Friday, September 18, 2009

Holy, Holy, Holy

We have just concluded a five-week study of Revelation on Wednesday nights at Spanish Fort Presbyterian Church, led by the Reverend Samford Turner, our local presbytery executive. Though he has been out of the active pastorate for seven years, holding down an administrative position, Samford has not let his talents as a Bible teacher grow rusty. He made one of the most difficult books of the Bible come alive to the substantial number of folks who come out on Wednesday night for supper and Bible study.

On those Wednesday nights we sang some of the many hymns that are rooted in the book of Revelation. Of these, the old classic, Holy, Holy, Holy, is my favorite. When he announced it on the second night of our study, Samford told a story that took me back to my own childhood.

Samford lived in Mobile as a boy and was privileged to grow up in the Government Street Presbyterian Church, the historic old mother church of Presbyterians in coastal Alabama. He told us that in his boyhood the congregation at Government Street stood up and sang Holy, Holy, Holy as their first hymn every Sunday.

I may have been the only person in the room who could say a similar thing. When I was a boy, our family church was the Second Presbyterian Church of Washington, Pennsylvania. I have two early memories of that church.

One was the memory of being taken by my father to see the building site when our new Gothic church was being built. I was four or five years old. I don’t think I had ever seen any kind of building construction before, and this site was like a yawning crater opening up in the earth.

My other, more vivid, recollection is the memory of standing in that church with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, great aunts and great uncles, cousins--the whole Scots-Irish Johnston tribe filling the same three adjacent pews--as the choir processed down the long aisle singing the same hymn every Sunday.

Of course, it was Holy, Holy, Holy. I have loved it ever since.

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