Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

Church Dialect In Appalachia

Little White Church In the Valley
Today’s post is a special addition to my usual dialect posts-Appalachian Vocabulary Tests-and Appalachian Grammar Lessons.

I’ve wanted to do this post since December 2010 when mourners bench showed up on the Appalachian Vocabulary Test for that month. I was surprised most folks weren’t familiar with the term. So see if you know these church terms which are common in Appalachia.

  1. Mourners bench-bench or seat placed at the altar of a church and used for calling out to God in need; symbolic for altar. “Let’s all gather round the mourners bench and have a word of prayer for the coming revival.”
  2. Churched-to expel or discipline a church member for violating the tenants of the church covenant. “Well he surely knew once he ran off with Deacon Holcomb’s wife they’d both be churched.”
  3. Church house-the physical building where people attend worship services. “One of the worst whippings I ever got was out under the oak trees in the church yard. Granny switched my legs good, because I was never ever to run in the church house.”
  4. Prayer meeting-weekly Wednesday night service; also can be a special service called at someones house-usually someone who is sick. “At prayer meeting last night they said old Mrs. Reece had died. I didn’t even know she’d been sick.”
  5. Brush arbor meeting-revival or special church service held outside usually in the summer months. “We’ve been going up to Andrews to that brush arbor meeting they’ve been having beside the 4-lane. They’ve had the best singing you ever heard.”

These are all terms I hear on a regular basis. Back in the day brush arbors were truly made with brush roofs. Even though its still common to hear the term most all brush arbors in my area are tents, but they’re still called brush arbors.

Pap says Wednesday night prayer meetings were started during WWII. People wanted to meet and pray for the many men of the community who were fighting in far away lands.

The example I used for Church House-is true. By far the worst whipping I ever remember getting. I wonder if it stands out in my mind because I knew well and good I should never ever cut up in the Church House, but I did it anyway.

Hope you’ll leave me a comment and tell me which church terms you’re familiar with.




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  • Reply
    Ray C. Presley
    March 24, 2022 at 10:52 am

    It’s been a good while since I’ve heard the term, “BACKSLIDER” which referred to those who’d been “saved” but gone astray. Sometimes it took a real effort to get them down to the altar so that the congregation could pray over them. get them to re-dedicate their lives, get up and fly straight.

  • Reply
    Ray Presley
    September 9, 2021 at 9:39 am

    Guess I’ll have to join the throngs who have never heard of “brush harbors.” There was one time when we held church out in the woods before the church was fully constructed and we surely would have welcomed a roof of any kind when it got rainy. I grew up as a Missionary Baptist although my Mother was a Primitive or “hard shell” Baptist. We never went to a Holiness Church, but we always like to peek in the windows at the “Holy Rollers.” Even the congregation in our little church could become very animated. If the preacher made a very astute observation and pointed out certain behavior, one of the deacons might shout, “Amen, Hallelujah, brother” and then many others might join in.

  • Reply
    July 22, 2018 at 1:23 pm

    I am familiar with all of those terms though we had tent meetings, I was told it used to be Brush arbor meetings. Have you heard of “getting happy” used for when one is really feeling the Holy Sprit? One of Mom’s cousins would put her head back and laugh, cry and be clapping her hands in air to the singing during homecoming. She would whoop with happiness. Yes, old time Baptist church. Another man would jerk his head back repeatedly. Those are just examples. After church one Sunday we were talking of how good God has been to us and one kid started preaching. He is a preacher today. Still have homecoming followed by dinner on the ground though followed by rest of day a singing. Anyone who wants to sing can take a turn too but some come and set up speakers which are wheeled in. I was told older Christians and parents would take kids/teens to the altar/ mourner’s bench and pray for them, begging God to get them on right way and plead for their souls. Each church also has same homecoming and same decoration days. Everyone knows the schedule; second Sunday of (specific month) decoration up on (such and such) church (sometimes naming the community). Decorations were normally in Springtime or early summer while homecomings were usuall late summer or Fall.

