Hymn singing that makes the rafters ring

Old Ormsby Heritage Church

The tiny, historic Old Ormsby Heritage Church. It ceased holding regular services two or three decades ago, but Gary and Lillian Pattison have restored it and organize lovely special services there. (And weddings sometimes take place in it too.)

Before we get too far away from it, I want to do a little post about the service Raymond and I attended this month at the Old Ormsby Heritage Church in the teeny-tiny hamlet of Ormsby, northern Hastings County. (I’ve written lots about Ormsby and the interesting goings-on there – a great old-fashioned general store and emporium, a wonderful tea room/restaurant, special events and the restoration of both heritage buildings and community spirit – here and here.)

Gary and Lillian Pattison and Ernie and Debbie Pattison (Gary and Ernie are twin brothers) are the driving forces behind Ormsby’s renaissance, and it is Gary and Lillian, who now own and have beautifully restored the sweet little building that was Ormsby’s Presbyterian Church, who are behind the special services that take place there from time to time (including a musical Christmas one that is by all accounts absolutely magical).

The service Gary had invited Raymond and me to was an anniversary, marking the building’s 109th year. We knew the church would fill up so we’d better get there early – and fill up it did. It’s a tiny building and doesn’t seat a lot of people in any case, but it was packed to the gills and standing room only.

The service itself was simple and unpretentious, and featured special music by Lillian (a marvellous singer), a brass section including Gary on French horn, and organist Sharon Adams playing a tiny yet very impressive pipe organ that had come to the church from George Beverly Shea – you know, the singer who performed at Billy Graham’s Crusades for decades and decades and decades. (Shea, who was a Canadian born in Winchester, Ont., died just this year, at the age of 104. How the organ he’d once owned and played came to be at the Old Ormsby Church is a charming story that I’ll save for another time – or perhaps let Gary and Lillian tell.)

Anniversary service at the Old Ormsby Church

People who attended the anniversary service mill about and chat afterward. I took this photo so you can see how beautifully restored the building is. And for that we have Gary Pattison (who’s in the blue shirt at left) and his wife, Lillian. Both of them also provided special music for the service.

But what I’ll remember most about the service was the congregation singing How Great Thou Art toward the end of it. Everyone there knew that one, as does everyone who’s ever set foot in a North American church (and many who haven’t). So we sang “lustily, with a good courage” (as John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, prescribes in his famous Rules for Singing; he goes on, “Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.”). And the sound practically raised the roof of the Old Ormsby Church, and it did my heart good. It brought back happy memories of the days when it was not uncommon for churches to be full to overflowing. And when a country church is full to overflowing, and you’ve got a good rousing hymn to sing (like How Great Thou Art, or any of the hundreds written by John Wesley’s brother Charles), and you’ve got good musical accompaniment (like in our case, George Beverly Shea’s pipe organ and a brass ensemble) – well, the sound is like no other. I wish I had an audio excerpt to play for you so you’d know what I mean.

Then again, those of you who lived through those days, like I did, don’t need an audio clip. You have your memories, and they will bring back for you the sound of the walls and rafters of an old country church resounding with that glorious singing. Lustily, and with a good courage.

6 thoughts on “Hymn singing that makes the rafters ring

  1. Now imagine a group of 50+ relatives singing “How Great Thou Art” in FOUR PART HARMONY (a Mennonite tradition) at the 100th birthday celebration of our Aunt Ada at Preston Mennonite Church. I can still hear it and see her smiling face!

  2. Wish we had been there! Remember the Hazzards summer service on Aug 18. You are both invited to join our “choir” for the hymn sing prior to the service. I suspect Gayle and i will be absent (a first) as we have a wedding to attend in PEI.

    • We have every intention of being there! Sorry to hear that you folks probably won’t be (it’ll seem strange without out) – but Grant, I’m sure your sister Bev will have things well in hand.

  3. Ormsby has been a beehive of activity lately but I did want to offer the explanation as to how that organ made its way to Ormsby before too much more time has passed. Our old electrified pump organ was ailing and starting to produce strange sounds not really requested of it by our organists, so a replacement was sought. A visitor to the church found a more modern Conn organ for us but it turned out to have many problems of its own and was not really suitable. We were then put in touch with Roy Fawcett from Winchester, who was life-long friends with Bev Shea and who had just acquired the organ that had been in the Eastern Ontario cottage of Mr. Shea, then 103 years-old, and unable to travel up to Canada. He offered to sell us this organ after we asked him for an appropriate church organ that perhaps had ‘a bit of history’ to it. This Conn Theatre Organ certainly fit the bill. A bonus for us was that Roy Fawcett brought along his colleague Sharon Adams (a slight name correction there) who is a theatre organ virtuoso and who has played recitals throughout North America and who often played with Bev Shea. She was able to show us what the organ was really capable of last fall when it was installed, and helped provide the special music for the Anniversary Service. Despite the rain it turned out to be a lovely service and only because of all the people like Katherine and Raymond, who made the effort to come out, and then who indeed sang lustily, and with great courage, to make the rafters ring! Thank you Katherine and Raymond and hope to see you soon in one of our two historic little hamlets.

    • Thank you for sharing that great story, Gary! (And my apologies for getting Sharon’s name wrong; I have now corrected it in the post. How embarrassing, given that my day job is as an editor.) The Ormsby Heritage Church anniversary was a wonderful occasion and we were happy to be there, joining in the singing and fellowship. We look forward to seeing you and Lillian again soon!

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