The History and Spirit of the House of the Lord Church
Before we get into the life and times of Mother Inez Conry I want to back up and include a document that was not in my possession at the time we were recording the earlier documents of the church.
In 1952, the desperately ill Bishop Daughtry placed the responsibility of the churches on Elder Inez Conry (1897-1977) whom he had ordained a few years earlier. Elder Conry served as the National Presiding Minister or the Bishop of the House of the Lord for eight years. She was a strikingly imposing woman. She was tall and slender with a very serious demeanor. I often thought that she was descended from the Watusi tribe in Africa. From her bearing, one might get the wrong impression that she was mean or unfriendly, but nothing can be further from the truth. She was a gentle, kind, sensitive, compassionate woman. She was very soft spoken even when she was delivering a stern message.
In her preaching, she evinced knowledge and understanding for Scripture that gave the impression that she had spent long hours studying, praying and meditating. It is often talked about in the church how she would walk from one side of the table that sat in the middle of the sanctuary. And as she would walk to the other side, she would slide the Bible from side to side. We thought it strange that she would not pick up the Bible, as was the custom, and teach with the Bible in her hand. But again, it showed that she internalized and grasped the material that she wanted to teach.
She was a deeply spiritual woman always teaching and preaching about prayer and fasting. By her slender appearance one could be led to believe that she fasted all the time. The assessment would probably be true.
She was also a disciplinarian. During the time, our church, and most Pentecostal churches were rigid in their behavioral demands. It seemed, in those days' churches spent more time on the don'ts than the dos. For example, when I was a child, before ten years of age, we were forbidden to enter a movie house. My first movie was Gunga Din. My brothers had to sneak me in. Of course, television was not created at the time.
We couldn't even shoot marbles because that was considered gambling. My brother, Robert (Bob) and I joined the marble contests in Savannah, GA. We played for the championship against opponents in Augusta and we won. But we could not bring our trophies home. Of course, and any dancehall or parties other than the church parties were outlawed. Secular music of any kind we were forbidden to listen to. As for apparel, our sisters had it worse than the brothers. Jewelry and makeup, very little makeup was accepted, but no lipstick.
There was a story from one of Billy Graham’s services, that a man said to him, “that was a great sermon Reverend, but your wife had on lipstick and I missed my blessing because of the lipstick”, to which Reverend Graham replied, “thank you very much for the comment. I think my wife’s lips is a strange place for you to have your blessing”. All of the dresses they wore covered the human body as much as possible. It was in this climate that Mother Conry continued the work of Bishop Daughtry. I don't know how strict and rigid he was about these matters. I don't know if in time the lines became tighter and tighter. But Mother Conry put forth maximum effort to remain true to Bishop Daughtry’s teaching. The younger members of the church talked often about how Mother Conry approached them about eye shadow, lipstick and jewelry. In other words, regarding their general appearance. But there is a strange kind of attitude among young people and maybe the older people, while they resented the strict teachings, on the other hand there was an appreciation for Mother Conry and her teaching on these matters. It may have been her concern, her compassion and understanding. She was doing what she thought was the best thing for them and the church.
She was a tireless traveler going back and forth to Augusta and visiting our churches in between. She had children and grandchildren, but whatever family and employment responsibilities she had, it did not stop her from carrying out duties in the church.
For eight years she shouldered up the responsibilities of the church against the criticism of the men of the church to sabotage her leadership she remained steadfast. She withstood their attempts to sabotage her leadership. She always believed that she was put in place to hold the church together until one of the Bishop's boys would come to take over.
How do we evaluate the leadership of Mother Conry? If we evaluate solely on the basis of increase of members and/or number of churches then one would have to say that she was a failure. Membership did not increase and in time some of the old church members died or relocated. It was a time of the Great Migration from the South to North and West America. Young people were not attracted to the church with its rigid policies and practices. And its non-involvement in social programs and actions. Also we have to take into account the constant criticism, the undermining of her leadership and the departure of some of the ministers when they realized that they were not going to be the bishop. Then one would have to say she did an extraordinary job.
I recall, during the years I traveled as a revivalist, being in California at Bishop Cleveland's church. Bishop Cleveland had one of the more famous Churches of God in Christ. It was the custom after service that we would have a night snack. On one occasion I told the people around the table. “My dad used his influence to put a woman as the National Presiding Minister,” then suddenly this woman stood up in a trancelike state and said, “I see clearly why your father would not leave the church in the hands of a man, because if a man had been the bishop, you never would have become the leader of the church. In fact, you would have been blocked at every turn and maybe forced or so discouraged to the extent that you would leave the church.”
But he knew that Mother Conry would be obedient; that she would carry out his wishes to the inch degree, never faltering, never failing, but holding on till the end. So, when we assess Mother Conry’s leadership, we must keep in mind the people who were leaving for various reasons and there was little help that she could count on. As I stated the men couldn't be trusted there were few women with leadership qualities and not many youths.
So, what was her achievement, what is her legacy and did she exhibit any of the spirit of Bishop Daughtry? Yes, she was a success and in her eight years of administration we see evidence of Bishop Daughtry's presence. She was tough. As I stated she gave the impression of being tender because of her slim bearing but she had a toughness about her that could endure “ the whips and scorns of time… the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune …and the thousand natural shocks” (‘To Be or Not to Be’ Soliloquy, Act 3 Scene 1). I have stated the relentless criticism to which she was subjected and that she had the courage to stand. She was not going to be forced from the church and not even from the office of Bishop to which she had been appointed by Bishop Daughtry.
She manifested her wisdom that can be seen in her holding the churches together with such a distance separating them. Also, her creativity; she established the Annual Memorial Ceremony to honor Bishop Daughtry. She established an Annual National Sunday School convention. Thus, we see, Bishop Daughtry's toughness, wisdom, creativity, and most of all his determination to serve God and serve the people.
To be continued…