Abide with me…

My parents didn’t go to church when they got married in 1942. Mom was raised by her maternal Dutch grandparents, and attended church regularly growing up. (Mom’s mother died when she was 2 weeks old. Her father was not ready/capable of raising infant twins in 1927) Dad said when he was a kid his family attended the Methodist Church occasionally but not consistently. About a decade into their 62 year marriage, they joined a small church called Calvin Christian Reformed. My sister Mona (more on her later) was born in 1943, my brother Larry (I’ve done several stories about him) was born in 1946 and the unplanned tag along brat baby of the family Denise, (me) blew into their lives in late 1950. I believe all 3 of us were baptized in 1953 after Mom & Dad became members. Most of the churches in Rock Valley had 2 services on Sunday, so I spent a lot of time in church, plus catechism, Sunday school and children’s choir.

Calvin Christian Reformed Church, Rock Valley, Iowa, mid-50’s…

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,

And He tells me I am His own.

And the joy we share, as we tarry there

None other has ever known….

Thus, there aren’t many Sabbath’s between the years of 1953 and 1987 where I wasn’t sitting in a pew, usually twice a day. I’m trying to think why we stopped going for a spell after we moved to Michigan. Don’t know, we had great neighbors and they all attended services at various churches, but we just stopped going for a dozen years. After we moved to North Muskegon and languished at home on Sunday mornings for a bit, just as suddenly-we started going again. It felt really good-for a spell.

This is my home church…

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine, Oh what a foretaste of glory divine.

Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of His spirit, washed in His blood.

This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior, all the day long.

This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior, all the day long…

My dissatisfaction/disappointment/frustration with organized religion was my fault. I joined too much. Volunteered too much, saw too much, heard way too much, felt disillusioned, but was not ready to give up my Sunday mornings in the pew. When a minister told me September 12, 2001 that the attack on the Twin Towers was America’s fault, I was done. We changed churches and I swore, (sorry God, just a figure of speech) I would simply sit in my pew, (ownership issues) sing the hymns (now lip syncing cause I can’t carry a tune with my hearing loss), say the Lord’s Prayer, Apostles Creed, listen to the message, AND GO HOME. But that’s not what God had in mind for me. Sigh.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,

When you are discouraged thinking all is lost.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

Count your many blessings, see what God has done.

God thought (no, He was sure) I had a job to do for this congregation. A select group from the congregation who no longer attended services because of age or illness. I was compelled. (Think the story I wrote is actually titled “Called”). But with this dream vocation came all kinds of required “church-business-meetings-stuff” which hindered my visits because I was in church rather than visiting. Church politics are unpleasant and not for the feint of heart. Hated every minute. After about a decade, I just walked away. From my wonderful mission and the church. That was 6 years ago and I haven’t been back. To any church. But I digress.

He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock, that shadows a dry, thirsty land.

He hideth my life in the depths of His love, and covers me there with His hand,

And covers me there with His hand…

These two congregations were about as different as night and day. The first one was an encompassing community church. Families from surrounding neighborhoods with lots of children. Much of the service was geared towards children/youth/family. They had adopted a more contemporary style worship. Praying for soccer tournaments that their kids were participating in, youth skits, children’s choir. The second Methodist congregation was more traditional. Sanctuary was 90 years old, with beautiful stained glass windows, and took up a city block. In its heyday (the ’60’s, when the vast majority of folks went to church on Sunday-period) it boasted (God doesn’t really dig boasting so maybe not the best word choice) 1600 members and 3 services on Sunday morning, but had shown a steady and steep decline since then. When we joined in 2004, there were 2 services with about 250 attending, but the member scrolls tallied closer to 450, many who were now my responsibility. But this church was located in a dying downtown where the wealthy folks who used to walk to church had long since moved to the burbs.

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide. The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide.

When other helpers fail and comfort flees. Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me…

This was more like the type of church I grew up in. Somber, serious, revered, traditional. The size of the building, organ and age of the congregation were different though. We were in our early 50’s and among some of the younger crowd. There was a youth group, though very few kids under the age of 8 for children’s sermon. The church was struggling but not to the point of admitting it yet (it got so much worse). I felt comfortable/needed/loved by those I saw on a regular basis. My list who no longer attended was significant.

It’s me, it’s me oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer.

It’s me, it’s me oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer.

Not my father, not my sister, but it’s me oh Lord, standing in need of prayer.

Not my father, not my sister, but it’s me oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer…

A friend of mine recently posted an article that piqued my interest about different styles of worship service today. Namely big screens versus old-fashioned hymnals. I’m not surprised how strongly I feel on this subject. How can one worship God without a hymn book in your hand? Not possible. Sacrilege. Who wants to look at a 20 foot white screen with huge words (maybe a cute dot that moves below each word to help you keep up because there’s no music)? Where’s the reverence? I love how each song in the hymnal has verses 1-4, sometimes 6, plus the chorus. I know I’m pitifully old fashioned, not keeping up with the times, resisting the new guitar music accompanying praise (raise your arms and sway them-no I cannot. Because it reminds me of being at a rock concert. Where’s my lighter? Hey, I love concerts but that’s not how I want to sing praise to God).

