By all accounts Hudgins was a man of impeccable taste. More than one admirer called attention to his refined and meticulous manner in both personal and professional affairs. "A very thorough man, who paid attention to the smallest detail," wrote the historian of the church in Houston which Hudgins pastored in the early 1940's.(1) Jackson Parishioner Lewis Wilson, owner of an upscale habidashery near the state capitol, once told a fellow church member that it was easy to admire a pastor who "was always so smartly dressed and conscientious about style."(2) Dark elegant suits with pin stripes; crisp, white shirts; silk ties, and black leather shoes, shined and buffed with abandon. "He dressed like a Philadelphia lawyer," former parishioner and philosophy professor Clayton Sullivan noted in his memoir; "he was a man of manners and suaveness."(3)
One early newspaper profile described the young Hudgins as "a Godly man, who frowns on levity, looseness and lack of correlation in the church" ("correlation," decorum and propriety).(4) The article praised Hudgins' belief that "a church service in its uniformity is not unlike a beautiful piece of jewelry."(5) All the elements that go into making the service a work of art must be finely wrought, and then preserved against defect and blemish. The article further commended his distinctive "method" of conducting the "ordinance" of baptism... "In a baptism which takes approximately two minutes, a candidate under his guidance enters the baptismal pool and assumes what appears to be a submerged horizontal position. Only the nose and a part of the face of the candidate remain out of water. Then the doctor places his left hand, in which he holds a handkerchief, on the candidate's face, gently and briefly allows the face to be submerged."(6) To be sure, it was not unusual for the Baptist minister to employ a white handkerchief in the baptism "ordinance"--grown men might otherwise come rocketing out of the water, coughing and gasping for air if their mouths were not properly covered during immersion. But Hudgins' method, and the exquisite detail of the two minute procedure, is more indicative of his own spick-and-span take on religious life than of an ordinance which, at least in Baptist tradition, has no ritualized form. Hudgins showed that every aspect of church life must conform to a high standard of exactness and orderliness. (A Jackson journalist noted that on the day the new educational building was occupied, the pastor, "mindful of the fresh carpets, followed the movers up and down the corridors with a vacuum cleaner."(7))
Consider his opinions on "furnishing the pulpit." In an article written for The Baptist Program, Hudgins exhibited a breathtaking fastidiousness for detail.(8) The "pulpit and the platform on which it is set" should be maintained with considerable care; its size should be "compatible with its surroundings" and its style in keeping with the architectural theme of the sanctuary with a pleasing finish and decorative scheme. Above all, it must appear pure and simple: "even the most streamlined reading lamp detracts." Hudgins felt this strongly: "The pulpit should not be a catchall for a couple of hymnbooks; notes left over from a departmental or general superintendent; bulletins three or four weeks old; small articles lost by members of the congregation; or other miscellaneous material. If a microphone is used, let it be as inconspicuous as possible. (Ours is 'hidden' by an ingenious inner installation.)"(9) There should be no incongruity of upholstery in the chairs behind the pulpit; no mixing of varnish tones or furniture styles. "Neither put a pair of incongruous upholstered lounge chairs behind a correctly styled pulpit. Let the furniture 'flow' together so that it becomes a 'whole.'" The meticulous detail of Hudgins' pulpit was intended to command the congregation's complete attention; as he said, "all furnishings and decorations should let the eye focus itself on the pulpit area--not away from it."(10) Hudgins' extraordinary conclusion is a fitting metaphor of the closed society over which he faithfully presided: "Keep the platform and the pulpit free from all clutter. Let them be an attraction to the spirit of worship."
(1) "Dr. W. Douglas Hudgins," The History of First Baptist Church, Houston, p. 40.
(2) Clayton Sullivan, Interview, January 13, 1995.
(3) Clayton Sullivan, Called to Preach, Condemned to Survive: The Education of Clayton Sullivan (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1985), p. 51.
(4) Arthur Laro, "Profiles," np, nd.
(5) Arthur Laro, "Profiles."
(6) Arthur Laro, "Profiles".
(7) Anne Washburn McWilliams, "W. Douglas Hudgins: Man for this Hour."
(8) W. Douglas Hudgins, "Furnishing the Pulpit," The Baptist Program, August 1957, p. 26.
(9) W. Douglas Hudgins, "Furnishing the Pulpit," The Baptist Program, August 1957, p. 26.
(10) W. Douglas Hudgins, "Furnishing the Pulpit," The Baptist Program, August 1957, p. 26. Emphasis mine.