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.)
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.