Not long ago I sat in a small-town church listening to a minister recite true poetry, words written for the Church of England more than 400 years ago, words from the King James Version of the Bible, none of the modern writing that purports to be ‘relevant’ to a new world. And, as church attendance continues to fall, relevance might not be the issue.
In the 1970s, churches began to incorporate folk and pop music into Sunday morning services and tossed in modern instrumentation, you know, electric guitar, bass, drums. Some places still do it, calling these groups praise bands, or some such characterization. Lutherans in particular embraced the notion, but membership continues to drop.
This was a funeral service for an elderly woman, a faithful member of her congregation. Very traditional in substance and style, it was a service like I recalled from half a century ago, including women of the church’s Ladies Society providing a luncheon afterward. I hope to God the men in the congregation at least mow the church lawn on occasion. Someone, please, teach men to cook (flipping brats on a grill is not cooking).
We sang four lugubrious verses of the classic “How Great Thou Art,” which put me in mind of a guy near where I live named Art who, some years ago now, provided music for his own funeral. He recorded himself playing “How Great Thou Art” on trombone, a performance that probably caused Iowa-born trombone player and bandleader Glenn Miller to murmur a little in his grave.
Shortly after our singing, the minister began to speak of the deceased but it became very clear that the only thing he knew about her was where she usually sat during services, and suddenly we’re wondering about a clear disconnect. It’s not just in politics that these disconnects happen, and all most of us can do is drop our jaws a bit and wonder why. Perhaps it would be helpful in the future if we sidle up a little closer to people we don’t know and ask them how their day is going.
Outside the church walls the world kept on moving without us. Iran continued to hate us, as it has since the 1970s; crazy people (men mostly) with guns continued to shoot each other in faraway places such as Yemen, Pittsburgh and, closer to home, Chicago. In this town of less than 2,000, the streets were quiet.
Toward the end of the service, we old folks mumbled through the Lord’s Prayer, before croaking and climbing our way through a multiverse mountain of a song called “Abide With Me.” As an old friend of mine once said, “It wasn’t a sight for pretty eyes.”
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All in all, as these things go it was a satisfying event. The deceased had a good life and a good network of family and friends. Perhaps more importantly, not once did I wonder whether an armed security guard was watching over us. Deliver us from evil, indeed. Oh, and before I forget, how’s your day going?
• Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.