Where The Soul (Of Man) Never Dies

Genesis

In 1897 Aleck Busch donated a small parcel of land in Dade County, Missouri, for a church.  He built it a year later. I don’t know who attended the first worship service of the Flint Hill Church of Christ or how many people were there. I wasn’t around at the time.

I first attended Flint Hill on the first or second Sunday after I was born in April of 1962. I assume it was the first or second Sunday because I can’t imagine my parents letting me go three Sundays without church. I would spend every Sunday morning for the next 18 years at Flint Hill, unless I was sick. Very, very sick.

Flint Hill was off a dirt road about a mile, maybe two, from our farm. It was a large wooden structure with a main hall, two classrooms, a slightly raised section with a wooden pulpit for the preacher, and a baptistry. There was an outhouse in the back yard. In the ’60s they added two classrooms and a bathroom. There was no stained glass. No paintings of the Virgin Mary. No statue of Jesus on the cross. No crosses.


photo-27The main hall had 16 pews, two rows of eight. Everyone sat in their own pew. There was no assigned seating but everyone knew where to sit. The first pew on the left sat empty, except when the song leader (usually dad, for a few years Roy Lee) sat there. The second pew was where Uncle Guy and Aunt Jo sat. Technically, they were my Great Uncle Guy and Great Aunt Jo, but no one called them great. Which is not to say that they weren’t great. Guy had a booming bass singing voice.

My family sat in the next row. Behind us sat Robert and Norma and their kids. Next was John and Joann and their kids. Then there was Doc and Rosa Lee. Doc wasn’t really a doctor, that was a nickname. Don’t know what Doc’s real name was. Then came Francis and in the back row sat Roy and Gladys and their boys.

The first row on the right hand side was also left empty. It was used by the men during communion. My grandmother sat in the next row. I never understood why grandma sat on the opposite side of the church from the rest of the family. When Uncle Guy died she eventually moved over to sit next to her sister.

The rest of the right side was filled in by the Baker clan — Gene and Allowee and their three daughters; and the Landers family — George and Elizabeth and their three kids. The Landers clan were always the last to arrive. I used to think that scandalous but nowadays we’re always the last to arrive so it’s not such a big deal.

This wasn’t just the congregation of Flint Hill. This was also pretty much the entire population of Cane Hill. Everyone in Cane Hill attended the Flint Hill Church of Christ except the Rountree clan. The Rountrees left Flint Hill at some point and began attending the Church of Christ in Stockton. No one ever spoke of it and I never knew what caused the schism.

photo-23Service began at 10:15 a.m. The song leader (usually dad, for a few years Roy Lee) would lead the congregation in three songs. There was no piano. No organ. No tambourine. No band with guitars and microphones. No clapping. No choir. You sang with the congregation or you didn’t sing at all. And we sang out of hymnals, not off some power point image on a screen.

And we sang the oldie tymie hymns. The ones God intended. “Softly and Tenderly,” “How Great Thou Art,” “A Beautiful Life,” “Where The Soul Of Man Never Dies.” (You can’t sing “Where The Soul of Man Never Dies” in contemporary churches because it has the word “man” in it. That’s sexist, don’tcha know.) None of that contemporary Christian crap. God, how I hate contemporary Christian music. I’m convinced contemporary Christian music is a plot by Satan to make Christians stupider and more susceptible to evil. If I’m older than the hymn I’m singing, I don’t want to sing it.

After the three-song opening, someone would get up and read a chapter from the Bible. That was as close as we got to a sermon. We didn’t have a preacher in those days. Once a week in the summer we would bring a preacher in for a gospel meeting. That week was also the only time we put water in the baptistry.

This is where my longtime dislike of preaching began. Every night for a week in the summer I would have to sit in church and listen to someone go on about the Good Samaritan or whatever. Church of Christ preachers do not deliver 10- or 15-minute sermons. No, they go on a half-hour minimum, 45 minutes as a rule and have been known to ramble on for an hour when really motivated.

And it wasn’t just the one week. Dad would haul us to gospel meetings in Bona and Stockton and Greenfield. It seemed like every night in summer I was in church. What kid wants to spend their summer nights in church? And don’t get me started on Vacation Bible School.

After the scripture reading someone would say a prayer and we would break up into classes for bible study. Small kids in one room, older kids in the other while the adults stayed in the main hall. After 30 minutes or so classes would end and the kids would return to the main hall. We’d sing a song to prepare our minds for communion, then we’d partake in communion, followed by the offering. Dad would ask if anyone had any announcements — usually no one did — and then we’d sing another song and have a final prayer.

And that was the way it was. Week after week, Sunday after Sunday, year after year. No Christmas Eve candlelight service. No sunrise Easter service. No Advent. No Lent. Every service was the same as the last; today, tomorrow and yesterday. It was formal, predictable, comfortable and boring.

