The church where I grew up had no altar, no altar boys, and no priests. It had no wall-size portrait of Jesus Christ either, and certainly no images of Mother Mary. It didn't look at all like this. But the hymn these folks are about to sing (you can hear it at the bottom) is, in my mind, divine because with me at least, it's eternal.
Wherever its sung, it conjures divine memories. We were steadfast and pious attenders. My parents loved church. They were active. They gave of themselves. My mother sang in the choir--she was a soloist. My dad was an elder, blessed with enough tinkering talent to fix the organ. If the organist called to say something was out of tune, by Sunday he'd have it humming. He was, as church people might say, a pillar. So was Mom.
They were devout. They believed what the church said and taught and believed itself. "My dad used to say that if you had doubts, it meant your salvation was assured because wrestling with God meant you knew He was real" --those were my dad's words, and his dad's before him. Once upon a time, Grandpa Schaap was the preacher in that church, a soft-spoken Dominie whose seminary diploma, 1903, in the Dutch language, is rolled up somewhere in this house. Lots of books in our library once belonged to him. I have his old beat-up King James.
He opened the Word at Oostburg Christian Reformed Church from mid-Depression until just a few years after the Second World War, a long time. I remember him only faintly. I was just a child when he died, but he remains a presence. My dad used to quote him, in reverence, too.
"'I'll be able to tell what kind of father I was by looking at my grandchildren'"--that's what Dad used to say his father would tell him, a haunting line that'll always be a part of me. That it will, itself signifies his legacy--as well as my father's.
Other hymns too--many of them Psalms--conjure my boyhood church bountifully, but none do it as completely as "Savior, Again to Thy Dear Name We Raise." It was the end of the Sunday worship, the end of evening service. We'd stand for the Benediction, then sing two verses of "Savior, Again. . ." in harmony that will always sound more gracious and beautiful than they might have been.
All of that comes back, not because Sunday worship was finally over. I don't remember ever telling my parents that I wouldn't or even didn't want to go to church. Honestly, I don't remember even thinking it. I wouldn't have dared to say it, not because it would have meant a fight but because with words like that, I would have broken their hearts because they loved worship, and I knew it, even then, even when I knew no different. Every Sunday, "Savior, Again. . ." somehow sealed worship in my soul, and if I hear that old hymn I know it's never left.
|Oostburg (WI) Christian Reformed Church|
Tomorrow night, the church I grew up in, my home church, Oostburg Christian Reformed Church, will celebrate its 150th birthday. What began with a thrown-together meeting of a dozen or so contrarians--they were leaving another fellowship behind, after all--has lasted for seven or eight generations. Judged by the numbers, they may be as strong today as they've ever been.
I feel honored to talk to them about all of that tomorrow night. The speech is written. It's not a sermon, it's a history, a personal history because after all I know best the church where I grew up, in the chapters of my own experience, in stories that include my mother, my father, their parents, and theirs before them, all the way back to the first wooden-shoed white men to come to Town of Holland, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, a dozen years or more before the Civil War.
It's where I grew up, the church that nurtured me, a church my parents loved.
I hope that if family drops by somehow from the cemetery north of town, they leave proud on Saturday night. I hope that if old Rev. Schaap listens, he tells himself that, judging by his grandson, he wasn't all that bad a dad.
I asked if the church if they wanted me to suggest music, but it was already chosen, I was told.
And that's okay. But I know what we would have sung. Maybe we still will.