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A gifted hymn liner still needed

In the pulpit

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POSTED: November 13, 2007 5:00 a.m.
Long ago, when there was the little white wooden church beside the road; and there was no air conditioner, padded pews or music in the church, people sang the old hymns and negro spirituals.
Church members would lift their melodious voices and sing praise to God. The lack of musical instruments and other amenities did not stop them from singing. They made their own music.
A tradition in the early church was called the “lining” or “raising” of hymns.  “Since slaves (and many whites) could not read and the number of hymnals was limited, they “lined out” or “raised” a hymn. This style of singing had been established in the colonies in the 1640s.
A church elder or minister (sometimes called an “exhorter”) who could read would recite a line and then sing it with the congregation. The process was repeated until the hymn was completed.”
“Since hymn writers wrote only lyrics with no melodies, a system of tunes that fit the poetic meters of the hymns was devised. The two most frequently used meters are common and short. Common meter consists of a stanza of four lines, the first and third with eight syllables and the second and fourth with six syllables each.” An example of a common meter hymn is “Amazing Grace.”
“A short-meter hymn consists of a stanza of four lines and a poetic foot composed of a short, unaccented syllable and long, unaccented syllable. The first, second and fourth lines of a short meter hymn each contain six syllables and the third line contains eight syllables.” “The Day is Past and Gone” is a short-meter hymn.
Church people would raise their hands and pat their feet as they sang these songs and were moved by the meaning of the words. These hymns had a meaning behind them. One of the most prolific hymns ever written is, “Amazing Grace.” This hymn was written by John Newton, a former slave trader who was converted to Christianity.
Others well-known hymn writers include Dr. Isaac Watts, the Wesley brothers (John and Charles Wesley) and Thomas A. Dorsey. Dr. Watts wrote such inspiring hymns as, “At the Cross,” Am I a Soldier of the Cross,” and O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” Two of Charles Wesley’s, who is the founder of the Methodist movement, most recognized hymns are: “A Charge to Keep I Have” and “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”  
Dorsey (a native of Villa Rica) wrote, “Take my Hand, Precious Lord,” which has been translated into 50 languages. Other popular hymns still heard today include, “What a Friend We have in Jesus,” “Blessed Assurance,” “Father, I Stretch my Hands to Thee,” “The Old Rugged Cross” and “How Great Thou Art.”  
Lining or raising of hymns has always played a very important role in the history of the black church, especially in the South. But as musical instruments, choirs and praise groups have become more popular in African-American churches, hymn lining is becoming less common.
Liberty County is blessed to have one of the greatest hymn liners in her midst.  Although he lives in Long County, he has always pastored churches in Liberty County.
The Rev. B. T. Smith of Ludowici loves to “line” or “raise” the old hymns. He is a gifted hymn liner and is recognized throughout the state of Georgia for his ability to “line” a hymn. He is a regular attendee at the General Missionary Baptist Convention of Georgia (with its 500,000 plus members) and is lauded by the convention leadership for his gift in lining hymns.  
Despite his 70-plus age, he is often asked to “line” a hymn at Convention gatherings.  
“As a deacon at St James Missionary Baptist Church, I sang hymns in churches throughout the area and also went to the State Convention and sang them,” Smith said.
He was ordained as a deacon in 1955.  
After being ordained and serving as a pastor, the Rev. Smith has lined hymns on many occasions. Whether it is a pastor’s appreciation program, revival, church anniversary, funeral, deacon’s ordination, pastor’s installation or any other church program, you will find Smith being called upon to “line” a hymn.
He will quickly let you know the “lining” and singing of the hymn is done without music - no drums, piano, organ or keyboard.
Prior to the minister of the hour delivering the sermon, Smith is often asked to “line” a favorite hymn. His favorite is “Guide Me O, Thy Great Jehovah.” Others hymns he enjoys singing include, “What a Friend We have in Jesus,” “The Day is Past and Gone,” “Amazing Grace,” and “A Charge to Keep I Have.”
“I did my initial sermon in July 1957 and was called as pastor of St Luke Missionary Baptist Church in Hinesville in September of 1957. In 1958, I was called as the pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Walthourville and served for 22 years,” Smith said. He has been in the ministry for 50 years plus.  
Smith is currently pastor of First African Baptist Church on Sapelo Island where he has served for 20 years. For the past 21 years, he has also served as the pastor of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Fleming.
He is also a former moderator of the Gatherene Association in Camden County.
Pleasant Grove African Methodist Episcopal Church honored Smith on Oct. 26 with a plaque during a special program, Old Time Gospel Fest (A Suitable Tune). “Pastor Smith is the premier hymn singer and senior pastor in the area,” Donald Lovette, one of the church members, said.
During this week’s Camp Meeting services at Pleasant Grove, Smith will be “lining” a hymn each night.
A native of Dublin, Smith and his family came to Long County when he was 2 years old. He and his wife, Ollie, are the parents of three children and 20 grandchildren.

Quote source - Cultural, Historical and Information Programs, “Troy Demps, African American Hymn Liner www.fheritage.com
 

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