I am back from my little trip to Decorah, with a lot to write about. . . but I’ll start with the fun I had right before my departure Sunday morning. It was a special youth service with some of the young people of the congregation providing the vast majority of the special music of the day (although I did have the senior choir sing a brief and lively call to worship, since they are all “young at heart.” )
One highlight for sure was when the youth sang a song of mine called “Jonah” which springs out of the familiar Old Testament story of Jonah being swallowed by a whale because he had disregarded God’s command to go to Ninevah. I composed this maybe six or seven years ago for our Vacation Bible School and Kate Barrow was the one who realized that it would be a perfect addition to Sunday’s service, since the Jonah story was the Old Testament Lesson.
It’s a lively call-and-response song, and some of the words are:
L: Jonah was swallowed by a whale
C: (echo) Jonah was swallowed by a whale.
L: Sort of like an underwater jail.
C: (echo) Sort of like an underwater jail.
L: Jonah thought that he was boss.
That’s when God got mighty cross.
He made that mighty whale inhale
and thus begins our salty tale.
Jonah was needed! C: (echo)
L: Jonah should have heeded C: (echo)
All: The commands of Almighty God
of Almighty God.
You get the gist of it. This is not the kind of piece one submits for a doctoral thesis on composition – it’s just a fun song that kids like to sing.
Kate’s surprise twist to the proceedings was twofold- first of all, she had small little hand-held props. . . little Jonah figures and little whale figures, which were on sticks, that people could wave in the air. Second, as the last refrain began, one of the youth choir members emerged from a side door up front with a big inflatable shark/killer whale – and just threw it up in the air right over the heads of the parishioners sitting in the front pew . . . and as the congregation continued to sing (and laugh) that inflatable whale was patted up in the air and made its way to the back of the sanctuary, crossed the middle aisle and eventually made it up to the front again. Kate called it doing “The Whale” rather than “The Wave” – – – and you should have seen the looks of delight on people’s faces. This was a brilliant idea because it was exciting and entirely unexpected and yet not so wild and weird that it turned people off. I think that your typical Lutheran, for as staid as our reputation tends to be, enjoys those moments when we let our hair down and boogie. . . although I can scarcely believe that I just typed those words. But this was one of those moments when everyone in that sanctuary – as far as I could tell – from the 8-year-olds to the 80-year-olds – got into the spirit of the moment. Did such things happen in that sanctuary 75 years ago? I rather doubt it- although part of me wishes SO much that it was possible to hear what those church services sounded like. The photographs give us the impression that things were rather serious and somber and it’s hard to picture jokes being cracked or pranks being pulled. But to whatever extent that impression in fact is true, I’m glad to live in an era and worship with a congregation where tossing around an inflatable whale causes smiles and laughter and nary a single furrowed brow.
pictured above: “The Whale” is about to reach the front of the sanctuary. The shot is a bit blurred because I took the picture with the camera in one hand while I continued to play the piano with the other. The blurry figure standing in the middle aisle is Kate, who masterminded the whole thing and who gets the credit.