Then Sings My Soul
When I need to draw near to my Lord…I turn to Southern Gospel. Just give me that old time praise and worship! The melody is catchy, the words are simple and the message is true. No matter my circumstances or my mood…it is the one thing that will bring me from the depths of either despair or apathy, to joyful love of Jesus and gets me back on the enthusiasm for life’s track. When I reflect upon the blessings of my life, the one blessing I am very thankful for is the wide range of Christian religious diversities I was exposed to.
As a young child I lived in my maternal grandparent’s family home in Pittsburgh. “Mum” and “Uppa” were Slovakian immigrants who were Russian Orthodox by faith. I often attended mass with my Aunt Anna who lived in the same house. Even today, 52 years later, the sounds of a Gregorian chant or an Eastern European cantor takes me back to the scent of incense and candles and the pride I felt watching my grandfather stand for hours holding a banner that probably weighed more than he did!
When I was 7 years old, my father moved us from Pittsburgh to West Palm Beach, FL. My father came from an old Florida pioneer family who lived along the banks of Lake Okeechobee. Our weekends were spent in Canal Point, FL where my paternal grandparents lived. (However, the trauma of moving from the urban setting of Pittsburgh to a two bedroom, 1 bath half duplex with no carpeting on a dirt road brought about a severe speech impediment that took close to seven years of weekly therapy to resolve!)
There were many dangers for a child my age and size on my grandparent’s farm and fish camp, such as, accidental drowning in the canal and poisonous snakes along the water. The greatest danger, however, was the railroad track that ran along the outside edge of the property which carried many trains daily through what was basically the front yard. I was not allowed near the tracks and told to never, ever cross them. Even so, I was drawn to those railroad tracks because directly across the tracks and the road was an African-American church! I can remember being chastised for asking my mother and grandmother if I could go to church there. In the early 60’s it was unheard of for a little white girl to attend a black church. So I found my compromise by sitting on a pail on the safe side of the railroad tracks listening to the glorious, uplifting sound of their singing. I was lonely for family and friends in Pittsburgh, not to mention hating the hot weather of Florida. But for a few hours on Sunday, I was transported to the throne room of God on the wings of song.
My sister discovered a Pentecostal church close to our duplex and we began attending on the Sundays we were not in Canal Point. I remember just waiting for the music to start, sitting in the front pew awash with anticipation. The day I was handed a tambourine and brought up front was one I will always remember. I could not have been more than 8 years old; but here I was up front with the pastor and the praise and worship team and holding my own….belting out song and keeping time. Sadly, the church completely dissolved when both the pastor and one of the associate pastors were discovered living secret lives of sexual sin. It made me so sad. Very shortly after this shocking revelation, my mother and father separated for the final time. Gone were the weekends at my paternal grandparents and the sound of singing from the little church across the tracks. My sister turned her back on God ridiculing any talk of God. My mother did not have any interest in church. I lost my song.
A few years past, and when I began to drive, I also began visiting area churches. I was so lonely for God and His music. Finally, I chose a church to attend. Not because of anything but its beauty. Bethesda-By-The-Sea Episcopal Church of Palm Beach was right in the middle of my sales territory as a mortgage loan officer. I began stopping by the church during the week to rest for a few minutes and to contemplate my life and where it was going. As time passed, I became a member and was married in this exquisite church. The sacred songs and hymns were added to my ever-growing menu of praise and worship songs that I loved. Although different in many respects, Bethesda reminded me of my grandparent’s church in Pittsburgh and I felt a connection both to God at Bethesda and also to my grandparents and my aunt. I loved the liturgy and the communion at the altar rail administered by a priest. It gave me a feeling of both sanctity and sanctuary. I stayed at this church until my marriage dissolved into a disaster of acrimony. However, there were happy memories of joy in this church and after the divorce I spent many Sundays crying in a back pew.
Fortunately, at this time close friends stepped in and introduced me to an evangelical church. I was so downtrodden by guilt and rejection that the songs about God’s love and forgiveness and restoration were not only new to me; but revolutionary to the change that was about to happen in my life. As I learned about God’s unconditional love for me and about His forgiveness, I was able to reflect about the guilt for my part in the break up of my marriage and to accept the sacrifice that Jesus made for me on the cross. I repented. I was forgiven. God still loved me in spite of all of my mistakes. The music brought life to my hungry soul and the teaching laid the foundation for my Christian walk. I soon realized that I not only needed a Bible….but a notebook, a pen and HIGHLIGHTERS! Amazing!
When I moved from Florida to Washington DC, I discovered that God had gone ahead of me and I landed in a church where I thrived. It was during this time that I met a very special man and we got married. We moved to Virginia where my husband and I settled into an Assemblies of God church with a number of music venues; all of which I grew from and brought praise to my soul. That was two decades ago. Today I live in the “deep South” and attend an Assemblies of God church. I am blessed by an incredible praise team; new inspirational music; the beauty and truth of good old Southern Gospel too! Every venue of sacred and worshipful music has played a significant role in shaping my faith. Classic hymns, country songs of praise, black gospel...all so important to my soul that I have asked for each type to be sung at my memorial service. I have come full circle. One day the circle will be unbroken in more ways than one.