Music Notes, July 25

No history lesson today, just my favorite story about one of the hymns we’re singing. The LDS poet Emma Lou Thayne relates this story about her friend, Jan Cook, who moved from Salt Lake City to a remote part of Africa:

“[Her husband’s] work had taken them and their three small children there, and any meetings attended were in their own living room with only themselves as participants. By their third Christmas, Jan was very homesick. She confessed this to a good friend, a Mennonite; Jan told her how she missed her own people, their traditions, even snow. Her friend sympathized and invited her to go with her in a month to the Christmas services being held in the only Protestant church in the area, saying that there would be a reunion there of all the Mennonite missionaries on the continent.

It took some talking for Jan to persuade her husband, but there they were being swept genially to the front of the small chapel. It felt good, being in on Christmas in a church again. The minister gave a valuable sermon on Christ; the congregation sang familiar carols with great vitality. Then, at the very end of the meeting, a choir of Mennonite missionaries from all over Africa rose from their benches and made their way to stand just in front of Jan and her family. Without a word, they began singing. Without music, without printed text, they sang “Come, Come Ye Saints.” Every verse.

Disbelieving, totally taken by surprise, Jan and her husband drenched the fronts of their Sunday best with being carried home on Christmas…. When they finished, Jan’s friend said simply, “For you. Our gift.”

Jan’s friend had sent to Salt Lake City for the music to the hymn she knew Jan loved, had had it duplicated and distributed to every Mennonite missionary in Africa; they in turn had learned it very carefully to bring the spirit of Christ to their own reunion, where foreigners to their faith would be waiting to hear. (“The Gift,” Exponent II, Fall 1986, reprinted in Eugene England, _The Quality of Mercy_)

11 comments for “Music Notes, July 25

  1. What a wonderful story! The sad part is, would we do something that wonderful for someone outside of our faith. I can’t even imagine an entire ward learning a Hymn from another church just to welcome someone and make them feel at home.

  2. That is to say, I think it is just as likely for an LDS ward to do something like that as it is for a Mennonite congregation to do so. If you’re implying that a Salt Lake City ward wouldn’t do something like that, you might be right simply because of the population and the different context that implies (rather than a single LDS family among a handful of Mennonites). I would bet that you would be hard pressed to find a congregation of another faith in Salt Lake City that would be willing to do that. In other words, it’s all about context. If there were an LDS congregation in a remote area in African, and one of the members of that congregation were friends with a homesick Mennonite and found out about that homesickness, I think it is quite possible that the ward would do such an activity for that person.

  3. Is it possible to agree with both of you? Like Maren, I have a hard time imagining most of the wards I’ve been in managing to extend such kindness. However, I’ve also learned by happy experience that any group of people trying to live Christian lives will occasionally manage to extend the kind of love and service that make them worthy, for a moment, of the name Christian. The trick is not to get discouraged by the difficulty of imagining ahead of time that the frequently thoughtless people you sit next to every Sunday, might, in a moment of grace, be lifted beyond themselves and be unimaginably kind. It’s also important to keep believing and hoping it’s possible, even if you can’t imagine or predict it!

  4. I have a very hard time imagining that I “might, in a moment of grace, be lifted beyond [myself] and be unimaginably kind,” so that (even charitable) speculations about the potential buried deeply in my bovine neighbor in the pew would seem hilariously audacious.

  5. Well, let me add then. I do have a hard time especially in Salt Lake City, imagining a congregation doing something like that, whereas in other places it may be more likely. However, even in Branches and Wards I have lived in in New York and DC, there are times when people can seem very unwelcoming. I have had friends change wards so they could go to church without gossip about their past life, as well as new members insulted by old members when they truly did not know we do not wear pants to church. So to imagine these same people welcoming someone of another faith with a song they do not believe is doctrine is hard. Not impossible, but hard. Kristine is right, the trick is to learn to look past all of these thoughtless people and try and make these things welcoming and possible, even if you are the only one willing to do it.

  6. oh, and I have been to a church in Salt Lake City in which I was welcomed with such open arms, that I have never witnessed in a congregation of LDS saints. It taught me quite a lesson, and I have learned to keep my open to those new in my Branch.

  7. Terrific story, Kristine, thanks for sharing. (Are you related to Paul Haglund? I live in the Chicago area, so I know him.)

  8. Great story, Kristine. Thanks again.

    I am saddened by all of this discussion of “thoughtless people you sit next to every Sunday.” I have lived in twelve states from Oregon to Delaware and from Texas to Wisconsin — and even for a short time in Utah — and I have never viewed my fellow Saints as thoughtless. To the contrary, I have witnessed countless acts of selfless service, some towards me, some towards others in the ward, and some towards total strangers. In most instances, this service was not done with thoughts of worldly gain or praise, but out of charity unfeigned.

    We do not have a corner on the charity market, but we aren’t stangers to charity, either.

  9. Gordon, I didn’t mean to say that everyone in my ward (or Maren’s ward) is thoughtless, or that people who seem thoughtless are, or that it’s intentional–I just think it happens often that we sit next to each other week after week without knowing each other’s needs or being able to rise above ourselves enough to offer meaningful service. “Thoughtless” was my shorthand for not-deliberately-unkind-but-not-meaningfully-connecting-and-helping, which I take to be a sad, but pretty much inevitable problem of the human condition, not a symptom of failing charity.

    Kevin, Paul is my uncle, and I have the eyebrows to prove it :)

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