On Sundays we had two services. The morning service and then a second one in the evening around 6:30. Given that our max attendance was ninety the gathering at night was only about twenty or so. The diehards. We'd have a song service, a short sermon and then offer the Lord's Supper to those who were unable to attend the morning service.
Some nights, mainly during the summer, we'd use the Sunday evening service to do a song service. We'd sing for the entire hour. We'd call out song numbers from the hymnal and then the song leader would lead them. The fact that I, as a younger person, could call out a song that we all would sing thrilled me. I guess it was the participatory aspect. But it was also affirming to call out a song that everyone was excited to sing.
These are deep, powerful memories for me. Singing gospel songs in a small church, fans a-flapping (there was no air conditioning), on warm summer evenings. I fell in love with church on those summer evenings. I have no idea why. Most of my peers hated church, Sunday evenings in particular. What kid wants to go to church twice in one day? But I loved it.
We don't sing those songs much anymore in my church. We don't pull out the songbooks. We have PowerPoint now and the songs we sing are generally borrowed (and translated from instrumental to acapella arrangements) from the worship albums of the Christian music industry.
That's not a judgment. Just a descriptive observation.
On Monday nights at the prison bible study I help lead there is a transition from Herb to me. (We basically do two different lessons back to back.) And during that transition I've started getting out the songbooks and singing for 15-20 minutes or so. And as there are no instruments in the prison chapel we sing acapella.
Most of the inmates were not raised in the church. So they know only a few of these old gospel songs. And so it has been a great joy of mine to introduce them to all the songs of my youth. And they love it. Every week they ask me to teach them a new song. And some of these songs I haven't sung for decades. The last time I sang some of these songs I was sitting in my little church on a warm summer night when I was in high school.
So I look at the song and try to remember the opening notes. (I can't read music. I learned by listening.) I hum to myself, searching for the tune.
And then I find it. And then a flood of memory, with so much emotion. The whole song comes rushing forward. It was there, all along, deep in my memory, deep in my bones. And I start to sing. The guys listen, then begin to join in with verse two.
Oh, how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,And as we sing I'm a kid again, sitting on a pew with a songbook in my lap, and calling out hymn numbers.
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
Oh, how bright the path grows from day to day,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.
Singing again on a warm summer night.