grew to adulthood, God raised up a strong army. All of the sons served as elders of the flock of God, three daughters were married to elders, and the youngest child is the wife of a deacon of the Madison, TN Church of Christ. The charter overseers of the home congregation, Union Hill, were primarily from this family. When one extends the scope of influence to the grandchildren and their families, there are numerous teachers, law enforcement people, song leaders, deacons, elders, superintendent of schools, and a half a dozen preachers of the gospel.
Prayer was in his home. People still recall the touching way that Pa talked to his heavenly Father. He never ate without pausing to thank God. When Ma was so sick, he kept her at home, allowing that he would treat her better than some of the brutal institutions of the era. He cared for his invalid sister-in-law in his home until her death. She was then “laid out” at his house until the burial.
And then there was our little 4 ft. 9 inch mama, Cleo Ann Way Flatt. Almost as close to her as the Lord Jesus Christ was her father. She lived like him, she read the same book (few if any in the family knew any more scripture than mother), and she referred to him frequently. Just a few days before her death I was playing two fine old bluegrass songs to her, and her response was: “As my daddy would say, ‘You can’t get any closer to heaven on earth than that.’”
THE OLD TIME PREACHER MAN PREACHED ON BOTH HELL AND HEAVEN
He accepted equally the “goodness and severity of God” (Rom. 11:22) on the one hand, as Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton used to sing, “He made hell so hot you could feel the heat.” On the other hand he made heaven so real you wanted to take the next train bound for glory. The subject of hell would be expected from an old time preacher man, and with Pa Way no one was disappointed. I first recollect the episode of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16) from this public proclaimer. Then there was 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 and Jesus’ admonition “. . . To go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43b-44). He often preached from John the Revelator, “and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name” (Rev. 14:11). When this preacher spoke of “weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth,” it was easy to visualize oneself being involved. He did not coin the paraphrase to Luke 15:3,5, “repent or perish, turn or bum” but he definitely believed it. However, those who listened to Hiram never felt that he wished for any in his audience to be damned.
Truthfully, if Hiram Way was a “hobby-rider,” it was on the subject of heaven. That isn’t a bad hobby, is it? Until this very day, I have never heard anyone make heaven seem more real and inviting as could this hill country preacher. Could the four reasons have been Ruby, Ermon, Fred,and Jessie? All the family would weep with him as he graphically pictured seeing them again. He verily believed Jesus’ promise to go and prepare a genuine place and return to get him (John 14: 1-3). When he talked of eating the heavenly feast at the marriage of the lamb, one could almost taste the meal. When he sang, “Heaven Holds All To Me,” it did not originate with the tongue and vocal folds. When the Flatt brothers first preached on heaven, they had long since memorized from their grandfather’s favorite key passages (Psa. 23; 2 Cor. 5:1-3; Rev. 14:13; 22:14).
THE OLD TIME PREACHER MAN WAS JUST THAT
If this is intended to imply going, preaching, caring, baptizing, evangelizing “without fear or favor,” in cold and heat, pay or no pay, then you are being introduced to a bonafide old time preacher man. He went wherever that horse, buggy, model “‘T”’ or model “A” Ford would take him. Frequently he was not given “a thin dime,” and he was known to come home from a “big meeting” with a little change in a tobacco sack. He believed so much that one must obey the gospel to be saved, hence he baptized many neighbors even on their deathbeds. Pa did most of his immersing in a creek, but he was not “too good” to baptize in an improvised hog trough. Pa preached analytically at times. He would unfold a scripture with the “line upon line” approach. I was also fascinated by his catchy topics such as “The Pale Horse and His Rider” and “There’ll Be No Infidels In Hell.” He believed in visual aids, often using home made charts. A less descriptive topic which I remember clearly was simply “Walking With God.” He probably preached more from the last book of the Bible than anyone I ever knew. He used a pragmatic application of the constant battle between Christ and Satan, good and evil.
With our modem day definition, this holy man would not qualify as a “full-time preacher.” In his case, as possibly in countless others, it is a serious injustice merely because he was not a “paid” pulpiteer. This might explain why the name, Hiram Way, has almost never been included in “One Of Our Brethren’s” church history treatments of preachers in Jackson County, Tennessee. Incidentally, if one really wishes to “speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where it is silent,” which is easier to find a “proof-text” for Pa Way’s type or those whom we define as our mainline preacher today? There is a need for both. This valiant soldier of the cross was a “located preacher.” Where was he located? He lived all of his life in what was then the 12th district of Jackson County, Tennessee. He seldom preached at the same congregation every Sunday.