  • Reply
    Myra Henry
    August 27, 2017 at 10:26 pm

    Interesting read, as always. I’ve only heard of Brush Arbor in the music group. Never even questioned where that came from. Guess we were a little behind the times in North Eastern KY.

  • Reply
    shelia henning
    August 27, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    I remember the prayer meetings on Wednesday nights and foot washing service. Tent meetings and of course revivals were common terms we heard in our Freewill Baptist Church in Dante, Va. We met and played with many of our cousins on Sunday and usually a cousin or two would come home with us or vice versa and return to church on Sunday night with us. We had a strawberry patch in the back of our church and I recall one Sunday during alter call when we quietly left the church to pick strawberries.
    That only occurred once because my father disciplined sharply. It was a family church with lots of aunts and uncles. We were very poor but honestly didn’t realize it because everyone else was as well.
    Fond memories. Thanks again Tipper!!

  • Reply
    April 3, 2017 at 10:46 pm

    Church house and Prayer meeting are very familiar to me. I’ve heard of a Mourner’s bench, and Churched sure sounds familiar…at least in theory if not the exact word! I’ve never heard of a Brush arbor meeting, though.

  • Reply
    Ronnie Seals
    April 3, 2017 at 12:33 am

    “I’ve been saved, sanctified and filled with the sweet Holy Ghost.”

  • Reply
    April 2, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    Heard them all. Mourners bench was in a hymn our church sang regularly : Number 10 Meeting in the Air.”Many things will there be missing in that meeting
    For the mourner’s bench will have no place at all
    There will never be a sermon preached to sinners”

  • Reply
    Barbara N Gantt
    February 13, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    Every summer, we go to a church camp that was started as a brush arbor meeting. That was in the mid 1800’s. They have pictures of the horses being tied up in long lines. Peter Marshall has one book that has a lot of history of brush arbors. Interesting read.
    Churched is not a term that I have heard. The other words are used here. I have heard church house used to describe the parsonage. Barbara

  • Reply
    Eldonna Ashley
    February 12, 2017 at 3:35 pm

    “You ain’t going to whip me are you Mommy?” — A noisy child was being taken out during meet in’. Suddenly everything was quiet. We all heard every word. Yes, I was there. I still know her, I am just a bit older than she.
    I have heard all the vocabulary. I have experience with all except brush arbor. Like others, we had all day meeting with dinner on the grounds.
    When I was growing up my church did not believe in eating in the church. There was a separate Fellowship Hall a few blocks away or dinners and wedding receptions. They built a new church, it still does not have a kitchen. The rent the senior center building fir churc fellowship. My husband is a retired pastor, at one of his first pastorate so there was a kitchen but no dining area. People just took their food into the pews. I was mortified. I became a member of that denomination, it was very similar except for the eating thing.
    It was common to call all female members Sister. Sue Leath was Sister a Sue to the adults and Sister Leath to the children. All the men were correspondingly called Brother.

  • Reply
    May 23, 2016 at 8:59 pm

    Tipper, my memory of worst whipping was under oak tree at the church I grew up at. I certainly behaved in church after that.

  • Reply
    May 23, 2016 at 9:43 am

    All of these terms are unfamiliar to me. My family is Lutheran, and has been for generations, all the way back to Germany. These traditions are outside of my experience. Interesting to hear about.

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    September 20, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    I have never heard of churched or brush arbor meetings.All the others I am very familiar with.

  • Reply
    September 20, 2011 at 9:54 am

    I remember going to tent meetings as a child and was familiar with all these except brush arbor. There is still a place in Boyle Co. Kentucky called Aliceton Campgrounds where everyone comes to meetings and either camps or stays in the small buildings on the grounds.

