Church twice

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(HOST) Recently, two events coincided in a way that got com- mentator Edith Hunter thinking about the meaning of the word “religious”.

(HUNTER) My daughter Elizabeth was up from North Carolina on her regular June visit. She helps me in the mornings put in my garden, and helps her brother Charles in the afternoons with his music festival in Bellows Falls.

Sunday morning we went to church up in the Center. It was an interesting sermon on Aimee Semple McPherson and her “Four Square Gospel”. This woman evangelist dominated the religious news when I was a little girl in the 1920s. She used a great deal of music in her revivalistic services, and told her followers that “music was a foretaste of Heaven.”

In the afternoon, my daughter went down to Charlie’s “Roots on The River” in Bellows Falls. The final concert is held at the old Rockingham Meeting House. When Elizabeth arrived home, she said: “Well, I went to church twice today, but I really went to church in the afternoon.”

I knew what she meant. The morning service had been interesting, and the hymns part of what was, on the whole, an academic exer- cise. But the afternoon “service” had stirred her emotions. If one aspect of religion is sharing experience in a way that makes us feel part of something larger than ourselves, only the afternoon service provided that experience.

Much of the weekend in Bellows Falls had a religious quality. People came from all over the United States and Canada to hear and be moved by songs of social protest. There were songs about young people lost to drugs and alcohol, prisoners on death row, long neglected Vietnam veterans and workers left jobless.

One song lamented that “we can’t make it here anymore” – with the double meaning that we have out-sourced our manufacturing and so don’t make many things here anymore, and that the left behind workers “can’t make it anymore.”

Back in the 1920s in Los Angles, the largely blue-collar congre- gations in Aimee Semple McPherson’s Angelus Temple numbered thousands. Emotions ran high, some spoke in toungues, miracu- lous cures were claimed. McPherson’s presentations were always dramatic. And although Charlie Chaplin told her that she was essentially an actress, no one hesitated to call the gatherings “religious”.

Nor should we hesitate to call many folk-song gatherings “reli- gious”. Let’s reclaim the word for those who today are calling our attention to the victims of our materialistic society: the poor, the jobless, the homeless, the addicted and those in prison.

My daughter is a writer and volunteers her skills at writing work- shops in a prison near her in North Carolina. Her “students” are black and white, young and old, most soon to leave prison. She says that their writing, often hopeful, moves her deeply, and that every session is a religious experience – a good use of the word.

This is Edith Hunter on the Center Road.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center. She spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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