And I liked it that way.

Exodus 

In 1980 I left Cane Hill to attend the University of Missouri in Columbia. Columbia had a Church of Christ that was much larger and more energetic than Flint Hill. The church crowd was especially enthusiastic. I didn’t care for them. I sat in the back and kept my head down, which was the method that would keep me going through most of my non-Flint Hill churchgoing for the next 30 years.

In 1984 I met Laura Thielmeier and fell in love. She was a Presbyterian. I had never met a Presbyterian. We didn’t have Presbyterians in southwest Missouri that I knew of. We had a variety of Baptists, some Methodists, some Mormons, the Assembly of God types and a few Catholics.

 The first time I attended church with Laura was the first time I attended a church with an organ. I can’t hear myself sing! Why is everyone singing the melody? Why is the organist going crazy on every last verse? What’s with all the recitation? When’s communion? They don’t do communion every Sunday?

If I had been more devout I would’ve dumped Laura right there and waited for some nice Church of Christ girl to come along. But I wasn’t stupid. Better to spend a nice life with Lar on earth and take my chances at the Judgement. God wouldn’t really send someone to eternal hellfire for marrying a Presbyterian, would he? I figured on the tally of all my sins, marrying Laura would be the least of them.

For a time we attended separate churches but ultimately decided that was pointless. We settled on the Christian Church in St. Charles, which we attended until something happened, at which point we attended a Christian Church in Creve Coeur, until something happened, and after much searching we wound up at a church a few miles down the road from the previous one. We have found in our travels that there is no perfect church. We did find a minister we liked, and it’s a testament to how much we like him that we go to his church despite all that contemporary Christian music.

Meanwhile back home, a retired preacher showed up one day at Flint Hill and offered his services and so for the first time in my memory, Flint Hill had preaching. That preacher eventually left and was replaced by another retired preacher. It seemed preaching was at Flint Hill to stay. It made quite a change in the Sunday morning routine. By this time I was only attending Flint Hill a half-dozen times a year.

Revelation

photo-24

The Flint Hill Church of Christ held its final worship service on December 30, 2012. In the end it wasn’t Satan or Mayan predictions of doom that ended the church’s 115-year run. It was time, death and my g-g-generation.

Of the stalwarts that made up the congregation of my youth — Guy, Jo, Grandma, Mom, Robert, John, Joann, Doc, Rosa Lee, Francis, Roy, Gladys and George have all passed on. A few months ago the preacher re-retired. Seeing the writing on the wall, Gene and Allowee transferred to Bona some time later. Elizabeth joined them a few weeks later.

And their kids? Well, most of them saw no future in Cane Hill and went off to college and then moved away — spread throughout the state and throughout the country. Of the few who stayed, most didn’t stay with Flint Hill, instead choosing other, larger churches to raise their kids.

Not that I judge them. When my time came, I figured farming was a dead end and chose instead the bright, unending future of newspapers. If I’d had a better crystal ball I might’ve spent more time learning how to plow a field and less time learning the inverted pyramid.

When you spend a lot of time at the same church people expect you to place membership there. I’ve done it a couple times but my heart was never into it. Flint Hill is my church. Maybe I’m only there a half-dozen times a year, but it’s the church where I grew up, where I was baptized, where I know everyone, where they’ll have my funeral.

Or that was the plan. Now I don’t know what they’ll do with the body. I guess it doesn’t matter, as I won’t be in any condition to do anything about it.

Is there life after death? I don’t know. I hope so. My atheist friends think it’s all silly and I’ll admit there are days I agree with them. Still, I like to believe that somewhere in the vast expanse of heaven there’s an old country church and every Sunday morning you’ll find Uncle Guy and Aunt Jo and Grandma and Mom and all the old gang. And they pray. And worship. And sing.

Dear friends there’ll be no sad farewells
There’ll be no tear-dimmed eyes
Where all is peace and joy and love…

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16 responses to “Where The Soul (Of Man) Never Dies

  1. Possibly the most touching thing you have ever written. Well done.

  2. Camille Whitaker

    OH My Gosh! That was awesome Ronnie!! Thanks so much for writing that piece!!

  3. Clark Montgomery

    Very, very nice!

  4. Oh my gosh that was awesome! I have such memories of Flint Hill. Hearing Uncle Lee lead the singing, class with all you guys in the little room up front. Hate to hear that about it. But I do like the thought of the end of your story.

  5. Wonderful! You got almost all the details right…just kidding. You don’t remember when Grandmother Roy went there, or Bill Shanks (always went to sleep and dropped his songbook..), Elmer Fox, and lots of others. But they have all “gone on.” It makes me realize MY generation is on the “front line” now: we’re next. Not a happy thought, but a real one.
    Hope you all are doing well and have a Happy New Year.
    Love,
    Jean

  6. Thanks Ronnie – this is great!!

  7. Great job, Ronnie!!! AND The pictures are neat!!! Haven’t seen the sign in a LOOONNNG time!!!

  8. The best writing I’ve read in a long while, anywhere.

  9. Thanks so much for sharing a brief synopsis of your “spiritual journey.” I’m honored to have shared in the later part of the journey,.

