Best Seat in the House

September 8, 2010 | 26 comments

I slip into the pew beside my family, and I hope no one minds I brought my camera. I’ve been looking forward to this morning all weekend long.

The guitarist is already up front, gripping the fret with age-spotted hands that wrap around like gnarled branches. I cup the camera-lens to steady it, then shoot a few frames.

For most of the weekend, our family had sat on lawn chairs sprawled out before a stage that held some of the top names in Christian music. We worshipped under dome of sky, as the last of summer sun beat on our backs, then melted orange down the western horizon. We stayed late, leaning deeper into canvas seats and praising under a canopy of twinkling jewelry until little girls fell asleep on shoulders.

And the next day we did the same thing.

But then came Sunday.

Thousands upon thousands of worshippers gathered for a worship service on that farmfield-turned-arena. Who would want to miss a Sunday worship service with Kari Jobe leading worship, right there on a South Dakota farmfield 20 minutes from my front door?

For this moment, we would be willing to miss it.

Because the headliner we wanted to see was playing to a crowd of 40, under a white steeple in the country church we call home.

An old farmer, who keeps a comb in the front pocket of his button-up dress shirt, plugged his guitar into his own personal amp. He had a few songs to pluck out.

We found our place third row back, right side.


He fumbles to find first notes of What a Friend We Have in Jesus. He gets his fingers straight and we find our place in the song about a God-Man who knows our every weakness.

He strums timeless songs and mouths the words. Because he knows them by heart. He plays his favorite: Children of the Heavenly Father. And I know it’s his favorite, because we sang it together once, smack-dab on the middle of the church aisle. I had to turn to page 474 to follow along, but he didn’t look at the words once.

These songs — rooted in a heart –are the overflow of his embedded praise.

How can I keep from singing along?


I caught him after church in the fellowship hall. This was my backstage pass.

“Helmer?” I said. “I just want to thank you for playing today.”

“I figured you’d be at LifeLight,” he says, because even he’s in-the-know like that. He’s been singing old hymns on this hallowed ground for more than 80 years, but he also knows how some of us in this church family like to sing Chris Tomlin and Lincoln Brewster every now and then. And he knows we’re often absent from the pews on Labor Day weekend, because we’re sitting under Sunday sun in front of an outdoor stage.

“Yes,” I nod, “We were there. Saw a lot of guitar players, too. But you know what? You’re my favorite one of all. Hands down.”

And he opens wide his mouth to let laughter spill from a reservoir of deep joy. He shakes his head, and he thinks I’m joking.

“You know,” he adds, “I’ve got a six-string at home, from 1931. It’s an antique.”

“Do you play much at home?” I ask him, and he nods his answer.

“When I get to feelin’ down sometimes, you know, I get out my guitar and sing,” he says.

We talk awhile about how we can worship all day long when songs and Psalms are imprinted on the soul.

He reminds me that he memorized all of Psalm 1 as a child. He’s told me that a few times before, but I just listen to the story again. Years ago, I scratched his name in the margins of those verses that start with the words: “Blessed is the man …”

I thank him again. Before I turn to go, I put my hand on his back, tell him I hope he’ll play for us again sometime.

And he smiles wide his answer. “I ‘spect I could do that.”

And I ‘spect I’ll find the best seat in the house to hear him.

Related: Point. Click. Worship.

by | September 8, 2010 | 26 comments


  1. thesavingmomparents

    So beautiful! God really does use the simplest things of this world to confound the wise, doesn't He? ~Jessica

  2. Chris Godfredsen

    Good stuff, Jennifer! Good for Helmer, too. God smiled big-time on Sunday on what took place in that little country church, and others like it!

  3. Chris Godfredsen

    Good stuff, Jennifer! Good for Helmer, too. God smiled big-time on Sunday on what took place in that little country church, and others like it!

  4. S. Etole

    What a wise choice you made … and Helmer.

  5. lynnrush


  6. RCUBEs

    God bless Helmer and what a beautiful note of his worshipful heart he must be playing in front of the Listener he's pleasing…For many years. So beautiful to hear about it!

  7. Lyla Lindquist

    How I had hoped this story would flow from your picture-painting word brush, just like those stars twinkling in a very frassy sky. And here it is.