  • Reply
    brenda s 'okie in colorado'
    September 20, 2011 at 1:50 am

    I remember going to the old brush arbors with my Granny in Oklahoma in the 60’s. It was a true brush arbor. It was always at night with dim light and lots of bugs. Prayer meetin’s and church house were common, but we called the mourners bench an alter. Haven’t heard of churched. I have seen many “get the holy ghost” and talk in tongues. I was also very frightened of a big heavy woman preacher that would visit my Granny’s church. She once was playing the piano and singing, bouncing on the piano bench until it broke. She jumped up and kept playing. Again, on another visit, she was preaching and shouting, banging the pulpit, until she and the pulpit came tumbling down one step to the alter. All the deacons ran to help. She jumps up and keeps preaching. She would walk around and preach to everyone and it scared me the moment she would come close. I would inch my way under my Granny’s wing. She was a very passionate Christian. And, you always wore your Sunday go to meetin’ clothes.

  • Reply
    September 19, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    I’ve heard 3 and 4 but not the rest.

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    September 19, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    I’m familiar with all of them — more from reading than from experience. Another I like is ‘He’s a ‘foot-washin’, tongues-talkin’ Baptist.’

  • Reply
    Dee from Tennessee
    September 19, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Know all except brush arbor — just have heard tent meetings which are still held every now and then around here. If you ever get a chance to go to Dr. Ralph Sexton’s tent meetings (he’s from NC too!) , I promise you’ll receive a blessing. That was the last tent meeting I went to about three yrs ago in Bristol Tn. And wished I could have went to Tony Gore’s tent singing just recently held at Pigeon Forge. My grandparents usually said church house or meeting house. THANKS for Pap’s explanation of the Wed. Night Prayer meeting for I have wondered “when” they came about because I can remember when many rural churches only had a minister to come every other week. They had Sunday School every Sunday, but they only had “preaching” every other week. It’s fun to wait and see what everyone says…love your comments.

  • Reply
    September 19, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    I new of Tent Revivals but never
    heard the word Brush Arbor. And I
    had two cousins that got “churched” and their daddy was
    a preacher. The girls got seen
    wearing shorts during the week by
    some of the deacon’s wives.
    And during the revivals I went to
    at our local church, a couple of
    older ladies would hit the floor
    a shoutin’ soon as the music got

  • Reply
    B f
    September 19, 2011 at 10:48 am

    well i remember the revivals when
    they would walk the aisles and try to get the sinners to the altar and one of the great older saints of the church would head straight to me , bless her soul, i still shrink when i in my minds eye how she would(with tears) beg me to come to the altar , and she was a great lady and scared me to death)ha) now isnt that like a young teenager? well i learned that all she said was true and eventually i found that altar and how i wished i could go back and do things differently,i,d have obeyed her and the Lord a lot sooner than i did , much to my regret
    well so long for now , ienjoy’the pig” more than you know

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    September 19, 2011 at 9:22 am

    Tipper, I am familiar with all of these except churched. I have always heard turned out used. As in, Ol’ Pete got caught with the deacon’s wife and they “turned him out of the church” At revivals I have heard so many times that they “shouted the house down last night”. I don’t know if you have ever heard a bunch of people shouting in a revival service on a hot summer night in an old country church but the memories are forever etched in my mind. In my adult life I worship in a more calmer atmosphere but I do cherish those memories.

  • Reply
    Karen Twiss
    September 19, 2011 at 9:10 am

    Tipper-I have heard all those terms. And it is interesting to go back and read church history…you will find the term “churched” and “turned out of the church” used quite often.
    Karen T.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    September 19, 2011 at 7:54 am

    i’ve heard and used all these terms plus “meetin house” which means the same as “Church House”. Like you pointed out many years ago a “Brush Arbor ” was a temporary shelter with a brush roof for shade used before some areas could build a Church House. The reason they needed the shade was many Revivals would be all day events and some went on for weeks with multiple preachers holding forth. “Passin the Plate” was the cause of another descriptive term “Back row Baptists” which were frugal folks who would slip out the back when the collection was taken. I think all Baptist children have had proper “Church Behavior” explained to them with a limber switch or a bridle leather belt. Keep the memories comin even though they’re not all pleasant.

