Memories of the Church on Wheels

Back in the 1920s and ’30s, a mobile minister spread his message of salvation from our driveway.

Church on Wheels

Church on Wheels

Traveling minister Lawrence Greenwood, left of the man with the trombone, poses with the Gospel Patrol church on wheels and his musical crew in front of a grocery store in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, during the 1930s.

 

Story by C. Bruce Wright
Kennebunk, Maine

I can see it now—the silver-tongued, dashing preacher and his “Church on Wheels” parked in the driveway my parents shared with our neighbors in Bath, Maine, during the 1920s and ’30s.

This traveling house of worship, also called “The Church of the Open Door,” looked like a traditional white church with its steeple and curved windows—but it was anything but ordinary. It was portable, fitted on the back of a truck and easily detached for religious services. Side lettering on the church on wheels announced the “Gospel Patrol,” home-based at Wiscasset, Maine, even though its actual residence was our driveway.

The minister behind the wheel and up front with the messages was the Rev. Lawrence Greenwood, a Bible-preaching evangelist. He was a fascinating man, always well dressed in a three-piece suit and white starched shirt with a matching detachable collar. I remember him often looking at his pocket watch and twirling his distinguished salt-and-pepper mustache. The Rev. Greenwood gathered a large following as he preached from his traveling pulpit accompanied by a trio of gospel singers and musicians. His oratory rang out in clear, resonant tones in the open air. He preached the doctrine of salvation through belief in Jesus Christ. He lived with Olive and Frances Barron and their brother, Fred. The Barron sisters were deeply religious. They called the radio “The Devil’s Voice” and wouldn’t allow one in the house. This was a bit of a problem for Rev. Greenwood, though—the pastor didn’t want to miss his favorite programs.

As Olive and Frances got older, they became hard of hearing. Apparently the reverend thought this was his chance to sneak a radio into his upstairs bedroom. We could hear his radio blaring in the summer evening air when he had his windows open. Unfortunately for him, the sisters could hear it, too!

The radio had to go. Every weekday evening thereafter, the evangelist had an “urgent reason” to visit my grandfather, who lived in the house on the other side of us. Sharply at 6:35 p.m., he would stride purposefully across our front lawn, ready to listen to his favorite programs at Grampie’s home. We’d meet there to hear Lowell Thomas with the news at 6:45, followed by Amos and Andy. We’d cap off the evening with a few games of dominoes.

There was a special feeling of closeness with family, friends and God during these evenings. I learned much about life and morals through our games and conversations.

Through the Rev. Greenwood’s spiritual influence, friendship and teaching, I accepted Jesus Christ in January 1943 just before I left for military service in World War II. My preacher friend wrote to me regularly when I was in the Navy and sent me Bible study readings.

The Rev. Greenwood was a unique, effective evangelist and orator. His delivery today might be considered outdated and overly dramatic. Yet the simple but profound message of salvation that he delivered is still spread today. For this I’m sure he would be grateful and approve with a hearty “Amen.”

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