Howard was quite a guy. He attended our little church of about 150 people, faithfully. He didn’t have much in the way of formal schooling. He didn’t learn to read until he was an adult, and then by reading his Bible. He carried that old, tattered leather-bound KJV all the time and loved to read it at every opportunity. As you might guess, he didn’t have a great job or make a lot of money. His usual Sunday morning attire was a well-worn suit, necktie and a unmatched flannel shirt. One thing he understood was what it meant to give to the Lord. I don’t think he would approve, so I won’t share the details here. This I can tell you, though, the man had a gift for giving and with it, very few attachments to the things of this world.
Another thing about Howard that you couldn’t miss, was that he loved to sing. You could always hear Howard and not only because of the volume. His deep, tremolo voice was always a half-step behind everyone else. Some who heard him would laugh and others would roll their eyes. Young children would turn around and stare during the morning service. But, most everyone got used to it sooner or later. It was a part of who he was and we all knew that he was singing to the Savior whom he loved with every fiber of his being.
Our Sunday evening services were attended mostly by a smaller, familiar group of about 50 people. Quite often, we’d have a casual hymn-sing. Penni, our pianist, would lead the group and begin the time by asking for song requests. If Howard was there, and he usually was, you could count on him to be the first to voice a favorite. It was always the same Hymn; number 518 in the old, red Alliance hymnal, “Victory in Jesus”. Howard’s voice would sail above the crowd and we’d all smile, knowing that he was enjoying himself.
From time to time, our pianist and her husband would perform a song or instrumental on Sunday morning, during the offering. Howard began asking her if he could be a part of that and do a solo. After some pestering, she reluctantly agreed to let him sing. Knowing Howard’s unique style, her husband and two of their friends included Howard in a quartet rather than doing a solo, hoping that they would be able to keep him in time with the music. A couple of the usual weeknight practices followed and the quartet members could see that they were not going to be able to keep Howard on pace with the music. But, they were committed to their promise and would make good on the decision to include him.
Sunday morning came around and we filed into the church sanctuary. Most of our regular attendees were there but within the group were scattered an unusual amount of unsuspecting visitors. We did our opening songs and those of us who knew what was about to occur, began to feel a little uneasy as the time approached to take the offering. All was seeming to go well when the moment arrived. The quartet took to the platform and found their places around the piano. Howard’s tie was a little askew and his suit a bit wrinkled. Penni looked at her husband and then at the rest of the men as she played the intro. The quartet readied themselves. Three of the men began to harmonize, right on time. Then Howard came in, true to form. There was some anxiety and concern about the visitors who might laugh at our friend as he lifted his voice to the Lord. We all looked around at each other, cringing a little and then something happened. You might even call it a miracle.
A hush came over the crowd and we all sat there listening to Howard as he joyfully sang with those men; and we loved it. Not only those of us who knew him well, but it seemed as if everyone in the church that morning felt Howard’s love for the Lord. No, the miracle wasn’t in some unexpected ability to keep perfect time with the music. It was business as usual. Then, I heard the rustle of purses and people shifting in their seats. They were searching for hankies and tissues as they sniffled and wiped their eyes. I looked up at Howard and he wasn’t noticing anything unusual. The other members of the quartet kept right on singing, staying a half-measure ahead, throughout the entire song. Hearts were touched throughout the sanctuary on that blessed morning.
We attend a much larger church now and like most churches, the days of the Sunday evening service and hymn-sings, have all but disappeared. The strive for excellence in music, limits opportunities like we had in our little congregation. I realize that those moments of intimacy are relegated to the past, but the memories are indelibly etched in my mind.
Howard has gone to be with the Lord and undoubtedly experiencing the the last stanza of his favorite song, number 518, Victory in Jesus. I can imagine him singing in that Heavenly Choir at the top of his voice, perfectly in sync with the beat or maybe a little behind:
“I heard about a mansion He has built for me in glory,
“And I heard about the streets of gold beyond the crystal sea,
“About the angels singing and the old redemption story,
“And some sweet day I’ll sing up there the song of victory”.