Election2000 - Gore Church - Story1

Election2000 - Gore Church - Story1

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The vice president's hometown congregation is a family church for soul-saving worship

By David Waters

ELMWOOD, Tenn. - The New Salem Missionary Baptist Church of Al Gore's grandparents and his youth is still, in the words of its current pastor, "just a little, old-timey Baptist church."

Men still pray on their knees. The King James Bible still is the only text for worship and the only curriculum for Sunday school. They study the Word of God here, not some Baptist publisher's words about the Word. The pastor preaches on Sunday and supports his wife and three children by working at an aluminum factory during the week.

In the sanctuary, the pulpit still shares center stage with the mourner's bench, a single pew set in front of the pulpit facing the congregation. People who want to be saved--and 40 years ago that included a youngster named Albert, who worshipped at New Salem many summer evenings--are expected to spend some quality time on the bench, grieving their sinful state before finding salvation.

"We aren't like a lot of those Baptist churches, where all you have to do is say the words and be saved," said Thomas Gibbs, church deacon and treasurer and a member of the fifth of six generations of Gibbses to call New Salem their church. "Being saved isn't a decision you make, it's a change in your life. You're forsaking the sinful ways of the world for the ways of God."

Al and Tipper Gore were baptized at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Arlington, Va., the Southern Baptist church they've attended regularly since Gore was elected to Congress in 1976. But Gore still calls New Salem his home church.

It's a family church--two or three extended clans gathered for soul-saving worship.
TAKE THE POLL
The tour of Al Gore's church made me think...

He's more an old-fashioned Christian than I thought.

He doesn't belong at New Salem. He's a Southern Baptist.

He doesn't belong at New Salem. He's a liberal Democrat.

His choice of church accurately reflects what I expected of him.

The tour didn't affect my opinion of him.

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Gore has spent most of his life away from this back-breaking world of his grandparents, "Mr. Allen and Miz Maggie" Gore, who lost nearly everything in the Depression. Their grandson was born in Washington, D.C., attended a private Episcopal school there, went to Harvard, and married a Virginia girl. In the early 1970s, he took eight classes at Vanderbilt University's Divinity School before going on to law school.

story_page1 Gore's rural Tennessee roots are a critical--if less understood--part of him. New Salem represents the populist South his parents left behind when his father became a U.S. senator. But they made their son understand: This is part of you, too.

Here, old-timey Baptists still refer to their pastors as elders, a title they regard as more biblically correct than reverend. Their church pastors aren't trained in school--they're called by God and they preach extemporaneously.

"You study the Word and you pray, and when you get up there to preach, you're led by the Holy Spirit," said Elder Michael Agee, 39, the church's pastor. "Sometimes, you get up there to say one thing, and the Lord changes your mind. I had a good 'un prepared last Sunday, but the Lord had something else in mind."
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