The Hymnal

June 3, 2009 | 16 comments

She walked in while I was straightening the empty sanctuary in preparation for the second night of Vacation Bible School.

Her voice echoed from the back, but I could barely hear her. I was up front, rocking out to a jazzed-up VBS version of “This Little Light of Mine.”

I turned down the music, and started up the aisle to meet her — a slight woman, with white hair, closely-cropped (her crown of splendor). Closer now, I could see it was Dorothy, a woman gentle in heart and words. Her wrinkled hands clutched a Lutheran hymnal — pages of praise, laments and sixteenth-century melodies bound together by a green cover.

I apologized for my loud music.

“That’s all right. That’s all right,” she said, brushing off the apology with a gentle smile. She rather liked all the excitement, she said, and then explained why she was here.

“I came to find a place for this,” Dorothy said, holding out her old green hymnal.

She’d had it for many years now; she used to play the hymns on her own piano. She’d come to know many of the songs by heart — right here in this sanctuary where tonight, the sound of cranked-up praise and screaming kids would rattle the stained glass.

But today, it was time to pass the hymnal on, leaving it here for future generations of hymn singers.

You could tell she wanted to talk a while. She took a seat in the pew. So I joined her.

And we talked.

We talked about her move. Dorothy and her husband had moved to the apartments attached to the nursing home. It’s the kind of place that gives older folks freedom to live independently, while offering them security of help next door.

We talked about her health. Dorothy’s had heart troubles that have given her a few scares lately — “but the good Lord still has me here.”

We talked about the sale, too. A few days earlier, many of her belongings had been sold — old dishes, housewares, furniture. … And her old piano.

But the hymnal? For some reason, it didn’t end up on the sale — so she brought it to the church three days later, hoping to find a home for it in a pew rack. Who else would want it? she asked.

I took the hymnal in my hands.

“I’ve got one of these, only it’s the Methodist version,” I told her. “It’s one of the few things I have from my grandma.” I told her how my grandmother’s old hymnal has dog-eared pages, rusty paper clips still attached, and handwritten notes marking favorites. I told Dorothy how special that old hymnal was to me.

“Knowing those hymns meant something to Grandma … well, that just makes those hymns mean something extra-special to me, too.”

I asked Dorothy whether someone might like to have her hymnal. “You could even mark your favorites.”

She wasn’t sure.

We chatted some more — about Bible school, and the weather, and the fact that we’d both grown up Methodist.

We talked a good long while, and then Dorothy said it was time to go. She stood up, and he

aded up the aisle. She walked past row after row of green hymnals. Did this church really need another songbook?

In a sea of green-covered hymnals, the one in her hands was pretty special after all.

Dorothy walked out the door that morning, and in her hands, she held the same book she showed up with. She had a mind to give it to a granddaughter.


Photos: The darkened set of Crocodile Dock, our rockin’ VBS program.
Also, a sanctuary full of songbooks — evidence that Dorothy’s book has an intended home outside this steepled building.

NOTE TO READER: I RE-READ THIS POST THIS AFTERNOON (Thursday), and wonder if I’ve drawn a bit too much attention to myself. Let it be God’s name lifted high, not mine. My little act — a stolen moment with a sweet lady — is such a small, small thing. The bigger thing, is the blessing of this woman, and the faith she hands down. Bigger still, is God in the middle of it all. May this post in some small way glorify God.

The point of my blog is to seek an extraordinary God at work in this ordinary life I live. May I never stray from that.

O, Lord, guide my course of living and what I share here in this place. May these words point to You, a good and gracious God, working in the life of a woman who is thirsty for more of You … I thirst for more of You.

by | June 3, 2009 | 16 comments


  1. PW

    Very lovely post. I'm a hymnal collector myself. Though, none has been handed down to me personally, I have a couple from some of the churches I've been in, and they are a treasure. I believe having the lady give it to her granddaughter will be a treasure. It is very touching how you shared your experiences of your own hymnal from your grandparent with the lady. Very touching.

