The Church of the Exceptional

        I awoke at dawn.  After a couple cups of coffee I was with the living.  The morning doves cooed. I checked the morning paper.  Sure is a lot of trouble in the world.  I tossed it aside and checked in with my FaceBook Book friends.  They are all about music, and grace and dignity.  Ah yes, a much better way to start the day.  After a couple of calls to friends about some gigs I hoped they’d land, the light was creeping in.

         Marfar came to get a cup.  “Now hon, I want you to wear the black and white checked shirt today.  It’ll go nice with my periwinkle and Betty Jo’s fuchsia.”

       “Yes ma’am.”  I choose my own clothes without fail, but but when I play with ‘Guitared and Feathered’ I try to comply with the color scheme.  Just one of the girls I guess.  “Where is it we’re playing?”

        “The Church of the Exceptional.  We must be our best.”

        We loaded up all the sound and took off.  When we got there, several church members helped us lug in the gear.  I took a look around.  The pews were battered, and the old hardwood floors were worn and stained, but the place was neat as a pin.  A hand drawn picture of Jesus graced the wall behind the alter.  It was child-like rendering, but had a simple elegance.   

        Someone started the service with ‘Jesus Loves Me’ on the piano.  The piano player played…well as we say, from the heart, and the congregation was spirited if a bit off key.  We sweltered.  The only air conditioning was those little hand held fans with Jesus on one side and an advertisement for the Funeral Home on the back.  They said they were gonna get some new ones come fall that’ll have the high school football schedule.  A wooden bulletin board posted notice of how many members were present.  It was 60.

        They had two offerings.  The first was the ‘penny offering’ where everyone had to get all the pennies out of their pocket and place them in the plate.  The fellow beside me didn’t have one, but I found one in my pocket and gave it to him.  He smiled and handed me a peppermint.  I tried to decline but he insisted.  One by one they all came down front and gave what they had.  It reminded me of the little lady in the Bible.  Then they had a regular offering. We had a feeling this crowd didn’t have much so we tossed in some for good measure.

        The  minister gave a brief sermon and then said, “Folks, today we are blessed to have ‘Guitared and Feathered’ in all the way from Harvey County.  Y’all give em a big welcome.  They all clapped.

       We got up and after a quick introduction broke into ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.”  At first the congregation sat silent; almost stunned, but then took to clapping and hollering.  We’d heard them do “This Little Light of Mine’ in Sunday School as we drove in so we decided to improvise it.  They all began to sing along.  Several danced in the aisles.  Thank goodness no one objected; they are having too much fun.

       The sang louder.  “Leaning, leaning, leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”  They clapped out of time but Marfar held the line like a pro on the bass.  I kept the mandolin simple; just a straight chop, and we all hung together.

        Soon they were on their feet.  I could see why they call it the Church of the Exceptional.  This crowd was one of the most enthusiastic I have ever played for.  They were diverse in age, but all had the hearts of children.  I had a mental image of someone outside the church who watched the walls pulsate and the windows fly open to let out the steam.

       We closed with ‘I’ll Fly Away’ and everyone got up and gathered around the stage.  It was the ultimate in audience participation.

         When we finished the minister had us line up for the recessional.  Every single soul in the Congregation came by and shook the hand of each player.

        ‘Yous uns is real good.’

        ‘I ain’t never heard no banjer good as that.”

        ‘Where’s y’all from?”

        “Thanks you.”

        The Church of the Exceptional was that indeed.  You see, except for the minister, some volunteers who drive the church buses, and a few family members and case workers, all the church members are either physically or mentally handicapped, and some severely so.

        It didn’t stop them from digging the music; not one bit.  If any human being could go and not to be humbled by that congregation, I sure do feel sorry for them.  They were beyond gracious.  As someone wrote in the bulletin, “You will never leave the Church of the Exceptional the way you arrived.”

        I agree.

