Monday, September 3, 2012

An Unusual Morning in Church

Church – it seems like an odd thing to do on a Sunday, but what the heck!
by Charlie Leck

We went to church yesterday morning – Sunday. It was quite remarkable, but, then, as I think about it, events at our church are almost always remarkable. It’s a very old Congregational Church in downtown Minneapolis (Plymouth Congregational Church). It has a history for very outstanding, progressive and scholarly preachers. It unapologetically proclaims itself as a “liberal church.”

Though the sermon was awfully good this morning (on the Song of Songs, or the Song of Solomon), it was the music that stole the show.

A young, 13 year old pianist – who, along with his family, is a member of the church – played the big Steinway grand piano for both the prelude and the postlude of the service. People don’t usually hang around for the postlude. After the benediction they head for the doors or the big room where we have a coffee hour following the service; however, the congregation had been quite so stunned by the young man’s performance of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A-Flat and Debussy’s Reflections in the Water that they sat down quietly to listen to Two Etudes by Chopin (Etude in F Major and Etude in C Major). Stunning! The congregation rose in absolute unison and gave young Evron Ozel a standing ovation. I was quite flabbergasted and had tears of happiness in my eyes.

During the service, a quintet headlined by the brilliant soprano, Maria Jette, performed a Negro Spiritual that was incredibly moving. It was a work arranged by John W. Work in 1955.

O give me your hand, give me your hand,
All I want is the love of God,
You must be a-loving at God’s command.
What kind of shoes are those you wear
That you can walk up in the air?
Goin’ to talk to the Father, goin’ to talk to the Son,
Goin’ to talk about the work I left undone.

“Oh, my,” I said to myself as Ms. Jette sent shivers through my body and seemed to calm my soul. “Oh, my!”

As if that wasn’t enough, the main hymn of the morning was a melody with Native American traditions – a song, or hymn, of the Dakotah nation. The hymn was originally written by Joseph R. Renville, after whom Renville County is named and who helped establish the church’s mission in Lac qui Parle, Minnesota. The lyrics were paraphrased in 1929 by R. Philip Frazier, a Native American and Congregational minister who went to the same college from which I graduated. It’s a remarkable hymn and it was the first time I’d ever heard or sung it.

        Many and great, O God, are your works,
Maker of earth and sky;
Your hands have set the heavens and stars,
Your fingers spread the mountains and plains.
Lo, at your word the waters were formed;
deep seas obey your voice.

        Grant unto us communion with you,
O star abiding One;
Come unto us and dwell with us:
With you are found the gifts of life.
Bless us with life that has no end,
eternal life with you.

The sermon was specifically about the biblical book of Solomon and why it’s included in the Judaeo-Christian scriptures even though there is not a single mention of God anywhere in it. I was completely satisfied with the minister’s beautiful explanation; HOWEVER, I’ll save a review of that for another time.

Church? I don’t know why I don’t go more often. Perhaps, however, if I went more often it wouldn’t be quite so enjoyable. It was my wife’s birthday and it was one of her birthday wishes that we should go to church – ergo, we did!

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