In Memory of Pastor V.A. Guidroz

     In 1938, my mother and dad, R.L. and Ethel Downing, were married and in 1939 moved to Baytown to seek work. For the next eleven years, my dad worked to establish his business, Downing Roofing Company, while Mother established a stable home life for her children. Mother attended a Baptist church, carrying me along, but Dad, as many men in that era, was too busy trying to make a living to be concerned with church. Dad had opened his home and company to his many relatives who migrated from Oklahoma. In the late forties the Downing family worked hard, lived hard, and played hard.
     In about 1949, one of his brothers, O.E. Downing and his wife, Reba, suddenly changed their lifestyle after joining Peace Tabernacle, a Pentecostal church pastored by Reverend V.A. Guidroz. It must have been a dramatic change, because they began to pester Mom and Dad to attend church with them. For months, Mom and Dad refused, but sometime in 1950, my Uncle O.E. caught Mom and Dad in a weak moment and they agreed to visit Peace Tabernacle. To make a long story short, since this essay is not about my parents but about the Guidrozes, let me say that in a matter of weeks my mom and dad had been baptized in Jesus Name and received the Holy Ghost, and the homelife of the Downing family changed forever.
     Please understand that as I offer my impressions of the Guidroz family in the following words, they are created at least in the beginning through the eyes of a young boy. When we began attending Peace Tabernacle, I was seven years old. The pastor’s son sat down next to me in one of our early services and said, “I’m Ronny, and I’m six!" To which I replied, “I’m Bobby, and I’m seven!" We young boys liked to establish the pecking order as soon as possible. Glory Guidroz was the teacher of the Primary Sunday School Class, and to this day I can remember getting my fifth star in a row on her attendance chart and she declaring, “Bobby is now a member of our class!" I had found a home.
     Upon meeting Brother Guidroz, he seemed larger than life. He was a big man who was obviously in charge and did most of the talking. I was still a little unsure on the concept of “pastor." He was quick with a laugh, and seemed to enjoy talking to us kids. I thought it was so cool that he was missing a joint or two on one of his fingers. His influence on my mom and dad governed the way we lived, where we went, and what we wore, and Mom and Dad followed unquestioningly. Brother Guidroz loved to fish, but was a salt water fisherman, and my dad and mom did not eat anything that came out of the ocean. Dad and I fished rivers, lakes, and streams and had a bay-worthy boat, but it never tasted salt water. So I have no Guidroz fish stories.
     In fact, one of the strange things I had to get accustomed to once I started visiting the Guidroz home was something called “gumbo.”  The Downings were basically steak and potatoes, chicken and potatoes, ham and beans type of people, and when the first bowl of gumbo was placed in front of me, I had no idea what I was supposed to do with it. It looked like soup, but it wasn’t, and there were strange things floating around on the surface. I had been introduced to shrimp gumbo. It was like a whole new world had been opened up. To this day, my section of the Downing family loves gumbo.  Sister Guidroz, unlike her husband, was not larger than life, but rather seemed like a matronly grandmother (remember I was seven at the time, so anyone over 35 was antique.) Her place was the second pew on the left hand side (facing the pulpit) at the left end of the bench next to the wall. In those early years Ronny and I sat in front of her on the first pew. As soon as my family got to church, I would find Ronny, and we would play outside until church started. Running and jumping in the heat of a Texas summer until the very last second, we would slip into church, sit down in our places, and my shirt would be wringing wet with sweat. Sister Guidroz would lean forward, pat me on my soggy shirt and whisper, “Bobby, Bobby! What are we going to do with you!”
     When my family started attending Peace Tabernacle, the building which was Peace Tabernacle at 1102 North Main was pretty well complete. It was built in the standard format of construction of that era with a wood frame and outside asbestos siding. There were two story sections in front and in the rear that had been added to the single level auditorium area. A large attic fan pulled air through the open windows (no screens) in a usually unsuccessful attempt to cool the interior in the summers. We hot, sweaty sorts always tried to sit next to an open window to catch the air being pulled into the building by the fan. Didn't help much, but it was something. Speaking of the Downing family at that time, there was just Mom, Dad, my sister Judy, and I, and yet there seemed to be Guidrozes everywhere. Sons and daughters seemed to be in every classroom, and I quickly learned that a family is sometimes more than four people! Ronny's younger brother, Lowell, and older sister, Wanda, were about the only two I could relate to because the rest of the kids (in my seven year old mind) were old as the hills. Buddy, Ronny’s oldest brother, seemed a grown man to me, also. So Ronny and I created our own little world. Though he was a year my junior, he influenced my life more than he will know.     But that’s another story.
