Last Sunday I had an amazing experience. Close to 70 of us met in the historic Detweiler Mennonite meetinghouse near Roseville, Ontario for a hymn sing on a warm and sunny afternoon.
The stated purpose was to mark some spring/summer events in my life – a birthday, an ordination anniversary, a wedding anniversary – all in the context of the reality of my current health challenges. Sam and I invited family members, friends, and some past and present colleagues to join us in this.
I wanted a representative group of folks to sing my story with me and for me. I wanted us to sing my story in community. The group Sam and I assembled brought together the Pennsylvania world of my childhood with the Ontario Mennonite world where I’ve now lived and worked for nearly 49 years. In addition a friend since college days in Goshen, Indiana was able to join us.
I was blessed by the presence of three nephews and their spouses, as well as two dear “girl cousins” and their husbands. Friends from my retired women’s group contributed to the afternoon by offering reflections during the service and looking after the gorgeous flowers and refreshments. Another friend gave our voices a break by playing several tunes on harmonica. And our pastor led in a much-appreciated prayer of blessing.
But mostly we sang, expertly led by Mark Diller Harder and my nephew Michael Clemmer. We sang my story in three sections: Songs of Gratitude and Praise, Songs of Growth and Commitment, and Songs of Peace and Hope.
I wanted to begin and end in exuberant praise! So we started with Joyful, joyful we adore thee and concluded with the “Mennonite anthem,” Praise God from whom all blessings flow, affectionately known as “606” due to its placement in a previous hymnal.
I’ve sung at the Detweiler Meetinghouse previously, so I listened expectantly for those first unaccompanied notes in four-part harmony. The gorgeous sound overwhelmed me and continued to nourish my spirit throughout the afternoon, as Mark led us fast and then slow, vigorous and then quiet.
The highlights of the hymn sing are almost too numerous to name. I’ll certainly cherish my nephew Mike leading our wedding song – For the beauty of the earth – with a tuning fork that had belonged to his great grandfather [my grandfather], also named Michael R. Clemmer.
The most fun song for me was The wise man built his house upon the rock with motions. I and my nephews Ken, Gerry and Mike all learned this action song as children at Summer Bible School at Souderton Mennonite Church. Their vehicle missed a turn on the way to the hymn sing as they rehearsed the song and motions in the van, leaving the driver to find the way on his own!
I relived my ordination as I heard my text from 2 Timothy read. In the Scripture reading, we substituted the names of my own maternal grandmother and mother – Maggie and Martha – for Timothy’s fore mothers Lois and Eunice. Then we all sang How firm a foundation, as an octet did in June 1987 when I knelt for my ordination prayer….
The reflective song Come and fill our hearts with your peace from the Taize community in France comforted me, enhanced by the haunting sounds of a recorder. The song Peace before us with motions reinforced pastor Scott Brubaker-Zehr’s prayer of blessing with its “let all around us be peace…love…light…Christ.”
Muriel Bechtel noted in her reflection that “for Mennonites, it’s our hymns that connect us to God and to the faith community. Through our hymns we express our heartfelt prayers, our gratitude and confidence that morning by morning God has been, is now, and will be our hope and strength…”
And so we sang together. All in all, it was a glorious day. A CD of the hymn sing and many photos mean I can be wrapped in it over and over again.
As an added bonus, the rain and thunderstorms forecast for the day did not materialize. So we lingered over refreshments outside under the trees or in the cemetery, being community together in yet another way….
Question for Reflection: When have you sung your story in community? What were the gifts of that occasion for you?
Next Week: TBA