Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Time travel in church, “This is my Father’s world.”

The sermon theme this past Sunday was “Drinking Tea,” which doesn’t make a lot of sense, except the idea was to relax from our busy distracted life and take in the beauty and complexity of God’s creation with a cup of tea, or good music, or the smell of frying bacon (yes, Joe actually fried up some bacon during the service). One of the hymns we sang Sunday was, “This is my Father’s world,” and I was immediately transported back in time to the junior choir at the little Lutheran church my family attended (but never joined) 1946-1951 in Forreston, Illinois. Our neighbor in Forreston, Helen Vietmeier invited us to attend  (she died in 2010 and I last saw her at my mother’s funeral in 2000). The church welcomed us warmly and we children participated in everything, although we remained members at our home church in Mt. Morris.

This popular hymn by Maltbie D. Babcock was written in 1901, the year of his death, and wasn’t published as a hymn until later. But it’s probably in most Protestant  hymnals, and by the 1940’s even little kids could understand and gustily belt it out, particularly the “This is my Father’s world” line which is repeated 6 times. Franklin Sheppard adapted Babcock’s poem of 16 verses, to 3 verses of 4 lines each in 1915. So that’s only about 30 years for that hymn to become so popular even little kids could sing it and remember it years later.

Our pastor when I was belting out songs in the junior choir was Rev. Dr. T. B. Hersch (1871-1959) who was older than my grandparents, and was born and raised in Polo, Illinois. He retired to Polo after leaving the Forreston church in 1953 (as seen in the Freeport paper which you can find on the Internet).  I don’t remember him as an inspiring preacher in his black robe and white hair—but then, how much does a 7 year old remember?  Actually, a lot when his wife Alice got ahold of the children during Sunday School or VBS.  She was a dynamo, and you just kept your eyes glued on her and didn’t even whisper when she did those felt board Bible stories, moving Jesus and the sheep around the fields and mountains.  She died in 1970 at Pinecrest in Mt Morris. My mother volunteered there—wondered if she visited her?

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