I love to tell the story of unseen things above,

Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love

I love to tell the story, because I know tis true.

It satisfies my longings like nothing else will do…

For over 60 years, the most meaningful part of worship for me has always been the hymns. I love hymns. I have more memorized hymns/verses/chorus lines than I ever imagined possible. I can’t remember why I walked in the kitchen (most likely to snack) but those old fashioned hymns from the ’50’s & ’60’s have been stored in my memory bank and remain secure, loved, nurtured, appreciated and cried over. Many of which I haven’t heard in decades. I don’t know if these old favorite hymns are still popular and sung on a regular basis in some churches, but as a (now lax) Methodist, the hymns that make my throat close tight and my eyes lose focus from the tears, (so most of the time it’s impossible to sing these favorites anyway) are not used very often. What is it about those hymns I sang repeatedly as a child that continue to hold so much meaning for me?

There shall be showers of blessing, this is the promise of love.

There shall be seasons refreshing, sent from the Savior above.

Showers of blessing, showers of blessing we need,

Mercy drops round us are falling, but for the showers we plead…

This non-acceptance/it has to be my way hymn fetish reminds me of a wonderful lady I visited for several years. She had dementia and her faithful husband could no longer care for her. He placed her in a nearby long term care facility and spent part of his day (everyday) sitting/talking/watching tv/reading in her room. Over the years I watched her steady decline. Her use of language was almost nonexistent. Her head didn’t turn as her husband and I conversed. She was in another world and we weren’t privy to it. Aside from being Parish Visitor, I had volunteered (too much-yeah you’re preaching to the choir) to bring Communion to the shut-ins once a month. I took a class exploring the meaning and significance of Communion, and had a specific liturgy plus scripture from Sunday’s service to read. We were taught a certain way to dispose of any leftover sacraments. When I stopped to give Barb Communion, something miraculous happened. Every single time. She’d be in her own lost world, not even looking at me. But when I started reading the liturgy, she’d listen intently, bow her head as I prayed and open her mouth for the sacraments. Every month. That’s the way I feel about singing my favorite hymns holding a real hymn book, not up on the big screen.

I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free.

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me…

Compounding my hearing loss and the constant noise/ringing in my head for the last 20 years has been a challenge. I have this fabulous antique clock that I can actually hear if there’s not too much extra noise/sounds going on. It simply goes tick, tick, tick. But I love that I can hear that particular sound. It brings me comfort and I find it very soothing. Often a song will pop in my noisy head which perfectly matches that methodical tick, tick, tick. On a loop in my head and might stick with me FOR DAYS! A normal person might go stark raving mad but it bothers me not one whit. (Usually it’s a hymn cause I remember all the words).

Tick, tick, tick…

I will Sing of my Redeemer, and His wondrous love to me.

On the cruel cross He suffered, from the curse to set me free.

Sing, oh sing of my Redeemer, with His blood He purchased me (He purchased me).

On the cross, He sealed my pardon, paid the debt and made me free (and made me free)

8 thoughts on “Abide with me…

    • Aww John that’s really nice to hear. Thanks for reading and I always appreciate your comments. Those spicy cinnamon chunk pickles are still waiting here for you if you ever have time to stop and see us….

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  1. I so agree with you. I am afraid I don’t remember the verses as you are. I hear so many, even young people say they miss the hymns and yet they are left out. Guess I had better have hymn sings at home!

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    • Calvin Christian Reformed was instrumental for my life long love of old hymns. That’s where I really remember them from. Look. Forward to hearing about your home hymn sings. Thanks for reading and commenting Judy…

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  2. It’s me, Denise, “It’s me, it’s me oh Lord, standing in need of prayer.”

    Can we share prayers for each other’s recovery, Denise? Also for John and Betty who care for us.

    Thank you, Paul

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    • Of course Paul, prayers coming your way. Are you hobbling around on crutches? I can’t use them as my balance is not very steady with them. Did you need any hardware added to your ankle? John’s been very patient with this patient but I’m now doing most of my chores except for vacuuming and he still hauls in most of the groceries for me. Hope your recovery is smooth and without a lot of pain…

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  3. I’m a church pianist who plays whatever the song leader want. Last week she was out of town and asked me to pick songs. “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” was the first one. Even though the congregation leans toward contemporary, there were more folks singing that hymn than I’ve heard in months! I think we should use songs based on content and ease of singing, not what year they were written. I’m a fairly new Christian so there are old standards from the 1800’s that are new to me. I love those with great Gospel words!

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    • I love this praiseplayer! It’s often the hymns that really mean something to us, the ones that have touched us somehow. Although it seems the ones that mean the most to me, I often end crying all the way through and can’t sing anyway! Almost all the hymns in this story were from when my parents just started going to church. These hymns have been stuck in my head for 60 years. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. (And God really loves new Christians)…

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