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The Last Windrow: Early memories of church still elicit a smile

I hope you all had a great Easter weekend. No doubt the kids' bellies are full of high octane chocolate, many rabbits are missing their ears and the hard-boiled colored eggs have their collective shells cracked by this time.

My childhood Easters revolved around that little German Lutheran church that still sits atop a gentle knoll in western Iowa. There was no doubt that my parents, siblings and I would be sitting in that church pew on Easter Sunday morning. There was never a sunrise service in that church because the farmers who comprised most of the congregation were still milking their cows and doing chores when the sun hit the eastern horizon.

There was always the story going around the church circle that there were two Sundays during the year that most members would show up - Easter and Christmas Eve. I can attest to the fact that I did see people enter the church doors on those two occasions that I did not recognize.

But, they were accepted by the congregation and welcomed to the fold in hopes that they might be enticed to show up more often. Sometimes that worked.

Thinking back on those early church days still brings a smile to my face. There are certain experiences that happened in that church that I still remember like it was yesterday.

When I was around 5 years old, our pastor then was a very large man with a deep and booming voice. There was no need for a hearing aid to listen to his sermons. Even the most tone deaf farmers didn't have to cup their hands up to their ears to hear what he was talking about.

One Sunday morning the pastor was especially in his element as he stood behind the pulpit and pounded on it until it shook. His sermon revolved around the fires of hell, and as he cast his gaze out across his congregation there was no doubt who he was talking about - us.

He broke into a sweat about two-thirds through the sermon, and by the time he was done his voice was beginning to break. I was sitting between my dad and my mom when he came down to our pew after his fiery lecture.

"Johnny, I'd like to take you to your first Sunday school class." he said.

I descended the pew and crawled under the very back of the seat. No amount of coaxing from my parents could draw me from my hiding space under the pew. Eventually, I was pulled out from underneath the seat and I was assured that my mother would accompany me to the Sunday school room.

There was no way I was going to go with this man who had just told me that I might go to hell just by being myself. I still carry the memory.

Organists also always played an important role in my church life. In later years I attended another church in Minnesota. The usual organist was out of town on vacation and another organist from a neighboring church was called on to play. That congregation sang the same church hymns Sunday after Sunday. Most could sing the songs by heart. It brought the congregation together.

The visiting organist played the prelude and the congregation assembled. The hymn page numbers were posted at the front of the church. The numbers didn't look familiar to me and as I paged to the first hymn, it was one that I had never heard before. I saw others sitting in the congregation staring at the page with the same thought running through their heads.

The pastor stood up with the hymnal in his hands and asked all to stand. The organist played the first few chords and then hit the introduction chord. Three notes into the hymn and no one was singing. She stopped and started again with the same result. The third try produced the same whimpering from the congregation.

The organist stopped, turned around on her piano bench and over her shoulder said, "Well, what DO you want to sing?" Things went better after that when we fell into the same hymn ruts that we were used to singing.

The moral was, as Roy Acuff once told a Grand Ole Opry audience, "Play 'em what they want to hear!" Roy knew what he was talking about! I hope you all had a wonderful Easter!

See you next time. Okay?

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