It is a small country church in which we assemble most Sundays for worship.
From the midst of those who gather there, a simple faith cloaked in humility rises up. Mountain people are “umble,” as the Appalachian folks saith, because none of us ever had enough to be haughty about it.
These Sunday mornings are powerful to me. It reminds me of the saints of my childhood. Those people who survived on prayer, goodwill, vegetables from summer gardens and a fattened hog killed after autumn’s first heavy frost.
I think often of Miss Irene. Her husband, Mr. John Nix, had been dead for years by the time I remember her as rail thin, white headed and slightly hunched forward. I was about 9 or 10 when I saw my daddy take her gnarled hand in his and gently ask her, after one church one Sunday, “Miss Irene, how you doin’ today?”
Solemnly she replied, “Well, Ralph, I ain’t doin’ too good. I’m hurtin’ somethin’ awful but I decided I can have my aches and pains in the House of the Lord, just as good as I can have ‘em at home.”
It is the anthem of the Appalachians: The righteous believe in a power mightier than I or my meek-hearted kinfolk. The renegades like to claim they’re in charge of their own destiny but, sooner or later, every knee bows. At least it does where I come from.
In this tiny country church, people dress in their best and gather to sing hymns drawn directly from the Scriptures we read in the beautiful King James language.
“They Shall Walk with Me in White” holds theologically to the vision of John the Revelator. It is easier to understand the song than to read the book of Revelation. The songs are full of promise and all are sung in shaped note harmonies focusing on bass, alto and soprano.
While many songs are written by legendary men like Albert Brumley, G.T. Speer, Cleavant Derrick and Luther Presley, one of the songs we favor is called “A Child of the King,” written by Cindy Walker, who was a prolific songwriter of country songs in the 1940s and 1950s. This remarkably moving song may be the only religious one she ever penned.
Every time we sing the song, I think of Miss Walker’s biggest hit: “You Don’t Know Me,” which was recorded by many but were notably hits for Mickey Gilley, Elvis Presley and Michael Buble. It is an achingly touching song of a secret love with a lovely lyric, “You think you know me well, but you don’t know the one who dreams of you at night.”
Legend says that Miss Walker was inspired to write it because of an unrequited love for Bob Wills, the king of country and western swing.
Goodness, though, “A Child of the King” is a gem: “Once I was clothed in the rags of my sin. Wretched and poor and lonely within.” What an admirable writer she was.
When sweet words of prayer ring up, I think often of Daddy. Whenever he was called on to pray, he dropped to one knee and prayed with such humility that his words were edged in tears. His phrases ring back to me now, “Bless those, oh Lord, who are heartbroken over the homegoin’ of loved ones and those who is our duty and privilege to pray for.”
And always he ended by saying, “Dear Lord, we bow our unworthy heads and give you the honor, the praise and the glory for it all.” He prayed in a lyrical, poetic way.
Some people seem surprised that we don’t go to a fancy city church and that we happily worship in this little country church in the Appalachian foothills.
We adore it. It’s a salve to our world-weary souls and a brotherly/sisterly love that we cherish mightily.
It is blessed home to us.
Ronda Rich is the author of What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should). Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsle