Here's Pastor Dave McDowell's weekly devotional that he sends out to members of his church. Dave is my brother and serves as the Music Minister at Stewartstown UMC in PA.
That's how it was,
back in the day.
Or was it?
The Saturday after Thanksgiving
was always a long awaited holiday for my dad.
Deer Hunter Week
It was the time my dad would leave for the mountains
along with many of his lifelong buddies.
DHW was the one time during the year
where Dad was able to do what he wanted.
My dad was a hard working farmer
(I realize that is redundant)
Raising four children and caring for a farm
took all of his time.
He was a man of the woods and field.
Even though he filled a pew seat every week,
being in the outdoors was likely where he felt closest to his Maker.
And so he and his buddies would leave for five days.
There was a schedule for DHW by which you could set your clock.
Saturday was travel day.
Sunday was prep day
Monday through Thursday were hunting days.
But it was the evenings that were a question mark.
Back home, we had heard stories of what hunters did in the evenings....
card games, joke telling, inbibing various liquid spirits, to name a few.
It fell under "the less known, the better" category.
We never asked about much that.
Now my dad was by no means a party guy.
He was a quiet man, definately not the "center of attention guy."
Occasionally mom would ask
what they had done when off the fields, and he would say,
"Nothing much, sit around and relax, go to church"
I remember laughing on the inside at that comment.
Knowing my dad's sense of humor
it sounded like something he would say.
I had no problem envisioning my dad going to church,
but as for a few of his buddies.........well.....
When I was 13,
I was of age to join my dad.
It was one of those moments when a boy
realizes he is becoming a man.
Saturday evening was just what I thought it would be,
poker seemed to be the game of choice,
lot's of cigars.
he said, "we're going to church"
At first, I thought he was kidding,
but when he took me to the car,
I began to wonder.
The only clothes we had were deer hunting gear.
Somehow church and camouflage didn't seem to go together.
We pulled up to this small white chapel
nestled between the mountains.
Cars pulled up,
everyone in hunting boots.
Orange was the color of choice.
The sign on the chapel announcement said it all....
"Hunters Hymn Sing"
My dad was coming to a hymn sing.
That was the equivalent
of a vegetarian attending a bratwurst festival.
Despite the best attempts by his son,
my dad was not a singer.
His lips would barely move during the hymns on Sunday mornings.
The chapel held maybe 60 people,
and by 7pm, the pews were almost filled.
Some churches hold perfume free services.
Such a prohibition was not needed at a hunters hymn sing.
I remember smelling an overpowering smell,
but it was definately not perfume.
As a singer,
it was hard to describe what I heard......
Perhaps a cross between
a barge sounding its horn
and the cry of a sea walrus.
Let's just say tenors were at a premium.
What they lacked in pitch
(and rhythm, and tone, and diction)
they made up for in energy.
I had never before been in a room
with so many people who could not sing,
who were singing as loudly as possible....
Dad was actually moving his lips.
There was no piano in the chapel,
just one overmatched song leader who tried desperately
to steer 60 pitch-challenged woodsmen
to melodic clarity.
He might as well have been the watchman on the Titanic crow's nest
as this vocal ship was headed towards a melodic ice burg
and he could do nothing about it.
As the group bludgeoned its way through the hymnal,
I longed to hear something that I recognized,
but quickly resigned myself
that a joyful noise was indeed the order for the evening.
Oddly enough for a musician,
Sunday evening of DHW was the high point of my week.
I have never had a passion for hunting,
but what I felt in that room was something
that I would never forget.
Men singing the songs of their faith unashamedly,
lifting up prayers of safety for their comrades and themselves,
and greeting each other with a fervor not always seen in churches.
It was real.
It was authentic.
While it wouldn't have placed in any singing festivals,
it surely registered to the heart of God
And that's what I remembers from 43 years ago.
Authentic worship can happen anywhere, in good and bad times.
Remember, Paul and Silas led a midnight prison hymn sing (Acts 16: 25)
Authentic worship builds community. It is contagious.
These hunters had not seen each other in a year.
The fellowship that night was genuine.
Authentic worship captures God's attention.
How could God not be pleased with such passion from His children?
Authentic worship leads others to Christ.
I am sure that there were those in attendance that night
who did not had a living relationship with Christ.
How could they not be moved?
That's how it was back in the day,
45 years ago.
But things change.
In a culture that continues to distance itself from God,
hunters don't go to hymn sings anymore.
Or do they?
Three weeks ago,
I was up in the area where my dad hunted.
I drove by the white chapel
and this is what I saw on the announcement board.......
“Hunters Hymn Sing”
Sunday, Nov 28
That's how it was back in the day.
Thank the Lord,
that's how it still is.
Next Sunday morning as you sing your first hymn,
you might not be dressed in camouflage,
you might not be ready to bag your buck,
but for your sake, and for the pleasure of the Father,
be ready to sing your heart out.
You just might end up touching someone else's heart.
But about midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God,
and the prisoners were listening to them,
and suddenly there came a great earthquake,
so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken;
and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's chains were unfastened.
Acts 16: 25-26