    I think I like Helmer. Thanks for making sure he doesn't get pushed aside for the next big thing.

    (I smiled especially at this: I have my grandmother's name scrawled on Psalm 1, right here.)

  8. Linda

    For some reason I find it hard to keep from weeping – sweet tears (not the bitter kind).
    I want to give you a bit hug for choosing so well – and Helmer too, just because.

  9. Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus

    Lyla — I'm laughing out loud about that "frassy sky." God sure knows how to bling out the heavenlies. 🙂 … And I love the photo of your Psalm 1.

    Linda — A cried a few tears, too. 🙂

  10. janelle

    I love how music ministers! For Helmer, when he "gets to feelin' down" and for each of us, a different reason.

    Thank you God for music and the ability to sing and dance and clap and…worship with Kari Jobe!!!

  11. redletterbelievers

    Our music has gotten far too professional and slick. There's something we can learn from the Helmers in our midst.

  12. Stephani

    Thank you for sharing this. I wish I could have been there. Stories about the elderly always make me cry these days. My parents, in their eighties now, are struggling so.

  13. jasons

    I love the new and I love the old. How precious are these saints to share their hard-won faith and persevering hope! Great post, Jennifer. Thanks.

  14. Nancy

    Nothing like that old-timey gospel music, especially when it comes from the hands and the heart of one who has walked with Jesus for many years. I hope that sometime during eternity I'll get to sit next to Helmer in heaven and sing What A Friend with him there. Enjoyed this thoroughly.

  15. Deidra

    It is rare on this side of heaven to make a choice as good as yours.

  16. Megan Willome

    Yes! Yes! Yes! My son is playing guitar, and I like this story because it shows that the instrument he loves so much can still be enjoyable and bring people joy, even if he never "makes it" as a professional musician.

  17. Amy

    Great post!! Thank you for sharing, Jennifer!

    I'll be posting about our experiences at Lifelight as well in the coming weeks. Stop by when you have time. 🙂 Glad to hear you made it over here for some if it!


  18. Graceful

    Oh beautiful, beautiful. Your prose just makes me want to give Helmer (love the name!) a big, fat hug and tell him thank you for blessing you…and us!

  19. Beth E.

    What a sweet, touching tribute to Helmer. This brought tears to my eyes, Jennifer.

  20. Amy Sullivan

    Your posts are so well-written that when it is time for me to click away, I always leave feeling as if I truly know the person you are writing about.

    Now really, that's a gift.

  21. Kay @ Off the Beaten Path

    I absolutely love this. To me, this is what church is all about. It's a family, a local family, of believers who put each other first, love the simple things about each other, and know a good thing when they see it. Indeed, "blessed is the man" and that man is obviously a blessing too.

  22. Anne Lang Bundy

    How I appreciate your heart, Jennifer! We spent Sunday night listening to a simple musician. As my kids grew a little restless listening to instrumental hymns they didn't recognize, I spoke similar words to them, certain that even if the music blessed them less than me, they nonetheless received the blessing of his zeal for Jesus Christ.

    You are so beautiful!

  23. Alleluiabelle

    I love you my friend. This was so beautiful to read. I don't know this man, but I want to put my arms around him and give him a great big hug…and you too!

    You're the best!


  24. Jennifer

    Many times, it's those whose names will never be in lights or splashed across thousands of papers–those are the ones whose daily obedience to Christ is so beautiful like Helmer. They call us back to listen. Good stuff here.

  25. robert

    It was your reference to "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" that caught my eye this morning. Beautiful hymn! And I used to live quite close to where the author, Joseph Scriven lived, in Port Hope, Ontario. He was born in 1819, nearly 200 years ago. Yet his hymn continues to bless us.

    If you enjoy reading about our hymns and their authors, I invite you to check out my daily blog on the subject, Wordwise Hymns. Also, another quick commercial…

    With the arrival of fall, we begin to think of the Christmas season up ahead. If you do not have a good book on the subject of our Christmas carols, I encourage you to take a look at mine, Discovering the Songs of Christmas. In it, I discuss the history and meaning of 63 carols and Christmas hymns. The book is available through Amazon. (Might make a great gift too!)

  26. Connie Mace

    Oh Jennifer…very dear of you to choose wisely…to treasure Helmer while he's with you…what a blessing


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