Thursday, July 12, 2006
Welcome back from vacation “Preacher”
Like many preachers, I came to the pulpit directly from the choir loft. That is, I like to sing. I have noticed that most ministers enjoy music. A few are excellent singers. Almost all the rest make up for any lack of talent with zeal. Having sat in the choir loft for many years, it was not as far a journey to the pulpit. At least that was the case for me.
I was in a college choir that sang for an evening service each Sunday at our church in Jackson. Unlike today’s collegians who are quite sophisticated and grave, we were actually capable of being silly and so the choir director would have us move down into the front pews and face the pulpit when it was time for the sermon to be preached.
Of course we were an excellent choir, but beyond that we realized that we were far superior in intellect to the preacher and so were pressed to find other things to do during the sermon, as there was obviously nothing coming from the pulpit that we would find either interesting or helpful to our lives.
Did I mention that sermons were quite long in those days?
On one of these Sunday evenings, groping for something — anything — to pass the time of our captivity, a buddy of mine hit upon the fact that if the hymn titles were read across the tops of the pages of the hymnal from left to right, comical phrases or combinations of ideas often emerged. We had great fun leafing through the hymnbook for examples of these — pity the poor church that merely put numbers at the tops of the pages by the hymns — and before long we had made mincemeat of the hymnbook from which we sang.
(It was very hard not to get ‘caught’ laughing during this naughty exercise — and, come to think of it, I am sure everyone realized fully what was going on. We should have been ashamed!)
The other day I ran across a copy of that hymnal and could not help leafing through the pages to see if the combined hymn titles were still amusing. A few were. Not all hymnals, by the way, lend themselves to such abuse — so perhaps the examples I will give will be a warning to anyone who ever undertakes to edit a volume of hymns!
(The hymnbook I will give these examples from is not and never has been the hymnal for singing in the church I now serve as pastor. I mention this only to save any bored auditors of my sermons the trouble of wasting their time trying to amuse themselves in this way when I am preaching to them!)
Here is what a look at my old college songbook revealed, reading across the tops of pages, left to right: “Once for All” “Tell Me the Old, Old Story.” “Anywhere With Jesus” “He Hideth My Soul.” “He is Able to Deliver Thee”—“In the Garden.” “I Want a Principle Within”—“Whiter than Snow.” “Moment by Moment”—“Does Jesus Care?” “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me”—“Pass Me Not.” “Jesus Calls Us”—“My Soul Be On Thy Guard.” “Soldiers of Christ Arise”—“Fight the Good Fight.” “Will There Be Any Stars?”—“Bring Them In.” “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains”—“The Morning Light is Breaking.” “Must I Go, and Empty-Handed”—“Work for the Night is Coming!” (It took me about as long to leaf through the old hymnbook to assemble this list as the length of one of those old sermons we used to listen to in Jackson.)
I do not know how much good, therefore, night church did me, except I did enjoy the singing, and now I am a minister.
These memories I recall do give me a good deal of humility when I see from my pulpit that people’s attention is drifting, and I hope I can say with some good hope and authority that much of what we get from church is absorbed subliminally — almost in spite of ourselves. At least that was the case with me.
My old Sunday school teacher claims to have been astounded when he heard that I had become a preacher.
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