  • Reply
    September 19, 2011 at 6:24 am

    All of those and in one of my blog posts i wrote about ‘all day singings’ and ‘dinner on the grounds’, frequent events as I was growing up.
    Are you familiar with these?

  • Reply
    Pat in east TN
    September 19, 2011 at 5:57 am

    I am familiar with all but ‘churched’. We also have homecoming here, or dinner on the grounds.

  • Reply
    Judy Mincey
    September 18, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    We used “Read out of church.” Know and used all others since childhood. Union Grove Church in Gordon County, GA began in a brush arbor right after close of Civil War.

  • Reply
    Bobby C
    September 18, 2011 at 11:26 pm

    Proudly I say that we still use all of these. Although we don’t have a brush arbor, I’m familiar with the term. A lot of our country folk have a slightly different take on mourners bench, calling it a “moaner’s bench”. Which is what it sometimes sounds like when someone is praying. Also, we often just use the term “meetin'” to refer to the church service…for instance, “Did y’all have a good meetin’ last Sunday?”
    And you NEVER run in the church house…and back in the day, not even in the church yard, or one of the Deacons would get on to you for sure.
    Thanks for posting these and keeping the Appalachian heritage alive.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    September 18, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    I have heard them all-some folks around here still go to Sunday Meeting! Another one I’ve heard all my life is “churchy”, to be called that is not exactly complimentary. It describes a person who is so judgemental that no one can quite measures up to heaven’s standards. (Except themselves, of course.)

  • Reply
    Mary Berrong
    September 18, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    I have heard all except “Brush Arbor”, we just called them “Tent Meeting or Tent Revival”. I remember going to “Decoration Day” with my folks at Bryson City. The graves were all dirt, no grass, with the dirt piled up to a point on the grave and flowers were stuck in the dirt or placed on top. There was preaching and singing and Dinner on the ground. Quite a day!

  • Reply
    susie swanson
    September 18, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    I remeber hearing all of these. Churched meant you got thrown out, which is what happened to my Dad one time. But it was his uncle, who was the preacher that did it. I’ll not tell why he got churched. I wrote a poem back in the spring Tipper about Decoration Day and Dinner On the Ground..

  • Reply
    September 18, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    Charlotte- Yes! Revivals are still very common place around here!
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    September 18, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    Have you ever heard of someone “speaking in tongues?” That happened quite often at The Assembly of God where I went with my Grandma. Also before any meal, someone would “offer the blessing.” Also, “take up an offering.” I’ve heard all of those that you posted.

  • Reply
    baarbara Gantt
    September 18, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    I know and use them all. Another one is homecoming service, dinner on the grounds(meaning church grounds). We go to a church camp that is 124 years old, it was started as a brush arbor. Barbara

  • Reply
    September 18, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    Tipper I am familiar with the last three. Do people still have revivals?

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    September 18, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    All but churched.
    We used to go to tent meeting revivals with Grandpa & family. They let anyone who wanted to sing specials. One night a lady was going to sing the twenty third psalm. She cut down “And the Law-aw-aw-aw-w-w-w-w-w-w-w-w…d” in a dreadful screech! It went on for what felt like eternity. One by one we fell to laughter, sneaking out one by one to just roll out behind the cars–we could still hear her of course. Even my daddy who never had much of a sense of humor finally snuck out too. It’s one of those major family memories.
    I used to be scared to death at those revivals at the altar call–the preacher would get down & walk the aisles preaching fire & brimstone as he went & exhorting people to go to the altar. I just knew he was going to come & preach directly to me. Than kfully it never happened.

  • Reply
    B f
    September 18, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    i,ve heard most all the old time
    phrases, we had “all day singing and dinner on the ground’ and preaching too.and when i say on the ground i mean on the ground , not in a fancy church kitchen ,
    things have changed since we called it “meeting” but as long as we are going with a right heart and a right spirit we have to go with the times , somehow i wish we had known back then what we,d be missing in later yrs

  • Reply
    Tim Mclemore
    September 18, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    All of these terms are very familiar with me,except “churched”, we use excommunicated or “with draw fellowship”, one of the saddest days I can remember was one whom the Church excommunicated one of it’s members, everyone was really sad for having to do it. One that is not used today in our area, but brings back memories, is brush arbor. I can still remember those nights setting under the brush top, and having services held all week long.

