Thank you, Nita Church

Published 8:47 pm Friday, July 23, 2010

The Internet is a strange bird.

I don’t trust it and most of the time I don’t have anything to do with it.

A young coworker set me up on Facebook, but I don’t remember my password and I don’t want to fool with it anyway.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

I’d rather somebody look me in the face when they’re talking to me.

But, from time to time, something comes across my email that is of interest.

One of interest was from a lady in Montana whose name is Nita Church.

She had Googled her name and, from out of that vast wasteland of words, popped an article that I had written some time back about my Aunt Nita who was a Holiness preacher.

Evidently, the column also mentioned that the women “of old” were snuff dippers.

When at church for “convenience,” they sat near an open window.

Because the two words, Nita and Church, were in that column, Nita Church got hooked up with me.

That was especially interesting to me because, like Nita Church, I’m a Montana gal.

Even though I’ve lived most of my life in Alabama, there’s still a longing in my heart for the place where I was born.

That should have been the end of the story, but it wasn’t.

While visiting friends in the Smoky Mountains over the weekend, I had this urge – this need – to revisit an old country church.

One like where Aunt Nita preached.

Where they sang those old familiar hymns without the need of accompaniment by a piano.

Where they sang from the heart and without reservation.

My hosts didn’t know of such a place, but suggested the direction I might take.

A friend went along for the ride.

We turned off a “blue highway” onto one steep, winding mountain road after another and, finally, found a Baptist church where the morning service started at 11 o’clock.

But it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for – longing for. I just didn’t think it would be a “Nita” church.

As we wound around a sharp curve on Caney Creek Road, a sign nailed to a tree pointed up the mountain to the left.

It read: “Beech Grove Primitive Baptist Church – Service 10 a.m.”

I put Maybelle in first gear and shot straight up the side road.

There were only a few cars at the little county church. Even before we got out of the car, I heard the singing and I knew I was at the right place.

We slipped in on the back pew and the young man in front turned and shook our hands.

Several people nodded.

I opened the Old School Hymnal, but I didn’t need to.

I knew all of the hymns by heart.

The verse inscribed on the cover, “O sing praises unto the Lord,” was my invitation to sing along.

Jeans and tennis shoes aren’t the proper attire for Beech Grove Primitive Baptist Church so I kept my feet tucked under the pew but there wasn’t much I could do about the jeans.

The hymnal wasn’t nearly big enough.

A young man who had been called to preach was the first to speak.

Then, while we sang “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” everybody greeted each other with hugs and handshakes.

Then the minister preached – much like Aunt Nita and other preachers that I remember who also sang from the Old School Hymnal.

I don’t really understand the connected between shape-note singing and old-time preaching.

But then I don’t have to understand it.

I just let it seep into my heart, into my being.

The preacher ended his sermon with the thought that, at death, our bodies go back to dust and our spirits to back to the One who gave them.

What a wonderful closing thought.

Then we sang “Amazing Grace” and verses that I hadn’t heard in years.

While we sang, the congregation again hugged each other and us.

On the last verse, we quietly slipped out the front door.

I had been revived by the old time service.

Thank you, Nita Church.