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?”
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.”
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