One of the things that I love most about my home in the mountains is all the little churches. The steeples just seem to pop up above the canopy like friendly wave of hello. I remember as a kid that one of the most important jobs in the congregation was to be responsible for ringing the bell. The call to worship had to be given at about an hour or so prior to the start of service and then again when it was time to get started. On a good day we could hear the bell ring from miles away. Soon there was a parade of cars moving on the one lane road. You had to there early so you could get a good seat and a place to park. The funny thing is that everyone occupied the same seat and parking spot every Sunday. And, if one of the kids sat in a different place an adult would quickly remind them of the unwritten rules about where to sit. “Hey, that’s where so-and-so sits.” We would have to move around until we finally wound up in the same spot we sat in last week. At the end of service was another unwritten ritual. The shaking of hands. In a small country church the Right Hand Of Fellowship is a common practice. But young boys are mischievous by nature and quick to adapt a custom to their own uses. As soon as the service closed there was a race to the door where The Right Hand Of Fellowship was changed into the Running Of The Gauntlet. The boys would line the exit and extend their shaking hand to anyone trying to leave. The adults would then be obliged to accept the handshakes before they could exit thus creating a bottleneck at the door. I think that final joke was on us boys because we grew up to be the adults caught in the bottleneck later in life. I have to smile and and get warm fuzzies every time I see the steeples poking up from the trees. It always brings back childhood memories of the little churches and the extended family who attended them.
One of the things that I look forward to in the summer is when friends gather together just to hang out. We make little mini holiday as a framework. There will be Homecoming Sundays at churches and family reunions in addition to the birthday parties and anniversary celebrations all summer long. We’ve been holed up in house for winter and any excuse to get out into the sun is a good one. We see old friends and acquaintances in the parks having lunch just because it’s Tuesday or Wednesday. Mankind was meant to be social. It’s our nature to be together for at least a little while. Even the grumpy old curmudgeon wants someone to curmudge for.
Here in the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia such gatherings are often accompanied by live music. Typically a “gospel sing” will feature bluegrass style music and a potluck dinner.
Whatever the occasion or excuse it’s all about coming together in fellowship and brotherhood. All that’s needed is a warm day, chores that are finished and good friends.
I learn a lot from watching nature. Take geese for example. They have no complex language (as far as well know) and yet they seem to have the ability to maintain social cohesion. Maybe not as perfectly as some other birds but they do seem to function as a single unit. What’s more is that they seem to take turns at being the leader with relatively little conflict. If you watch closely as that V formation flies over or swims by they shift position with the leader creating a wake for the rest of flock to cruise in. I know the science of how it helps them to travel farther but it amazes me how there’s cooperation. I think that the secret is that each bird knows that their own well being is dependent on the well being of the flock. In turn, the well being of the flock depends on the well being of the individual. If the flock loses a member that means that the unit can’t travel as efficiently during migration. I think it’s the interdependency between leadership and followers that maintains the balance. That’s a lesson we should all learn.
It’s not about the size of room.
It’s not about the paint on the wall.
It’s not about the leaky roof or the creaky gate.
It’s being here with you that makes it home.
Friends gather to enjoy the warm sun and retell old stories. Perhaps he’ll recount the story about escaping from a hungry bird. She’ll tell the one about the sweetest bloom ever. There’s love and laughter in the warm sun. There will be a game of chase and spectacular aerial dances between sips of nectar. Life returns to the meadow and all is right with the world.
A country Sunday is special thing. So with tomorrow being Sunday I thought I would share some memories with you. It starts with a quiet spot, a cup of coffee, a Bible and in the old days a copy of The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, also known as Strong’s Concordance. (When I was a kid I used to think that it was the “exhausting ” Concordance. That book seemed to weigh slightly less than a 1973 Ford LTD. Carrying it to the table was an exhausting task.) After studying the morning lesson and having a hardy breakfast you go to the church for Sunday school and then preaching. After services are finished everyone gathers outside of the sanctuary and visits for few minutes. These days we head out to restaurant but it wasn’t always that way. Back in the day extended family would go the home of the patriarch and have a home cooked meal. The afternoon was spent with those who mattered the most. That’s how we kept the world small in the days before the internet. During the warm season the kids would have a change of clothes ready. After dinner we would climb trees or throw rocks at old cans. Sometimes we would start a game of touch football (American Football for my international friends) that would quickly become a full contact game complete with muddy clothes and skinned knees. Soon the familiar sound of mothers calling out to their sons would end the game. After a mild scolding for getting your clothes dirty the family matriarch hands out packages of leftovers and everyone goes home.
But it’s not a time to be sad. When the work week ends, Sunday will come again.
This old barn near Summerville West Virginia always seems to have something to offer my lens. I was raised in agriculture. I look at the old barns and think about the life that was housed there. Not just grain, hay and farming supplies but the people who worked the land. I can hear the ghostly echoes of conversations about life and love, business and pleasure. I can hear the footsteps of young people who think that they’re up to mischief but really are just learning about life. People who share work are investing in each other. Work parties often ended in generations of close friends. You may not have barns where you live but odds are that you do have people. I want to encourage you to reach out to a neighbor and offer to share in some work. You’ll be surprised to see how large your family really is.