One of the things I love about our church is there is always a certain level of improvisation, particularly when it comes to worship. Our worship is well planned and very intentional and, like good improv, Ginger often uses what we have prepared and the talents she knows we have to offer and calls us to step into the moment, often in that moment. So it was, when I got to church this morning – about ten minutes before the service began – that James, our wonderful music minister, was walking down the hall saying, “Milton, I know you’re here. We need you for the introit.”
He found me. We practiced. Ten minutes later I was standing at the front of the church and singing
we plow the fields and scatter
the good seed on the land
but it is fed and watered
by God’s almighty hand
he sends the snow in winter
the warmth to swell the grain
the springtime and the sunshine
the cold refreshing rain
all good gifts around us
are sent from heaven above
so thank the Lord, yes thank the Lord
for all his love
I went to church this morning with a lot on my heart. My mother is having surgery on Wednesday and, without telling a story that is more hers than mine to tell, it’s a big deal. I went to church this morning, more than anything else, to ask my fellow Pilgrims to pray with me. Even though I live with the pastor, I had no idea what hymns she had chosen, but here is how they went down. After the introit and our call to worship we sang another favorite of mine, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” My heart hung on these words:
summer and winter and springtime and harvest
sun moon and stars in their courses above
join with all nature in manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness mercy and love
great is thy faithfulness great is thy faithfulness
morning by morning new mercies I see
all I have needed thy hand hath provided
great is thy faithfulness Lord unto me
Our prayer time soon followed. I told my church family what was happening in my family and asked for prayers for my mother. Others lifted up their joys and concerns, which included celebrating a ninetieth birthday with one of our dear ones, and then, as has become our custom, we sat quietly at the end of Ginger’s prayer and listened to the choral response, which begins with a piano instrumental until the voices finish the verse of another favorite hymn:
here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it
seal it for thy courts above.
After the children’s time, we sent them off to Sunday School singing
we are walking in the light of God
we are walking in the light of God
we are walking, we are walking
we are walking in the light of God.
When Ella was first learning to walk on a leash, she responded with a combination of distraction and determination to not go quietly down the street. In her one year of life (her birthday was November 4), she has chewed through five – count them, five – lifetime warranty leashes. One day, amidst the frustration of our endeavor, I decided I would see if singing might make a difference, and I began singing the same chorus we sang to send off the children, with one small change:
Ella’s walking Ella’s walking
Ella’s walking in the light of God . . .
As soon as she heard the song, she began trotting down the street and continues to do so even now. Something about the light keeps her moving. As I listened and sang this morning, I found the same is true for me.
After church and coffee hour, we had our monthly deacons’ meeting and, since it’s November, the budget was part of the agenda. As I’m sure is true in many churches, the discussion was colored by the present state of the economy, which pulled us too quickly to being distracted by all we think we can’t do rather than who we believe God is calling us to be in the year ahead. Though we didn’t sing to get ourselves back in the light, we did talk our way there. We will need to keep talking and remembering if we are to live into the words that were our closing hymn today:
not alone we conquer, not alone we fall
in each loss or triumph, lose or triumph all
bound by God’s far purpose in one living whole
move we on together to the shining goal
forward through the ages in unbroken line
move the faithful spirits at the call divine.
One of the reasons I love the last hymn is it takes the tune of “Onward Christian Soldiers” so we can sing about something other than war, which is not a metaphor for faith that does much for me. I’m not looking for a fight. I am looking to be reminded of what I know is true: whatever circumstances life presents, Love is the Last Word. When I remember who I am and Whose I am, as the old saying goes, I can also remember the best response to that kind of Love is gratitude.
Thank the Lord, yes thank the Lord for all the love.
Now I’m going to sing myself to sleep.