The Metro Spirit is the alternative weekly newspaper here in Augusta, GA. One of their regular columns is called The Church Lady. Writer Angel Cleary visits a local church and then writes an article about her experience there. She recently visited us at The Hill. What follows is what she wrote. The esteemed Fred Gunter, our Associate Pastor Emeritus, is the "old male vocalist" to whom Angel refers.
AUGUSTA, GA - Where have the old male vocalists gone? When a church features a soloist, I’ve noticed, that at least at the services I’ve attended, the performer is typically female. I’ve actually only witnessed two guys in 41 church services sing a song.
The irony, of course, is that most music ministers are men. I’m not alluding to anything here; it is just a trend. Maybe there just aren’t any men with decent vocal chords.
So last Sunday when I attended the 11 a.m. service at Hill Baptist Church, I was pleasantly surprised to hear an older man sing an offertory solo.
I entered the sanctuary and found a seat in the back row. There were plenty of seats, though. For some reason, no one sat in the first four rows, leaving an empty chasm between the altar and the first row of people, like that invisible comfort zone boundary the self-conscious won’t cross at small-venue concerts.
Still, the service wasn’t awkward. The liturgy was formal, like that of a Lutheran or Episcopal service. We sang a few hymns and read some Bible verses, standing and sitting at apropos times.
Then for the offertory, a white-haired man, who must have been in his late 60s or early 70s, sang a popular Baptist hymn. His voice was clear and youthful, and if I’d had my eyes closed I would have thought he was in his 30s.
Where the liturgy was mostly formal, the sermon was casual and conversational.
The pastor spoke about how the only way to deal with loss of all kinds is to surrender to the idea of impermanence and accept that everything is a gift of God.
His manner of speech had empathy about it, as though he keenly feels human suffering. This sensibility no doubt comes from his own personal experience of loss which he shared during his sermon. At the tender age of 16, he said, he lost two important role models in his life, and for the next few years of his life he had a fear of losing people. At the same time, he desired a human connection, but this fear kept him pushing people away.
It was a touching sermon. I very nearly choked up as he spoke.
His blog also reflects that sense of empathy. In it he candidly deals with issues of separation of church and state, the terminally ill, immortality and even discusses his own battles over some issues.
Often pastors only share personal anecdotes or lame metaphors. “Jesus takes care of us the same way a mother dog takes care of her puppies” — I swear I heard a pastor use that one once. It was wonderful to hear from the pulpit that pastors are human, too.