Wherever the Road Leads

Shall We Gather At The…

… Heavy Metal Thunder?

Musically, I guess I’m an anomaly. In my living room, I’ve got 125 watts a side driving a pair of 12″ Cerwin Vegas cranking out AC/DC videos from YouTube.

In the truck, I’ve got about 125 watts going to each of four door speakers and a 10″ sub-woofer blasting country music and rattling my fillings loose.

At church, every week I could be happy singing “Shall We Gather At The River”, written in 1864 by gospel music writer and Baptist, Robert Lowry (1826–1899).

Though stutteringly until recently, I have been attending Bethlehem First United Methodist Church in Bethlehem Georgia. Bethlehem, as you can imagine, is a tiny community seventy miles away from Atlanta airport. “BFUMC” is a large, beautiful, very traditionally Southern building, painted white and when driving through Bethlehem, you simply can’t miss it. Thus, the church’s web site is Big White Church dot com.

Providentially, I visited this church for the first time with the reasoning that, it was closest to the church whose service I was escaping from and simply could not be any worse. Here’s the story…

My Little Scottish Mother was down from Canada, visiting me. I had been attending – very stutteringly – “Church A” (we’ll call it that, keeping it anonymous, because I wouldn’t want the good folks from Bethlehem First Baptist to be offended). Sunday morning my mother and I toddled off to their 11:00 service.

Church A is very modern in appearance, inside and out, and has a stage in front and a four-piece band – drums, guitar, keyboard etc. Church A is very successful. It has a very large congregation and is also a Christian Academy. On this particulay Sunday, my mother and I watched four or five youths with very unkempt hair and even more unkempt polo shirts step on stage and pick up microphones.

The guitar and keyboard blared the first chord and if we had been at work, I would have been headed for the hearing protection dispenser. I looked at my mother with raised eyebrows. “You want to leave?” She nodded ‘yes’ quickly and enthusiastically. The closest church, as it was now after 11:00, was Bethlehem First United Methodist. I had never attended a Methodist service before. I haven’t attended another church’s services since.

I realize that no church is going to flourish with a congregation of little old blue-rinse ladies sporting ermine stoles and bright brooches. The church HAS to attract youth and youth is not attracted to funeral dirges and a pipe organ. Youth wants upbeat choruses accompanied by drums and guitars.

Bethlehem First United Methodist also is a very successful church. Even more impressive by being in a tiny community, BFUMC is among the fastest-growing Methodist churches in Georgia. I believe their success is because they have found the perfect balance of traditional and contemporary hymns and songs. They keep us old traditionalists happy with a gowned choir, organ and piano as well as attracting youth with more modern songs of worship and drums, decibels, guitars, keyboard and tennis shoes.

How? Two separate, concurrent worship services.

In the 11:00 Traditional service, we have an excellent Preacher with life stories to make his sermons personal. At the 11:00 Contemporary service, there is a younger Preacher, not long ordained, whose life is ahead of him, like those to whom he preaches. Everyone relates.

Recently I was talking to a couple who left a church because of the style of music. They have been visiting other churches to find one where they’re comfortable with the music and the preaching. I keep telling the husband, “Y’all need to come visit us in Bethlehem.”

Hopefully they will, and hopefully it will be the same day I manage to convince our Music Ministries Director that the traditional service needs to sing a few rousing choruses of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”.

 

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

(Chorus)
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.

(Chorus)
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
His truth is marching on.”

(Chorus)
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

(Chorus)
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

(Chorus)
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our God is marching on.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave,
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,
Our God is marching on.

(Chorus)
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our God is marching on.

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