In my youth, we were split between two country churches, the Church of God and the Church of the Nazarene. The congregation and choir singing hymns together in each church was a large part of the Sunday service. I looked forward to singing hymns at the top of my lungs, but always dreaded the impending sermons.
In those days, the sermon emphasized avoiding sin, hellfire, damnation, and fearing the Lord. Ministers struck terror in the hearts of poor teenagers like me. I had disagreements with God and his behavior, but he also scared the bejeezus out of me. That’s a tale for another time.
I’ve enjoyed all types of music, but hymns hold a special place in my heart. Hymns were my earliest exposure to music and song. We had no TV but listened to dramatic radio programs in the evenings. My ability to participate was important to me, but listening to songs on the radio did not invite that. When I sang along with a tune I knew well, I was always singing alone. The Kingston Trio was never in the same room as me.
Fifty or more years later, when I hear someone like Alan Jackson singing some of the old standards, I’m brought right back to the old country churches. The Nazarene church was recently remodeled and added central air. I stopped by to visit on my last trip to Oklahoma a few years back. I would’ve enjoyed being there for a Sunday service, but time did not allow. You see, neither the devil himself nor the preacher scares me now.
Some hymns suited my voice better than others, at least in my opinion. One such was “The Old Rugged Cross.” Another was “How Great Thou Art.” Hymns like those stirred my heart, and I would bellow out the words with gusto. I wasn’t timid about any of them. “Enthusiastic” would describe my efforts on each. When the group was asked if anyone wanted to do a solo, my hand would shoot straight up.
I wish I had access to one of those hymnals we used back then. I only remember some of the content. I remember “When We All Get To Heaven,” “What A Friend We Have In Jesus,” “Standing On The Promises,” “When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder,” and “Blessed Assurance” as well. Recently, I went to the Avenue Church in Waxahachie with my friend, Edward, and was shocked to find that someone had changed the wording of the hymns I grew up with. Is nothing sacred?
Some of my other favorites came later. Cat Stevens’ version of “Morning Has Broken” was one such. I’d assumed for years that he’d written it, but later discovered someone else had in 1931.
“Precious Memories” and “Amazing Grace” have become so popular that renowned artists have recorded them over the years across several genres of music. Allen Jackson sings my favorite version of each.
“Amazing Grace” has become even more well known to the world from the movie “The Bodyguard,” in which Whitney Houston gives a powerful performance. The history of the man who wrote the song is as amazing as the hymn. He was a slave trader and about as immoral a man as you might imagine.
I’m not a very good singer, just enthusiastic. A “joyful noise” might be my only qualification, but you may have to plug your ears.