What a wonderful weekend!
After recent maladies (see last week’s post) kept me home, this Saturday I was finally able to drive over the (Arkansas) river and through the (Saline County) woods to spend some time at Couchwood, home of my BFF, Pat.
Pat is a poet, novelist, and accomplished musician. Her first career was as high school music teacher, but she also served as choir director, pianist, and/or organist in her local church before retiring a few years ago. She was lured out of retirement in December to assist in worship services at a small church in Grant County. Which leads me to tell of the blessings I received this past weekend.
Sunday morning we drove through the beautiful countryside below Saline County to Ebenezer United Methodist Church in Tull, Arkansas (Pop. 486. The town not the church.). A white steeple appeared as we rounded the last curve on Highway 35. Just past the cemetery and up a short rise sits the white building that houses a congregation established in 1885. A poster on a side door gives the dates and hours the food pantry is open.
The inside of the sanctuary looks much like the typical country church with the sign (available at Cokesbury Books) announcing the number on roll (35), the attendance and offering the previous Sunday.
I am recognized instantly as a visitor, of course, and introduced from the pulpit as “Pat’s friend, Dot.” As the service begins, the pastor shares the whereabouts of the few members who are absent. Now that’s a close knit congregation. If you’re not there they know why. The membership in many small rural churches tends to be senior citizens, but the group gathered this day is made up of mostly Baby Boomers or younger.
The hymns, chosen by the pastor, have something for everyone. Opening is “Morning Has Broken”, made popular during the “Jesus Movement” of the Sixties. The Hymn of Preparation: “The Old Rugged Cross”, an old old favorite, and closing with “Hymn of Promise” a newer song by Natalie Sleeth.
After prayers and offering, Pat began the introduction to “The Old Rugged Cross” with gusto. I had never heard her play that style, reminiscent of Old Time Methodists at camp meeting under a brush arbor in August. It was wonderful. I’m sure she used all 88 piano keys. That accompaniment had everything but a glissando. And did we sing along!
Joining our voices together left us lifted and prepared for the message from Mathew 5:1-12. Not a brag-list of how blessed we are, but an assurance we are indeed blessed and in turn are called to be a blessing to others.
As the young acolyte left, symbolically carrying Christ’s light into the world, my feeling was that this group of people certainly fulfills that command, as they go about being the Church in their scattered jobs and their presence in that community. I felt blessed to have worshiped with them.
Chatting with folks after the service, I learned that the pastor’s son lives in my Dream Hometown and that another congregant originally came from Carlisle, AR, just a bit to the east of us. He knew my dentist, Dr. Burleson, who has written two books about his childhood in Carlisle. I might have found more “small world” stories, but it was 10:30, the Sunday School hour and time for me to start my trek home.
James Burleson’s books: The Redneck Chronicles found here