Flo Johnston Faith in Focus
August 21, 2014
You like barbershop?
Somebody has said Presbyterians are “God’s frozen chosen.” I don’t think so, but they are Christians who probably won’t jump out into the church aisle and do the boogaloo, even if they feel the Holy Spirit giving them a nudge.
They have a reputation. Their churches are often located on old, tree-lined avenues or on upscale streets with dignified businesses promoting themselves with tastefully designed signs.
And their members are reputed to be “top brass kind of people,” folks who hold positions of power in the community, the state, yea, even the nation. Four North Carolina governors in the past century and 10 American presidents, including Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan were all Presbyterians.
They believe in education for clergy who traditionally hold undergraduate degrees from a college or university and at least one graduate degree from a seminary. The Presbyterian Church USA has 10 seminaries across the country.
Presbyterians educate their children as well as their clergy, and ideally, these children grow up never thinking of themselves as anything other than a “Child of the Covenant,” expected to become a responsible adult.
“Decently and in order” are watchwords for Presbyterians. They may have disagreements but these are generally kept “in-house” so they don’t make screaming headlines in the morning newspapers or get used as a teaser for WRAL’s noonday news.
Presbyterians trace their heritage to 16th-century theologian John Calvin and to John Knox, the founder of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, where many Scotland County Presbyterians have forebears.
Now, about that barbershop music.
Was that a computer playing the organ at Laurinburg Presbyterian last Sunday during 11 a.m. worship? Oh, no, nobody was on the organ bench because the organist, Sean McDonald, had to be away, and with nobody to play the hymns, he recorded them ahead and a member of the choir just pushed the button and all went well. Emily Womble, a member of the choir, played the organ prelude and postlude.
During this service an ensemble of nine men from the church choir, sang a barbershop arrangement of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” led by Jose Rivera, director of music. It was a rousing rendition and even got a round of applause.
It stuck me that you’re about as likely to hear this American gospel song, made popular by Louis Armstrong and associated with New Orleans jazz, in a Presbyterian Church as you are to hear the choir singing “Shall We Gather at the River” at Duke University Chapel.
Yet, I have witnessed both.
Just another signal that church is changing. We don’t have to sing dirges in worship in order to sound “holy.” One of the hymns on this particular Sunday was a contemporary one, “We Are One in the Spirit,” accompanied by Neal Carter, the pastor, on his guitar.
The bulletin noted that a parish priest at St. Brendan’s on the South Side of Chicago in the 1960s was very involved in the local Civil Rights movement and needed something for his youth choir to sing at ecumenical, interracial events. Finding nothing, he wrote this song in a single day.
“We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, and we pray that all unity may one day be restored. And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
The title of the pastor’s sermon was “Reformed and Always Reforming.” This is a comment Presbyterians banter about much like a church motto, sort of like words you hear every Sunday at Laurinburg Presbyterian.
As the children in the congregation form a circle around the communion table for prayer, leaving an opening in the circle, the pastor always asks, “Why do we do this?” And the children respond, “There is always room for one more.”
What this congregation got from this preacher on this particular Sunday was a very strong sermon on justice issues, based on Matthew 15:10-28, in which we see Jesus in ministry reaching out to a marginalized woman.
The pastor’s final observation on the text was that if this “head” model ever reached the “hearts” of Christians like the Presbyterians gathered at 600 W. Church St., Laurinburg would never be the same.
It won’t be Reformation, he said, but Transformation.
Contact Flo Johnston at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 910-361-4135.