Honoring my grandfather, in life and in death

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John Fountain interviewing his grandfather George Hagler Jan. 2017, at the True Vine Church of God in Bellwood, which Hagler founded in 1973. | Photo provided by John Fountain

After all the whooping and hollering above the revving organ, the white-collared preacher began closing his fire and brimstone eulogy of my grandfather with a thinly veiled rebuke of me —   my grandfather’s second-eldest grandson, who honored him throughout my life and also in his death.

Angry apparently over words I had spoken minutes earlier at my grandfather’s funeral in March, he said in fiery Pentecostal tenor to a few spirited Amens:

“Y’all need to recognize when the spirit of the Lord is on His vessel. The audacity for any flesh creature to take the stage, on this day, of celebrating that God, for this life, God help you…”

Then he proceeded to make an altar call.


No, the audacity, bruh preacha, is to act like you know more than family. To speak on something you know absolutely nothing about. To make assumptions without information. To patently wink at the real disparagers of a man’s legacy and to attack its upholders.

The audacity is to think that your preacher’s collar gives you wisdom or discernment. To act like you care more about my grandfather or his grandchildren or the posterity of his family than I do  — than we do.

How dare YOU stand in one final moment in honor of a man’s life — when you have been mostly an outsider, and his grandson has known his grandfather 57 years  —  and speak as if you are his defender, or even deem that he needs defending from me. Audacity?

Now, that’s audacity. It is also pomposity. And it speaks to the hierarchical sense of privilege, power and self-righteousness that exists within the church. In my grandfather’s death a preacher invoked my grandfather’s name in a memo to fellow preachers to remember to pay their reports  —  as Bishop George A. Hagler always did.

He paid his reports, yes. He loved the church and was faithful beyond reproach. Steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.

And in the end, what did the church do for him? A faithful man, loyal in sickness and in health, faithful unto death.

Did “the church” pay for his funeral service? For his casket? For his vestments? For the repast?

How about the funeral programs? Or his necktie? Did “the church” even allow his grandchildren to rehearse at the church he founded in preparation to sing at his funeral? Did they offer his widow any monetary memoriam or even a refund of part of his recently paid annual report?

Let me answer in King James speak: “Nay.” Not even though the family soon received word shortly after my grandfather’s death that “the church” (national) owned “the body.” Huh? They owned none of the bill.

And what from this preacher? Not one red cent.

It’s not about money. It’s about principle. About what’s right. About honoring in life and death good men who serve and love.

At the services at the church we helped our grandfather build, I said what I said  because I love what my grandfather loved most other than God: Family. And I praised him in writing for the world to see.

I love him still. I am his grandson. His blood courses through my veins. I am family.

And I couldn’t help thinking this past Memorial Day as I remembered my grandfather  — a loving man, a kind man, a World War II veteran and my hero  — about that preacher who had the audacity to try and check me for the last words I spoke at my grandfather’s funeral.

“I’m family, man,” I keep thinking to myself. “But, bruh preacha, just who the hell are you?”

Email: Author@johnwfountain.com

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