A true story. For those not familiar with the song mentioned, here’s a link to the version we had from the Oak Ridge Boys.
How I Ended Up Singing in the Church Choir
So, how did I end up in the church choir, you ask? Not the place you’d expect to find an unabashed atheist like me. Well, I wasn’t always this secular realist. It happened like this.
When I was 15, it was the last year I attended Vacation Bible School. The VBS is a glorified summer day care designed to spend a week ingraining Southern Baptist Christianity into defenseless children. I lived in a small community where there were only four other boys and me of similar age. Four of us were 15 and one was 14. The nearest girl to our age group was my cousin Katie, only 12, so she was in another class. Our teacher, Miss Linda, was a young mother, pretty, who we all liked. She spoke softly but we five rambunctious boys would immediately settle down to hear her. She handled us like no one else could.
Every class had to present something at the end of the week to show what they had done. The smallest kids would show off their paintings and drawings of Noah’s Ark and Adam and Eve playing with dinosaurs. The older kids had to do harder tricks. Some would quote a Bible verse. Some classes would say the Lord’s Prayer in unison. One year I recited the books of the Old Testament. I’m not sure why that was considered a necessary skill, but I did it. It’s actually come in handy while doing crossword puzzles.
Miss Linda decided that this year we would sing a song. This was the era when Christian rock was taking off. She played for us a record that was a little rockabilly and a little gospel. It was the Oak Ridge Boys singing Jesus Is Coming Soon. We all loved it immediately. So, we got together with Miss Jean, our choir director and pianist to start working on it. After a few minutes Miss Linda was worried. All we could seem to come up with was teenage croaking. None of her boys could carry a tune. Except me. I wasn’t driving a car yet to sing along with the radio and singing in the shower wasn’t my style, so the only singing I ever did was Sunday at church. Even then, I did what all the menfolk did. I stood and swayed. I may even have mouthed the words occasionally but no actual singing. It just never occurred to me to try singing. Miss Linda and Miss Jean quickly zeroed in on me. They decided Miss Linda and I would perform a duet, with the other four boys as our backup singers. They would be the Pips to our Gladys Knight; the Four Seasons to our Frankie Valli. There was a considerable bass line for them in the chorus and croaking would be okay.
So, performance night came, and we were ready to rock it. As I have said, it was a small church, so we had no microphone. We had to project. We were last ones up. Miss Jean played our introduction and then Miss Linda and I sang out. I quickly realized she was hanging back a bit, singing softer than usual, so I was the lead voice. It was almost like singing a solo, which would have scared the bejesus out of me. With Miss Linda’s help, the boys came in on time for the chorus. By the second verse I realized I was killing it. People were smiling, some were even swaying. My parents’ look of bewilderment had turned to pride. My boys were humming and swaying in the background, keeping up the tempo. It was going great. After the second verse, Miss Jean played a small musical interlude, giving us a lead up to the final verse. I think all five of us decided it was time to show our stuff and really rock it. I launched into the final verse and immediately detected that I was the only one singing. Miss Linda had joined the boys with their swaying and humming. I was on my own. I decided, what the heck, and gave it everything I had. My volume must have pumped my boys because they came in on the chorus like a screaming band of banshees. Still it worked. Miss Jean liked it so much she hit the notes to run the chorus twice. Not missing a beat, me and the boys brought it on home.
Now one thing you have to understand is that Baptists are very serious about their church and their church music. Music is supposed to be godly and reverential and they never applaud in church. That is considered bad form. The most you can expect is a few fervent amens. After we had finished our rendition of Jesus Is Coming Soon, there was a kind of stunned silence for a moment. Then the whole place erupted in applause, with several shouted amens. They loved it. They loved us. It was a real showstopper, even though it was the end of the show. We all just basked like rock stars.
After this, Miss Jean said I needed to be in the choir. Mom said I’d be honored. Apparently, I was not to be consulted on this. Still, I enjoyed the choir. We had practice on Thursday nights, and I got to sing lots of good songs. On Sundays we usually did a special song without the tired participation of the congregation. Sometimes we also did special performances in other churches. And there were often Christian rock/gospel types of songs. I found I enjoyed singing so much that I joined the school Glee Club. Anyway, that’s how I ended up in the church choir.