  10. I enjoyed this. Very well done and true to your authentic writing voice.

  11. A nice tribute to a country church that has meant so much to so many people who have passed through its doors over the last hundred years. Whether you were a member who attended your whole life, or you just passed through and visited a few times, to the good people of Cane Hill who spent most of our lives there, the Flint Hill church of Christ will live on in our hearts until the day we die … and are reunited with our family and friends once again.

  12. best article ever…i love the flint hill church and i always will. doubt if anything else like it exists on this earth. i’ll definitely be looking for it when i get to the other side (i DO believe in heaven) and i’m planning on eating some donuts with grandma and playing kick the picket with aunt ginny. and chewing on a toothpick with aunt jo, my namesake. and the soul of man will never die.

  13. Amen, Cousin Donna!!

  14. Melva Rosenbaum Fidler

    Following links from “Randy Brenda” to Jack to you, I was saddened to learn of the last worship at Flint Hill. You have written a fine tribute. Doc was my Dad, Melvin Rosenbaum. Mom, Rosa Lee, walked cross country to church when she was little and was one of the many members baptized in the Cane Hill City Bathtub (creek), way before baptistries. I still worshiped there when I’m “home” from PA, guess I’ll be spending Sunday morning at Bona now, as well as Sun pm and Wed and ladies class: the other meetings that had long since disappeared from Flint Hill. It’s comforting to know time is not where God dwells, and Flint Hill will always be where His people met.

  15. Karen Rosenbaum Marks

    My sister Melva connected me with your story, Ronnie and I’m very thankful. It brought back many dear memories of Flint Hill and the good people that have attended over the years. The elders you mention, I can still see in my mind’s eye and heart.
    The church at Flint Hill provided my core experience of the BIble and of Jesus’ Love as I attended with my family age 0-17. Since leaving the area for college and job and family, I’ve done a lot of exploring but the innocence of receiving and teaching the Beatitudes (I was a Sunday school teacher for a time as a teenager) has continued to be a touchstone memory.
    My husband and I are just returning for walking the Camino Santiago through Northern Spain — the 500 miles pilgrimage route of St. James. We plan to do it again next year. I carry my gratitude for Flint Hill Church and all the people there with me.
    Blessings, Karen

  16. Hi Ronnie, Today is April 12, 2013, and I just found your excellent story a few minutes ago. I attended Flint Hill from sometime after 7-22-50 when my Mom, Rosa Lee Daughtrey Rosenbaum, gave birth to me until I left for college and jobs in fall 1968. I was told my Dad, Melvin Leroy Rosenbaum,
    picked up his nickname, Doc, when as a high school basketball player he
    gave some first aid to another player with a bloody nose.
    My good memories of the Flint Hill elders, worship, singing, reverence for the Bible, etc. resonate with yours. I found there that “lay people” could serve communion and Christ would be as much present there and then as when a clergy served. The place of women in the church was never a big deal to me as the leading women, who lived the life day by day, too, seemed just as much leaders to me as any men there. The elders, including my parents, got me started on a quality life of faith that has become more abundant and humorous over time, and I trust there will be a reunion in paradise, then sometime the resurrection and the life of the world to come.
    One day in the 60s, at Flint Hill church, we had an older preacher who, it felt to me, was preaching longer than 20 to 30 minutes. My stomach began
    growling and rumbling, at least that I could hear. He took out his wrist watch and checked it from time to time, but kept going. After a while more,
    he asked “Brother (Guy) Roy, what time is it getting to be ?” Guy told him
    “1:30, but keep going, its all good !” I had been glancing at a clock on the
    wall above Guy and Jo, which read exactly that. The preacher said his watch
    had stopped. Boy, oh, boy, I had been sorely tempted to get up and walk out, but I had done that once before, and my Dad had warned me in his most solemn tones to not ever do that again, with an implication of some grave consequence if I dared to, so I had continued to apply the seat of my britches to the pew. He was big on respecting the respectable.
    My two sisters and I sat in different places but we all experienced the love
    of Jesus there. I did some Sunday school teaching and quickly came to
    the limit of my knowledge, which has been a motivator ever since to get
    informed as possible, which has been a tall order that I have been working at over the while.
    I still go to church regularly and volunteer for little jobs there.
    As I was taught by Flint Hillers, I have experienced that Jesus is still Lord of all, and you could not keep me away from group worship with wild horses.
    Love and respect,
    John David Rosenbaum, Marshall, Mo., clinical caseworker, ret.

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