Memories of an old church hymnal from prayer meetings

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Before there was television in my hometown of Evergreen, AL., there was church on Sunday night and prayer meeting on Wednesday night during the late 1940s and early 1950s.

On the other summer nights we listened to the radio, or went outside to play “kick the can.”

Most neighborhoods were alive with kids playing outside.

Other games included tag, hide-and-seek and capture-the-flag.

This week something happened on Broadway in New York that reminded me of those old hymns we sang in the Methodist church, especially during prayer meetings on Wednesday nights.

Check this out from the front page of The New York Times on Tuesday of this week:

Something Happened on Way to Bountiful: Everyone Sang Along

“Not long after the curtain rises on the second act of ‘The Trip to Bountiful,’ the Broadway revival of the Horton Foote play at the Stephen Sondheim Theater something unusual happens.

“Cicely Tyson, as Mrs. Carrie Watts, sits on the bus station in a small Texas town. She is on the run from her abusive daughter-in-law and henpecked son in Houston, desperate to see the family farm in Bountiful once more before she dies.

“Overcome with emotion, she begins singing an old Protestant hymn, ‘Blessed Assurance.’

“From the first note. there’s a palpable stirring among many of the black patrons in the audience, which the play, with its all-black cast, draws in large numbers. When Mrs. Tyson jumps to her feet, spreads her arms and picks up the volume, they start singing along. On some nights it’s a muted accompaniment.

On other nights, and especially at Sunday matinees, it’s a full-throated chorus that rocks the theater.”

Mrs. Tyson said she didn’t realize ‘they were doing it until someone remarked how incredible it was that the audience was joining in … I was so focused on what I was doing that I didn’t hear it.’

The Broadway experience does not include audience participation.

I do think, however, that had the Evergreen Methodists attended that particular play on Broadway we might very well have burst into song. “Blessed Assurance” was one of our favorites.

When I came back from the Navy in 1956, television had cut into the attendance of church meetings on Sunday and Wednesday nights.

Gillis Morgan is an associate professor emeritus of journalism at Auburn University and an award-winning columnist. He can be reached at morgarg7@aol.com

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