Author’s Note: This is a story I composed for a weekly contest on LinkedIn. This week’s prompt was BLIND, and I immediately thought of the blind hymn writer Fanny Crosby. The following is loosely based on real events.
My grandmother came of age during the 1930s when there was a Depression going on and church was Facebook. For her, however, church functioned as more than a social medium. She loved Jesus and her neighbor, knew every hymn by heart, and repeated the old stories often—first to her children, then to her grandchildren.
Grandma introduced me to the hymn writer Fanny Crosby when I was in third grade. At the time, I had a particular fascination with blindness and would wander around wearing a blindfold in an attempt to comprehend the disability. Grandma’s story about the blind hymn writer captured my imagination. I soaked in the details and learned many of her hymns by heart.
Fanny Crosby’s gospel hymns had been standard fare in tent meetings and church services throughout Grandma’s youth. Grandma’s college friend Billy Graham seldom had a crusade that didn’t feature several of them. At one time, you didn’t have to be a pastor’s kid to be familiar with the blind poet’s hymns. By the dawn of the 1990s, you did.
In the fall of 1993, my extended family descended on Grandma and Grandpa’s house for our annual Thanksgiving celebration. We filled the old Victorian home with storytelling and laughter for three days. On Sunday, the fourth day, we piled into our cars and drove 45 miles to the little country church where my grandparents attended.
On the way, Grandpa shared with the occupants of his car his displeasure with the new pastor. Apparently, the young man was new to Christianity and unfamiliar with the older hymns. Instead, he favored newer musical trends that were unfamiliar to Grandpa and the other church members.
Minutes into the morning service, the problem became clear. Every song the pastor chose was unfamiliar to the pianist as well as to most of the congregation. Sound quality plummeted further when we sang a couple of hymns led by a pastor who didn’t know them.
After the service, my family welcomed the new pastor and made plans for the evening’s singspiration because we all knew that practice would make perfect. Noting the younger members of the family, the pastor seemed to take heart. He even mentioned, “Maybe tonight we can break away from the funeral music and enjoy ourselves a little.”
Plans for a song service seemed unwise to me, but the event appeared inevitable. On the way home, my proper, New Englander grandmother quietly laid out her solution. “Everyone knows Fanny Crosby songs,” she asserted. Throughout the afternoon, she made sure everyone in the family had a chance to look through her hymnal and choose their favorites.
That evening my uncle stepped up to lead the singing and asked for requests. First, an aunt requested “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.” Next, my Dad requested “Praise Him! Praise Him!” followed by another aunt’s request of “Blessed Assurance.” Grandma, who couldn’t see the pastor’s bewildered face from her place in the pew, simply beamed, certain that she had found a solution to the church’s musical conundrum.
A couple of special numbers came next, followed by more requests, all songs written by Fanny Crosby. I could see the pastor’s frustration rising. After two more special numbers, the uncle leading the singing announced that we had time for one more request. Unable to find anything in the hymnal that the pastor was likely to know, I breathed a sigh of relief that the evening was coming to a close. Just then, my grandmother raised her hand and smiled. “Number 325, ‘Rescue the Perishing.’”
The pastor’s shoulders slump forward. I, personally, wanted to escape the room before having to hear that tiny congregation butcher a tune that I’d never particularly liked. To make matters worse, my uncle smiled and turned to the pastor. “Come on over and lead with me, Son. You know this one. We sang it this morning.”
As my uncle pressed the microphone into the pastor’s hand, I realized that we had indeed sung this song during the morning service. The pianist pounded out a couple chords, and the congregation slid into the first note of the hymn that had preempted the morning’s comment about funeral music.