Columnist: Discovering the ‘Hymn of Promise’
Church venues strike an interesting emotional chord. While I am not against church as an institution, I find that while I, of late, have contributed to the declining statistics on church attendance, I am refreshed by certain circumstances I have brushed up against on Sunday mornings.
Sometimes when I am in a big city on Sunday, I enjoy walking into a imposing edifice where the organ is as full throated as a drill sergeant. Organ music commands your attention, it resonates and is a reminder of the story about a Catholic service when a priest came out and began a chant, “I am father Flanagan. I am the vicar of the church. I make six hundred dollars a week. It is not enough.”
Next, another priest appeared and his lyrics were similar, “I am Father Shea. I am the pastor of the church. I make eight hundred dollars a week — it is not enough.”
Following the priests, came the organist who began with, “I am Sister Sue Ginsburg, I am the organist of the church. I make twenty five hundred dollars a week,” and then with high-fiving rhythm she sang, ‘There’s no business like show business.’”
In New York, I often drop in on a service at St. Patrick’s. The rich and the poor comingle throughout the week. Street persons are welcome. The organ dominates the atmosphere to the extent that its sounds are sometimes audible at Saks on Fifth Avenue where the widow’s mite would not be enough to buy you a cup of water.
Visiting St. Peter’s in Rome is every Catholic’s dream. I once was there for a canonization service, appreciating that nobody checked my Baptist credentials. The Pope came in on a platform, shouldered by a fleet of young men, causing cheering like you never have heard to erupt.
It was like Notre Dame beating Southern California for the National Championship. The pomp and circumstance at the White House takes a back seat to the Pope at St. Peters.
If you are in need of being a better person, the church might help. Churches do good things, giving alms to the poor, among other things, but I can’t let go of the knowledge that all those beautiful cathedrals in Europe, more often than not, came about from the labor of lowly peasants who likely gave more of their income to the development of the cathedral than the crown or the church hierarchy.
When I pass by a mega church, I think about those cathedrals and how they came about. Give me the church in the “Valley by the Wildwood.” Give me “Summer Chapel” in the countryside near Cashiers, North Carolina, where there is more singing than preaching.
Summer time is here, and one Sunday you can count on my driving up just for a Sunday morning service at “Summer Chapel.” Give me a service on the banks of the lake where folks dock their boat and listen to a short and elementary sermon, accompanied by a guitar playing soloist. Give me a black church at Shellman Bluff where spirituals are sung with heart-felt emotion.
The one vote for mega services would be to hear Billy Graham. His wonderful voice and his message, which always underscored simplicity and sound reasoning still audible in consciousness. And, who would not enjoy the voice and the crescendo of George Beverly Shea?
Recently, I was at a church service, trying to keep my mind from rambling as the long winded minister droned with momentum from the outset. He seemed to be pointing his finger at me with every epithet.
Tuning the minister out, I reached for the hymn book and began flipping through the pages, finding myself delighted to locate, “Whispering Hope,” and hummed its stanzas under my breath. Then there was the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” such a grand old song.
Eventually, I found a new hymn as hymns go. “Hymn of Promise” was written in 1986 by a lady named Natalie A Sleeth, who died at the age of 62. The lyrics warmed my heart and toned down my contempt for the message emanating from the pulpit:
” In the bulb, there is a flower, in the seed, an apple tree,
“In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
“In the cold and snow of winter, there’s a spring that waits to be,
“Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”