We chatted for a few minutes, then he graciously extended an invitation to me to attend his annual birthday singing. George is turning 90 this month, and I was not surprised that this tradition is continuing.
What better way for this gospel-loving gentleman to celebrate his birthday every year than by inviting a houseful of folks of like mind to spend a few hours together in gospel harmony.
He owns multiple copies of the Church Hymnal, or the Red Book as it is commonly known. And he has friends who know only too well how to touch the ivories in the tradition of Eva Mae LeFevre.
His son, Mike, with friends Mike Cagle and Jim Drinkard, know a few things about other instruments and, along with a gospel family of young siblings and their mother, treated us to a mix of voices and instruments.
We found ourselves singing along as they led us in an a cappella rendition of Happy Birthday, a surprise for George. I am very lucky that daughter Sarah and her hubby, Jerald (of the singing Reinhardt family) love this music also and offered me a ride.
As John Denver might paraphrase, it was a Gospel Singing High. My hearing loss has greatly affected my recognition of harmony, but when you can’t hear the harmony in your ears, you have to listen for it in your heart. Rhythm you can feel, but harmony must be heard.
The next day, fresh off a big dose of gospel and praise, Sarah, along with granddaughter Samantha, the MOTH and me, traveled to Stone Mountain Baptist where a reception was held to honor the retiring Rev. Dr. W. Dan Parker.
That morning he had delivered his “Swan Song” sermon there where he has been pastor for the past 21 years. There may be some kind of twisted coincidence between the fact that Dan’s last sermon as a church pastor was delivered on the same day that the Pope did much the same thing.
Dan was our pastor at Woodstock Baptist from 1968 to 1975. Much of their ministry here centered on the youth, and since we had three teenagers, “Dan and Jean” became household words.
The common bonds we shared with this couple made for relationships of the kind that span a lifetime. Their four children (two of whom were born here) have their own precious memories, as do our daughters.
Listening to these “kids” recount some stories, and watching as they reunited with hugs and laughter and an occasional tear, was as good as it gets when you come to sharing memories.
Just seeing Dan and Jean brought to mind so many very special times, especially musical moments. Jean was pianist and/or organist for cantatas and youth musicals, funerals and weddings.
Dan baptized and chastised, tied marriage knots, negotiated cease-fires, kept the peace, hauled busloads of young folks to summer camps, and entertained at church suppers and civic clubs.
He worked with other denominations in town, helping to coordinate joint services on Thanksgiving and on Fifth Sunday nights and occasionally a joint concert or pageant. He encouraged young people in projects, including the “Up, Up With America” event in the late ’60s.
Ask Woodstock baby boomers about the influence of Dan and Jean on their lives. They can preach you a sermon. The parents of those boomers are thankful. I know. I am one.
And we all wish the best for this couple. Perhaps we’ll see more of them now. They have grandchildren in Cherokee.
On Sunday night, after 24 hours of “church” (singing, Sunday worship, and reception for Dan), I read an article about yet another form of worship that I had never heard about.
Called Ring Shout, it does not involve shouting at all. In this case, the word shout is a derivation of saut, a kind of Afro-Arabic dance in the round, performed to music directed by a lead singer with back-up singers, a stick-man who keeps time, and clappers who accompany the singers.
Women perform a dance-like shuffle in a counterclockwise circle, thus the term Ring. Brought to the United States during slavery times, the tradition goes back to 18th century Africa.
Perhaps George can incorporate that into next year’s singing if we can meet outdoors where there is more room.
And as he did before this year’s singing began, he can announce that we will practice open letter singing: Open your mouth and letter go.
Juanita Hughes is Woodstock’s official historian and former director of the Woodstock Public Library.