His family was fully aware that the little big man, whom many called “Preacher Way,” was indeed just that—a preacher. They suffered along with him. It happened more than once, but a single example will illustrate how they were all involved. One very cold day he left riding his horse several miles to preach. There was no wood for the fireplace at home, so the family all went to bed to keep warm. Upon his return home, they were alright but he was extremely cold, his feet frozen to the stirrups of the saddle.
Our preacher man had some revivals that would rival any of the big campaigns today. Reba Denny Bilak tells of the night he baptized her along with dozens of others. She and her husband, Stephen Epi Bilak have been great missionaries for the Lord. He baptized 96 in a gospel preaching series at the Bethlehem Church of Christ in Putnam County, Tennessee. I find no record that he ever reported it to the Gospel Advocate. The Lamb’s Book of Life will have to do for now. The Flatt brothers have not reached his standard yet. Another grandson of Hiram, Arlon Way, has contented himself as a minister of the word to follow Pa’s lofty example.
Pa was a wonderful man, but I did see him sit down on the job. In my life I have seen two men sit and preach when they were too feeble to stand and do it. They were both from our home area; John William Fox and the subject of this discussion. Pa had “heart dropsy” and his feet and legs would swell horribly. That did not stop his preaching. As a teenager my eyes saw Pa (“Old Time Preacher Man”) sit there at Union Hill (where we first preached) and with as much power as he could muster tell the old, old story. What a memory!
Our title suggests a basic, fundamental, conservative, and Christ-like preacher. It is absolutely appropriate for Hiram Way
Singing has always been a meaningful part of our family. Several years ago I met a quartet in Boone County, W. Va., called “The Harmony Four.” I close with the words of one of their songs called “That Old-Time Preacher Man.”
“Well, I went down to the Big Camp Meeting, ‘twas most for to see the sights, but I got such a hearty greeting that I went back every night. They had an old time gospel preacher from the good book he calmly read, but when he started preaching about souls’ salvation, you oughta heard the things he said.
“He led three songs for the congregation and knelt in a word of prayer; he turned to chapter 5 in Matthew and he took his text from there. He preached the real old time salvation, and he suddenly proved himself, for after he extended the invitation, there wasn’t many sinners left.
“You oughta heard him when he preached the blessed Holy word, you oughta heard him, such a preaching you have never heard. Well, he looked the congregation right straight in the face, then he started preaching about the saving grace, preached about an hour of the sermon on the Mount, when he ended up he had the devil on the rout. You oughta heard him, that Old Time Preacher Man.”
-Leamon A. Flatt, 1988 Freed-Hardeman University Lectures, pages 92-99
-Leamon Flatt bio - Leamon Flatt grew up in Jackson County, Tennessee, and belongs to the Flatt family of preachers: Dowell, Don and Bill, He married Lu Thomas. his high school sweetheart, and they have three daughters: Cindy Phiffer, Phyllis Cooper. and Jennifer Flatt. The Flalts also have three grandchildren. Brother Flatt attended Baxter Seminary. Freed·Hardeman College (A, A.). David Lipscomb College (B.A.), Middle Tennessee Stale University (M.A.) and Michigan Stale University. He has preached for churches in Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee. He currently preaches for the Petonsville Church of Christ. Franklin, Tennessee. He has done extensive radio work. especially over station WMTS, Murfreesboro, TN. Brother Flatt has served in the following organizations: Murfreesboro Exchange Club (Past President), Middle Tennessee Chapter of the Red Cross (chaplain and board member). Slone River Manor (board member) and Middle Tennessee Life Underwriters (board member and Past President).
|Directions To The Grave of Hiram Way|
The Union Hill - Flatt Cemetery is located in the small east Tennessee community of Bloomington Springs, Tennessee. Located on Hwy 290/Shepherdsville Hwy. access from I-40 is as follows. Take I-40 to Exit 280 and head north on Hwy. 56/Gainesboro Hwy. Go about 6.4 miles and turn left on Shepherdsville Hwy. Go another 1.2 miles and the church and cemetery will be on your right. The name Flatt is well known in these parts among churches of Christ, as many in the family have been preachers and church workers. Many of the people buried in this cemetery are kin to the Way family. Several members of churches of Christ are buried here including another gospel preacher, Hiram Way's grandson, Dowell Flatt.
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Photos Taken May 14, 2013
Courtesy of Scott Harp
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