  2. Warren Baldwin

    This is a true story, isn't it? A great one. I have my grandfather's and grandmother's Bibles, and they have special meaning to me. I know this lady's granddaughter will cherish the hymnal. Good story.

  3. Jennifer

    Thank you, PW. I'm a big fan of old hymns and contemporary hits alike. Especially cool: hearing old hymns remade into upbeat songs.

    Warren — Yes, it's true. It happened yesterday morning, as I was getting the set ready for Bible school. This woman is a longtime member of our parish, and this is the first time I've ever sat down and talked to her, I mean REALLY talked to her. It was a blessing — a gift from God and a reminder of what happens when we take the time to slow down and talk awhile with one another.

  4. Lyla Lindquist

    This gift you have, of seeing moments such as this one. Amazing what God does when you put that other gift you've talked about here before, time, together with the one of seeing.

    You've blessed your dear saint with that, who will bless another with the gift of the hymnal.

    And go us, we get to be blessed with the encouragement of what can happen when we stop for 30 seconds and pay attention to someone.

    I hoard my 30 seconds. Thanks for the reminder to use them more loosely.

  5. Lyla Lindquist

    Oh, and by the way, we start rockin' on the Crocodile Dock next week…

  6. Laura

    I love your shack! We are getting excited for VBS…just not quite ready yet. 🙂 We still have a couple weeks to go, but your set makes me all tremble to start blastin' that music!

    I love this tender post, Jennifer. You are a blessing to your church family.

  7. Heidi

    Hey Thanks for stopping by Jennifer! I never know if anyone really reads it or not LOL. It wasn't meant to be SAD but then again we are moving on somewhat unexpectedly from the church we moved here to work at. Thanks for taking the time to look and comment. I have enjoyed poking around on your blog!

  8. Heidi

    I forgot to mention that we are interviewing at and really hoping to be hired at a church in Iowa 😉

  9. Sarah Dawn

    My grandmother danced into eternity this past month. Her illness brought us home off the mission field. We were honored to do her memorial service. The final reading, a verse my Gram had marked in my Bible, the one she gave me when I turned 18. A sweet surprise awaited me. In her Bible, in the dog eared, duck taped one, the one she actually used and marked in, she wrote another special note "This belongs to Sarah Dawn" Such a sweet post, such a sweet memory.

    Thanks for splashin' by my blog today and soaking me with your comment.

    Hugs as we head home,
    Sarah Dawn

  10. Rod and Jean B

    Such a tender loving post and thank you for taking the time to spend with Dorothy as am sure it meant a lot to her with all the recent changes in their lives.

  11. elaine @ peace for the journey

    I know her grand-daughter will appreciate having it one day. I have my grandmother's Bible; I can't help but think about what she was thinking about when she wrote her notes/dates/names in the margins. She died when I was young, but I know that we will eternity to discuss her thoughts and mine.

    I'm glad for your "sacred intersection." Sounds like you both received something more than what you anticipated.


  12. Steph

    thanks Jennifer, for taking time for this dear lady. You gave her the greatest gift, your time! neat post

  13. RCUBEs

    Sister Jennifer, I think your post clearly showed how real you were, that as a Christian, that's what we must do, be a source of encouragement with each other and that was what you did with that lady. You spent time listening with her. And I'm sure she appreciated your time. Who was glorified? God! Because His love flows through you and you are just being real with everything that happens with everything that you do. You are His reflection so your post goes back to Him. Yes, to God be the glory! God bless you and may He continue to reveal His wisdom through your writing.

  14. Daughter of the King

    Absolutely precious. And rest assured, I never once thought this post was about you. Your writing clearly reflects your faith in and love for our Father.

    Heartwarming story.


  15. Billy Coffey

    I have to say that I'm a hymn kind of guy. I like the praise and worship, but those old songs mean a lot to me.

    I love your little moments, Jennifer. They always contain big truths.

  16. Lyla Lindquist

    Just caught your update. A little self-check never hurt anybody. But…I also look at this story and find you couldn't tell it and leave your part out. Nor could He.

    You pointed in the right direction

    It's what you do.


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