Keep Your Sheep out of the Church of the Lost Lamb
It began on a Sunday morning while we were singing “I Was a Lowly Sheep”, which is sort of our unofficial theme song at church since it was written by local composer William Sanderling. No one would admit that our church has a theme song, the same as a high school or a sitcom, but I’ve been attending for nearly fifty years and don’t remember a service in which it wasn’t the opening hymn. We had reached the chorus and the volume was beginning to swell as it always does when we get to the part which goes “lowly flock in wooley fold.” Folks who are prone to get excited about spiritual matters tend to burst into the chorus with abandon, as if the composer had notated “detonate explosives here.” Visitors who don’t know what to expect and sleepers who should have enough respect to stay awake until the sermon begins always jump, grip their hymnals tighter, and sing with additional fervor themselves, producing a secondary burst like an echo, adding to the commotion, and the p’s at the end of “sheep” pop off so loudly that it sounds as if someone is breaking bubblewrap in the auditorium. Pap always said that while the Lord may appreciate the zeal, it’s rather annoying here on earth. The only other time folks swell up that way in church is when there are words in a song which they aren’t permitted to speak elsewhere, such as “Hell”, “damned”, or especially the hymn with the second verse that ends with ”don’t kick against the pricks, brother,” a particular favorite of Curly Dowd when he leads the singing. I don’t remember the title of that song, but it’s #346 in the book. We had just passed the major burst and were nearly through the secondary swell when everyone noticed a baaaaaaaaa sound, like there was a sheep in the baptistry.
There was an immediate drop in volume, it being an unwritten rule to sing softer any time there is an unknown sound added to the mix. At first everyone assumed a sheep was in the auditorium, an unlikely occurrence but certainly possible in a town where the mayor brings a pet pig to political rallies, but when several people sitting close to Gurton Purby quit singing it became obvious that he was the culprit. He stood there, book in hand, shameless, and baaa’d, even after the rest of the members had stopped singing, as if he was daring someone to tell him how to worship. Luckily, Rube Elder, who was the song leader, stopped the hymn after the first bleating and so spared the congregation additional embarrassment.
Though Gurton has long been considered the most liberal member of the congregation and prone to strange ideas, not even Aunt Ada, as self-appointed head of the church Schutzstaffel — a calling she pursues with the zeal of Himmler himself — considered barnyard sounds an appropriate form of praising the Lord. As you would guess, the bleating sheep in the church was the topic of conversation after services and most members were still in such a state of shock as to render them speechless as the crowd parted in the foyer to let Mr. Purby through on his way out of the building. I will give Wilson Hahn credit for attempting, even if the only thing he said was “shameless.” Gurton smiled at him, arrogant like a liberal, and said that the Church of the Lost Lamb may as well have a sheep in the chorus. Preacher Westminister answered it wouldn’t happen while he still held the pulpit, and then the elders spoke up and said “not in their flock,” which made Mr. Purby smile even wider.
It wasn’t long before rumors circulated that certain members of the flock tended to agree with Gurton and didn’t think it hurt to sound like sheep when sung in the proper spirit and with a respectful manner. Of course, what they didn’t understand was that once you let sheep into the singing someone will want to introduce a goat, and then a pig, followed by a cow, and before you know it every time you open the songbooks there will be dogs barking and asses braying and it will sound more like the livestock barn at the county fair than church services. There will always be someone trying something different, too, by bringing in exotic animals which aren’t even mentioned in the Bible, such as Abominable Snowmen, zombies, and dinosaurs.
[To be continued]