Like, What's An Ebenezer?

The first notes of a familiar tune from the piano drifted across the sanctuary.  The choir filed in and took their places.  The song leader turned to the congregation and said “Please open your hymnals to page number 693.  Stand and join us in singing “The Old Rugged Cross”.  The Sunday morning Worship Service began. 

In our quest for a traditional, conservative church, my husband and I decided to visit a small church, of a different denomination, not far from our home.  As the congregation began to sing, I experienced a sensation of profound elation.  Feeling the hymnal in my hands was like hugging an old friend that I hadn’t seen for a very long time.  How wonderful it felt! 

As the service continued, we sang simple, sacred hymns accompanied by the piano and choir.  I thought about the difference in this church's simple worship style and my own church.  This church has no high-tech gadgetry.  It uses hymnals instead of words projected onto a screen.  It uses a piano instead of drums and guitars.  It has a small choir.  There were no guitars or drums.  The congregation had a reverence conducive to worship rather than an atmosphere of a frenzied, football halftime show.  I felt a great sadness as I realized my church had lost something very precious in its turn towards non-denominational contemporary music.

As we sang, I reflected on the complete absence of hymnals in my current church home.  We did not sing anything resembling a hymn that might be found in a hymnal. Hymns and hymnals had disappeared and we sang modern, contemporary inter-denominational songs with lyrics designed to make them more “appealing and understandable to the youth.” 

This reminded me of the song leader in the church of my teen years.  He had no musical training, but he loved the Lord and could carry a tune reasonably well.  He had unique way of introducing each song.  For example he would say “Let’s stand and sing hymn number 353, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.  Verse two says "Here I raise my Ebenezer; Hither by Thy great help I’ve come”.  The word Ebenezer means “stone of help” and it is the name of a stone raised by Samuel to commemorate a victory over the Philistines at Mizpeh.  This is a hymn of praise for all the help God has given us.”  It was a great way to teach words and expressions that were unfamiliar to us so the hymns became understandable. His smile and passion were contagious.  He was respectful and courteous and never tried to be humorous by telling the congregation they had to smile and sing louder or they would have to stand longer.

I also thought about the wonderful song leader we had in Germany many years ago when my husband was active duty.  Our large American congregation was made up of young military members.  Some were single and some were married and had children.  Our song leader, Mrs. Conable, was a graduate of one of our church colleges.  She instilled a real appreciation of the sacred hymns by not only leading the singing but teaching us a new hymn once a month.  She also gave a short explanation of hymns that contained unfamiliar words or expressions. Her enthusiasm rubbed off us and we sang the hymns with heartfelt delight.

As I remembered these events, I began to wonder what type of legacy is being left to the generations that follow us.  Hymnals are much more than a tool used for musical worship.  The hymns contained between those book covers define us.  They reinforce and reaffirm our denominational doctrine as well as our Christian theology.  We are losing our hymnal heritage at a great price.

Please don’t misunderstand me, dear visitor.  I’m not saying that a contemporary worship style is wrong.  God can and does work through many avenues.  I’m just saying that a conservative, traditional worship atmosphere is best for my spiritual wellbeing.

I also reflected on the building itself.  So many churches like the one we presently attended, had multi-use facilities.  Our large church had a room that served as a sanctuary/fellowship hall/basketball court. This little church had a separate room with a kitchen for fellowship meals.

A few minutes later, the pastor stood behind a wooden pulpit and delivered a powerful message proclaiming the message of Salvation and holiness while reading, and quoting from memory, many scriptures throughout his sermon.  As he gave his scripture references, I was amazed at how many people had brought Bibles to church and they followed along as he read each scripture.  We were unable to read our bibles at the church we attended because the lights were lowered when the service began and they were kept dimmed until the service was over.

As the service concluded with the beautiful hymn “I Know Whom I Have Believed” my heart was overflowing with a deep peace and tears welled up in my eyes.  My husband took my hand and looked at me.  I could see that he felt the way I did.   In its simplicity, our spiritual needs were met.  Everything about this small church surpassed the glitz of the large church we normally attended.

Our quest had ended.  We were home at last.

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