I was blessed with Christian parents. As a child, our church was the epicenter of my life.
Sunday mornings I attended Sunday school and morning services, Sunday night preaching with BTC (Baptist Training Course), and Wednesday nights found my family at prayer meeting. Daddy acted as Sunday school superintendent until being ordained as a deacon. Mama worked in the nursery, preferring babies to agitated toddlers and older children.
My favorite part of church, then as it is now, was music. Preachers came and went but the good old Broadman Hymnal outlasted them all. I can see and hear Vada Sue Strahan playing the organ and Evelyn Kimzey at the piano tickling the ivories. Our Baptist church was too small for a music director, so a series of song leaders beat out the four/four time of our congregational hymns.
Some songs were rousing toe tappers and I favored those over other melodies. One favorite number begins with, “What happened to the amen corner, what happened to the bench for mourners oh my Lord, what happened to the old-time way?” My cousin Dee and I proved a hit on the church all-day singing circuit as 10-year-olds. Dee played the piano and I sat beside her on the bench. We belted out “Old-time Way” in two-part harmony to the delight of the good Baptists around us. “Well, well, well, I don’t believe in modernized religion, I don’t believe in hypocritism, I just like the good old heartfelt way.”
Another favorite hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul,” featured a heavy bass line in the chorus and my great Uncle Lester carried the congregation with his booming bass voice. “It is well, it is well with my soul.” I can hear him now; the memory is comforting.
Mama loved to sing hymns and she often sang around the house. On busy days she simply hummed her favorites, but while ironing or cooking she raised the rafters with “Do Lord, oh do Lord, oh do remember me,” or “I saw the light, I saw the light, no more derision, no more doubt. Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight, praise the Lord, I saw the light.” If Mama was melancholy, her heavy soprano vibrato echoed, “When my way grows drear, precious Lord linger near, when my life is almost gone. Hear my cry, hear my call, hold me lest I fall. Precious Lord take my hand, lead me on.”
Daddy wasn’t a singer, probably because his low vision prevented him from reading the small print of the Broadman and, too, he had already lost a majority of his hearing, but Daddy loved Elvis’ rendition of “How Great Thou Art” and “Peace in the Valley.” Dad was a “soul” man, who could have known?
I sit outside in the early mornings and on occasion watch the sun rise. I commune with God and hymns play in my brain. “In the Garden” rolls around in my head and comes out my mouth. I am my mother’s daughter, so I sing around the house too, but my favorites are “Great is thy faithfulness, oh Lord my father. There is no shadow of turning from thee. All I have needed thy hands have provided, great is thy faithfulness, oh Lord to me.”
The Broadman Hymnal is frayed and yellow, edited with marks to remind me when and where to breathe in the songs. It lays atop my copy of “Bridge over Troubled Water” in a box in my attic, but it lives within my heart. No matter the denomination, I believe most people raised in church recognize the music included in the rites of their service.
God blessed us with the ability to make and appreciate music. I hope the hymns bless you and enrich your family while living The Sweet Life.