Every once in a while, I like to give an account of what’s been happening in my tiny community in the shadow of John’s Mountain just north of Rome, Georgia. Here’s what happened on a memorable Sunday last year:
Sweet, plain voices rose together toward the roof as a dying evening sun slanted through stained glass. The small choir — no more than a dozen total — clustered next to the pulpit at Mount Tabor Methodist Church, and a seasoned piano player vocalized her alto part right along with them as she plunked out the notes to “Honey in the Rock.”
A good portion of the Everett Springs community had shown up to hear this performance, and we were crowded into the pews shoulder to shoulder inside the tiny sanctuary. It was the fifth Sunday in March 2019, which meant area musicians had gathered to lift their voices in worship. The fifth Sunday singing makes up the bedrock of the ongoing relationship between this community’s three little churches — Mt. Tabor, Everett Springs Baptist and West Union Baptist. The choirs take turns ascending the stairs beside the pulpit, and each church pianist has her chance to slide in behind the keys. There are usually a few soloists. This latest singing included a beautiful rendition of “He is God” from Wayne Hopper, who led Mt. Tabor as pastor for 18 years and participates regularly now as a bible study leader. His rich, rustic voice gave body to the notes and pulled us into the song’s message about the Lord’s sovereignty.
It’s always fun to gather Baptists and the Methodists together with the inevitable jokes about the use of water during baptismal rites. Before the meal that followed the singing, the Baptists were instructed to dunk their dinner rolls into any corresponding soup, while the Methodists received an assurance that nothing would be held against them if they chose to sprinkle broth over their bread. But those were really the only references to any doctrinal differences. This singing has long been an opportunity for the community simply to gather in worship, and when these folks are in God’s house together, there’s a palpable sense of unity. The church leaders share their flocks’ struggles and praises at various times throughout the service, welcoming back members who have been sick and praying for others who are still struggling.
You see, these three churches regularly lift each other up in prayer during their Sunday morning and Wednesday night services. It’s not unusual to hear the Mt. Tabor folks praying about an issue one of the other congregations or individual members is facing, and those prayers are reciprocated. And when they’re all face to face at a fifth Sunday singing, they catch up in person on what’s been happening with things like ailing relatives, new job offers, personal losses and triumphs.
After the music, the sanctuary took on the appearance of a beehive. People were dashing to the kitchen to check on casseroles and fried chicken warming in the oven. Others swarmed the soloists, congratulating them on their well-rehearsed performances. I overheard Wayne give credit to God for his masterful vocals.
We filed out of the sanctuary toward the fellowship hall toward a spread of — well — Biblical proportions, really. The tables staggered under glass dishes and crockpots holding an irresistible assortment: meatloaf, chicken (roasted and fried), scalloped potatoes, fruit salad, three types of green beans. And as anyone who has attended a gathering that mixes Southern Baptists and food knows, the resulting casseroles will steal the show. My daughter and I zeroed in on a chicken-and-rice version that was nearly demolished by the time the line inched past it. A separate table held the dessert offerings — singular slices of heaven like banana pudding, chocolate cake, pineapple cream pie and this lemon … thing that transcended all earthly boundaries of what dessert should taste like. It featured whipped cream topping that gave way to a tart pudding balanced on a pecan base. An ensuing Google search revealed that it’s officially called a lemon lush. Appropriate.
Neighbors ate and ate again and mingled to share community news and remembrances, and before I realized it, two hours had passed, and dark had fallen outside. I made my way out of the fellowship hall with my family into the crisp, early spring night. On my way, I promised friends — some old, some brand new — that we’d speak (and sing) together again soon.