  • Reply
    September 18, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Tipper that same dialect was used in southern Mississippi too. The mourners bench is now the Alter.

  • Reply
    September 18, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Have heard of them all except churched. We always said they got kicked out of church. Glad to hear Pap tell about the Wed. night prayer meeting. I always thought you could get enough on Sunday without going to Wed. nite prayer meeting.

  • Reply
    September 18, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    I’ve heard all of those for years. There is so many of those terms. One that always stuck in my mind was one I bet you have also heard. Whenever there was someone (usually a boy) that the members of his family or church members believed needed a good dose of religion they would say “You know I think the best thing we could is to take him to prayer meetin’ tonight and get’em dipped!” “I’d like to see that boy get in the Gospel Trot just once.”

  • Reply
    Sam Ensley
    September 18, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    I remember all of the terms. The mourner’s bench in our church was where the mourners (unsaved) would kneel and the others would pray with them until they were saved.
    Another term that went with this was “Under coviction.” A person who admitted he/she was lost and wanted to be saved was under conviction.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 18, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    Not words that I have heard much. I have known what churched is and what the church house is and that’s about all.
    Tipper, I do better with the vocabulary tests!

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    September 18, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    there is a portion of The Reach of Song that takes place in church and when I saw that I lost it — took me right back to many times in many churches as I was growing up. The whole pagent was such a powerful message. My favorite times were the all day singings and dinner on the ground days.

  • Reply
    September 18, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Great to read these. I too am familiar with all of these and another one we celebrated every year was our Church Homecoming, we always had a preacher come to do the 11:00 am service that had previously been the pastor at the church, then dinner on the grounds if weather permitted or inside if not then special singing by different groups that visited for the day. It was a great time that we all looked forward to all year round and what a great spread of food, all the best country cooking anyone could ever hope to have.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    September 18, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    Heard church house and prayer meeting, but not the others. Always heard “churched” as those who attended versus those who don’t, the “unchurched”. Went to many a Wednesday “prayer meeting” at the “church house” growing up.

  • Reply
    September 18, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    I think I’ve heard and used them all except brush arbor. My cousin recently visited and jokingly said something about getting churched. I thought she was making up a word until I remembered hearing it when I was a kid. If we ever “acted a fool” in church, Lord have mercy on us! That would have been every bit as disrespectful as stepping on or over a grave.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    September 18, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Church house, prayer meeting, churched. Brush Arbor Meeting is new.

  • Reply
    September 18, 2011 at 11:42 am

    Even though I’m not from the mountains, my dad’s family is… and I’ve been familiar with all of these terms… what about ‘all day singing and dinner on the grounds?’

  • Reply
    September 18, 2011 at 10:14 am

    These are all very familiar and used quite often here too.

  • Reply
    September 18, 2011 at 10:05 am

    church house and prayer meeting are common for me, i knew mourners bench, but never used the words. churched, we just said excommunicated and the arbor is not one i have heard. daddy did not switch me at church, he was the pastor, but when i got home i was switched for talking in church, several times

  • Reply
    September 18, 2011 at 10:02 am

    none. i’ve heard the first one, but wasn’t aware what it was. and churched is familiar from somewhere, just in the air, i guess. not the others, especially the last. i know of wednesday evening services, and of prayer meetings, but never that they were specifically that. and church house is pretty self explanatory, i think.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    September 18, 2011 at 10:02 am

    I’ve heard them all and routinely use prayer meeting for Wednesday night service…
    Churched…I have not heard in that context as expelled from the church one is attending…
    I thought as I heard it that one was very well brought up in a church house or well churched!
    Thanks Tipper, another interesting post…

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