     In those early days, the Guidrozes lived on Lobit street, not too far from the church. One of the exciting things about going to the Guidrozes house with Ronny on a Sunday afternoon was I got to ride in their big Chrysler limousine. One daughter, Gracie, was wheelchair bound all her life, and the Guidrozes had this stretched Chrysler limousine with huge back doors and fold down middle seats. When Gracie came to church, they would fold down the middle seats, and Gracie and her wheelchair would be lifted through the big doors into the middle of the car where she rode to church. The thing I remember about that Chrysler was the smell. It had power windows, but they were hydraulically powered, and once the windows were raised or lowered a few times there was the slight smell of hydraulic fluid…not offensive, just distinctive. Over those years, I think I remember that the Guidrozes had at least two of these Chryslers. When I was older and able to drive, I was privileged to be the driver. The second feature I remember was that the Chrysler had Fluid Drive, which meant that it was a manual transmission, but by doing it just right, you could shift gears without pushing in the clutch. Very hi-tech in those days. In time, the Guidrozes moved to a larger home on North Eighth, where Ronny and I spent many nights talking about all the things that concerns young boys. On August 17, 1961, I spent my last night with the Guidroz family and my best friend. Actually, by then he was only my best male friend, because the next night I got married.
     Brother Guidroz was a legendary minister and teacher, and there are others who can probably more accurately tell of his accomplishments as a minister. To me, his most powerful skill was the ability to draw the lost soul to the altar at the end of his sermons. There was a time when I hated him for that skill. As I began to reach my early teens, I began to feel the drawing of the Spirit on my life.  AlthoughI had heard his “altar calls” many times, suddenly they began to feel directed to me, and as I resisted, I began to dread the ends of services. I can remember sitting on the back bench counting down the verses of whatever invitational song was being sung trying to make it to the point where he invited everyone to the altar…so I could escape to the restroom and hide. I held out for a long time until one service while I was hanging tough, I saw my good friend Ronny walking toward me with tears in his eyes, and I knew what he was going to do…and at that point I even hated my best friend. Ronny told me I needed to go pray, and I started to resist, but instead I began walking toward the altar. I didn’t receive the Holy Ghost that night, but it was a start, and I remember it as if it happened yesterday. A few days later, Brother Guidroz baptized me, and eventually, on June 4, 1958, about , standing on a sawdust-covered floor at the Texas Youth Camp, I received my personal Pentecost.
     In the ensuing years, Brother Guidroz’s influence on my life was second only to my parents. He preached a straight line, and my behavior and activities in school and at home were governed by the guidelines that my pastor preached to his church. Though he has been gone for many years, I see how events in the world have transpired, and I can’t help but think to myself occasionally, “Brother Guidroz was right.” In 1959, the responsibilities of Texas District Superintendent became too great for him to be able to pastor a church in the full-time manner he preferred, and, honoring the greater need of the district, he resigned the church which had never known another pastor but him. On that Sunday morning, as the clock approached , he spoke of the need for us members to not dwell on the past but look to the future. Offering prayers and encouragement, he asked us to turn around and face the clock at the back of the church. As we watched the second hand and minute hand approach high noon, he said what had passed was history. We could remember the past, but we needed to look to the future and have faith that though we may not understand, God would work it all out. At straight up , the auditorium went silent. We heard a click of the door at the back of the rostrum. There were a few sobs. We eventually turned to face the pulpit…and it was empty.
     Nearly sixty years later, we are still honoring the pastorship of Brother V.A. Guidroz. Several Peace Tabernacle reunions have been held over the years, and we who lived those early days still feel a bond of common experience. We have enjoyed a special relationship because we enjoyed a special pastor.