In college, I went to a church where the women wore amazingly beautiful hats and the men wore pocket squares that matched their ties. The choir processed down the aisle every Sunday morning – heads thrown back, steps matched, voices strong and joyful. They sang “I’m glad to be in the service one more time,” and no one could stay in their seats when they sang it. It was a celebration. A community gathered – all in one place, with one thing on their minds: telling God “thank you” for getting us through another week.
We clapped our hands and sang together, and some people lifted open hands up to the air – a gesture that seemed to whisper, “Here, God. Take it. It’s too big for me, but I know You can handle it. I NEED You to handle it.” We’d sing out, and the Hammond organ would punctuate our songs with high-pitched runs, or driving low notes rising from the pedals below. The choir would make their way to the choir stand and they would rock the house. And there was dancing and there was praising and there was freedom everywhere I looked.
When the preacher preached, he stood tall and wore a black robe and stretched out his arms to place both palms flat on the pulpit. He always started with the bible, and the people who sat in the pews turned pages of their own and it sounded like the flutter of wings. His voice was low and strong and he unpacked those words on thin pages so they seemed to dance in the air and we knew God could see us. We knew it and believed it, and it was real and true.
At the end of the service, we’d all stand, and we’d join hands across the aisle. And if you were sitting on the end of an aisle near the window, you’d reach behind you or in front of you to hold the hand of the person in the next row. Everyone connected to each other. No one left out. Together we would sing, “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,” and it was percussive and the drums spurred us on. And when we finished, the pastor would pronounce the benediction and the last word was always, “Peace.”
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