Traditional hymns still celebrated

By Flo Johnston - Faith in Focus

Who doesn’t know “Just a Closer Walk With Thee?”

The composer is anonymous, unknown. This classic piece of Southern Gospel, now in the Public Domain, belongs to our culture, our tradition.

Anybody can record it without having to give credit. One of my favorites is by Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline, who team up for a fine rendition. (Go online to see and listen.)

Now I’m not suggesting Willie has the finest voice in the choir, but, no doubt about it, he can sing a song!

Ron Pittman, the young church musician at Laurinburg’s Faith Presbyterian Church, played an arrangement of this classic for offertory music during an 11 a.m. worship service on a recent Sunday.

Using a hymn like this was pleasing and was an effective part of the worship setting, for even though no one was singing, the words sounded in your head, creating very special and personal moments of prayer and worship.

Of course, Ron’s arrangement rang true to the musical traditions of Southern Gospel, not exactly a “high church” sound, but surprise, surprise, this song is included in the relatively new hymnbook of the Presbyterian Church USA.

A few decades ago, such beautiful and even spiritually uplifting songs like it, might have been shunned by mainline Protestant churches. In recent years, however, it’s been interesting to live through a time when even stiff-upper-lip churches began to include gospel and contemporary music as well as African-American spirituals in their hymnbooks and worship.

Even the great 150-voice choir at Duke Chapel, that great Gothic cathedral on the campus at Duke University, has in its repertoire such African-American spirituals as “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord,” “Deep River” and “There is a Balm in Gilead.”

This week, I had the good fortune to hear Jim Morgan, Laurinburg resident, ordained Presbyterian minister and talented pianist, give a morning concert at Scotia Village.

Some Laurinburg folks may already know about this talented gentleman, but his fine performance turned into a memorable time for reflection and worship, as he played his own interpretation of traditional hymns of the church.

In the style of George Winston, a great talent of the 1980s whose impressionistic transcriptions of traditional music were quite popular at the time, Morgan showcased a talent that obviously God must have passed along as well as his superb keyboard technique that obviously came from having studied piano from the time he was 7 years old.

But, back to “Just a Closer Walk.” Thanks to Ron Pittman for sharing his fine musical talents in worship at Faith. And in case someone might be winding a way right now through a patch of feeling vulnerable, here are the words.

I am weak, but Thou art strong;

Jesus, keep me from all wrong;

I’ll be satisfied as long

As I walk, let me walk close to Thee.


Just a closer walk with Thee,

Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,

Daily walking close to Thee,

Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

Through this world of toil and snares,

If I falter, Lord, who cares?

Who with me my burden shares?

None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee.

When my feeble life is o’er,

Time for me will be no more;

Guide me gently, safely o’er

To Thy kingdom shore, to Thy shore.

Contact Flo Johnston at [email protected] or call 910-361-4135.

By Flo Johnston

Faith in Focus

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