The Church of the Exceptional
The elderly pianist played much like a child, and halted at the difficult passages. “Jesus Loves Me This I Know…” She missed a few notes, but it still was rendered with a simple beauty. It brought memories of childhood when I’d skip piano lessons to play baseball instead.
In fact, other than a few volunteers, the entire congregation had some form of mental handicap. They were child-like, though many of them were now into middle age. Most sang off-key, but no one fussed.
The songs were like Vacation Bible School; “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Amazing Grace,” “This Land is Your Land;” that sort of thing. On “This Little Light of Mine” they held up imaginary lights and let ’em shine. They sent out simple prayers for friends to get over heart trouble or belly aches. They had a penny offering; they didn’t ask for or need much.
It was me and Marfar, the Banjo Diva, the girl singer, guitar lady and her urologist husband who has taken up mandolin. His voice-over for the animals on “Creatures Great and Small” was the ticket, though. The moo cow was the hit of the day. They loved him.
Every single one of them thanked us for coming, and bid us a safe trip home. “Where are yous’uns from?” one asked.
“Never heered of hit.” He shook my hand with great vigor. “You come back?”
“Good!” The man skipped down the ramp and called out to a friend. “They gonna come back.”
We loaded up our equipment, stood out on the parking lot for a moment and ate some peanuts the Banjo Diva brought from the Fair. I’m near an old man now, but these folks reminded me of childhood days at my grandmother’s country church so many years ago. I can’t describe why, but they always make me feel young. I never fail to be appreciative of my immense good fortune in life.
Those of us who God gave some degree of raw intelligence can learn something from the mentally handicapped. They have the heart and minds of children. If we were granted enough brain to negotiate our way through the world with relative ease, we should never forget the blessing we have. All of us “sophisticated” people would do well to keep the heart of a child like the folks at The Church of the Exceptional. They were never quite smart enough to learn how to be mean-spirited, and they can help us forget it for a while.
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