Dr. B

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18 Comments on “The Church of the Exceptional”

  1. Martin Waddell Says:

    This makes me feel glad and sad at the same time. Glad, because it’s great to hear about a church like this, and to realise what it must mean for the people who worship there (I had a look at their website after reading your blog). But sad, because it also says a lot about how so few of our churches are places where such people fit in and are made to feel welcome. I occasionally lead worship and preach in the group of Church of Scotland parishes in rural Argyll to which I belong. One of these parishes has a member who is profoundly deaf (he is also a worship leader, and a truly wonderful one as well). I always make a point of bringing along copies of prayers, reflections and anything else I’m doing in the service, so that he can follow and share in what is going on, and more than once he’s told me how valuable this is to him. But some of the other worship leaders just can’t be persuaded to do likewise. Result – a sense of exclusion and alienation. Not what Christ wants for his church, surely.

    • drtombibey Says:


      I was tickled to get to play there today, but you make a good point. If all church doors were as open as they should be, the folks today might very well have had another church home. Because they don’t I was glad they had the one they have, though.

      Dr. B

  2. Ted Lehmann Says:

    Never can tell what you’ll find when you step into one of those little churches. Ask me to tell you about Daddy Grace’s House of Prayer for All People in Philadelphia sometime. It’s astounding when those whose needs are greater than yours find ways to give back in more than full measure. – TL

    • drtombibey Says:


      I will do just that my friend. Man, I came away today, counted my blessings, and was determined to be the best Doc I could be.

      Dr. B

  3. Smitty Neuse River Pres. Says:

    Doc, no chosen frozen in that church. Worship was straight from the heart and that is where we find our worth. I don’t think you could set your watch by where they were in the service. I hate it when we get in a rut with worship. Some of the professional christian think if we don’t do the doxology, God will get mad and make our week misable because we skipped somethig that MUST be included weekly.

    By the way, if preacher man would have done the sermon today on Bitter or Better, you might not be home yet.

    • drtombibey Says:


      Man when these guys put someone on their prayer list, they were very serious about it. In this materialistic world we live in, one would have to say they had been ‘unlucky’ by worldly standards, yet they were only concerned about others.

      Dr. B

  4. waggledance Says:

    Thank you, Dr B. Something to reflect on…

  5. That’s absolutely beautiful, Dr. B. I know from a friend just how much music can help bridge an emotional or mental gap between people. I have a friend who is the music selection adviser for the play that a group of people with mental retardation have put on. The play’s been running for two years straight, and they’re going to Europe for the first time to perform there. Music has a way of touching everyone, always.

    • drtombibey Says:


      The longer I am in it the more I believe music is the universal language. Some time send me a link on that play if you would. I would love to see it.

      Dr. B

  6. junebugger Says:

    Genuine, from-the-heart enthusiasm is something I don’t see much of in my friends. I see many of them at church, they come because it’s a habit, a ritual. You can see it in their faces. Their eyes are always wandering about during worship, bored, and during prayer they’re talking with others… It’s sad, really.

    • drtombibey Says:


      One thing about this crowd; they don’t know how to fake anything.

      Intellectual folks have to be careful to not become cynical. The people I met yesterday don’t know how to be that way, and only know how to be exactly what they are.

      Dr. B

  7. danny fulks Says:

    Tom, you are fortunate enough to be hanging with the same folks I grew up with. How these 6 billion people of the world in any given time intertwine over the years needs further study, as the researchers say. Danny

    • drtombibey Says:


      Professor, you are most astute. The study of how we are all intertwined is exactly what drives me.

      Dr. B

  8. newt221 Says:

    Doctor B,

    You always have a way of touching my heart. I am sure that you were “touched” too when you saw all those people having such a wonderful time. It is very true that music brings us together. Anyone can feel the beat and clap along all be it slightly out of time….

    Blessing to your and the Misses for taking time to share your gift with the gifted..

    • drtombibey Says:

      Ms. Cindy,

      A long time ago I decided I could either play music in bars or at gigs like this. I decided the latter was much more fun for me.

      Dr. B

  9. danny fulks Says:

    Carter Stanley’s song, The Fields Have Turned Brown, is forever. It describes my life as well as one who lives as a peasant from rural China who moves to town and returns years later. Or one who moves from the city to the country and returns to find his childhood romance gone forever, not to be recapured. Kind of a Dylan Desolation Row with an underlying belief that the missing folks may be found in another place, another town, another time. Dark with a glimmer of light off in the distant.

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