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Shirley Gaither, 54
Evangelist and Pastor’s Wife

I got this hat at a friend’s yard sale for ten dollars. She had paid eighty-five dollars for it. I almost lost this hat when I was preaching on the women’s day service at the Middle Fork Christian Church.
       The title of my sermon was, “Run and Tell That.” It was about when Jesus met the woman at the well. I said that we women sometimes talk too much, but the things that we need to tell, we don’t tell.
       When Jesus told that woman everything she had done, the Bible says she ran back into the city. And I said, “We run and tell everything we shouldn’t tell, but how many of us will run and tell your neighbors the truth? Run and tell them they need to be saved? Run and tell them that God can set them free?”
       The Spirit was movin’ in that place. In holiness churches, we don’t just sit around all quiet. We know how to make some noise. I’ve been a pastor’s wife for 23 years and I’m not ashamed to have a good time in the Lord. And when I said, “You need to run,” I went to demonstrate how we should run, and that’s when I went one way across the pulpit and the hat went the other.
       My hats crawl off ‘bout every Sunday. It’s no way to hook ‘em on. One of the members will just pick it up and hold it until I sit down. When you get into the praise and worship service, and then the Spirit hits you, you forget about how sharp you think you are. That ain’t what it’s about no way.
       Basically, I say that you shouldn’t have anything that’s more important than praising the Lord. I’ve never had a hat, no matter what it cost me, eighty-five or a hundred dollars, that I said, “I’m not going to shout today because I have on my pretty hat.” I’d never let materialistic things like a hat be more important than getting my praise on, as the young people would say.
       When I was getting ready to leave that church, I realized I didn’t have my hat. When I went back for it, one Mother said, “I was hoping you wouldn’t come back. I was going to keep this hat.”
       I wear hats every Sunday because I want to set an example. The Bible says, “Women, adorn yourselves in modest apparel.” As the first lady of the church, if I came in there in dresses with splits all the way up my leg, then I couldn’t ever tell the young women that this or that is not appropriate.
       Sometimes, for example, women will wear those short skirts to church. If they sit on the front row, I tell the nurse to go put a scarf over their legs. I mean, my husband’s up there trying to preach and some woman’s sitting on the front row with the gates of hell wide open. I feel like telling some of these women, “You better leave me alone because you don’t know what I got delivered from. I might look all refined in my pretty hat, but I might have just been delivered from using a hawk blade knife.”

Excerpted from CROWNS by Craig Marberry (photographs by Michael Cunningham). Copyright 2000 by Craig Marberry and Michael Cunningham. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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