Thursday, December 17, 2009
A CHRISTMAS MEMORY
Many years ago when my kids were quite small we attended Westmoreland Chapel in Los Angeles. It was a no-nonsense kind of church and was so important to us that we drove in each Sunday from our home in Ontario, some 50 miles to the east of L.A. We met in an old two story house; the smaller children had their functions upstairs and the adults met downstairs. The service began at 10 and concluded at noon - no choir, no announcements, no performances, nothing to take up that time except preaching the word of God, and that is what the adults came to hear.
As a matter of fact, because so many families came from so far -- Redondo Beach, Eagle Rock, Ontario -- we all brought our lunch so we could have another teaching period in the early afternoon. Because the pastor and his wife were from England, late in the afternoon we had a nice tea and it was only then that we headed home for another week, usually between four and five in the afternoon. This was our choice and we came from near and far.
The kids' dad and I had met in a college choir and singing had always been a big part of our lives. We integrated our children into our continuing interest in music. Early on we began going to nursing homes at Christmas time. I played the guitar and our family sang the familiar Carols. I also taught my kids (who ranged in age from 4 to 8) a very special, unusual Christmas song called "The Friendly Beasts" and they would sing that to the old folks as the close of our time at the nursing home. I taught them a tiny bit of harmony and as you can imagine, there was hardly a dry eye in the house.
At the same time I began working with Children's choirs at Vacation Bible Schools and Christmas programs at various Ontario-area churches. This was something that I loved doing; my own children always went with me and helped bolster the little choirs that I worked with. When we made the move to Westmoreland Chapel - I'd guess the year was about 1966 - there were really no activities specifically laid out for children. I was reluctant to get involved in anything that would take me away from the adult learning that was going on downstairs, but as the first Christmas neared I talked to the pastor about teaching the children some Christmas songs to be sung for the "congregation" on the Sunday before Christmas. He agreed, and I began working with the few children we had.
The picture above is "the children's choir" of Westmoreland Chapel for that year. This was the sum total of all elementary aged children. But those kids sang their hearts out. They responded to my coaching and did a wonderful job that morning. I think maybe we had five songs to sing, and as usual, "The Friendly Beasts" was the finale. The kids loved singing as much as I did, and for me, it was a very special Christmas. I asked my kids the other day if they remembered "The Friendly Beasts" - and of course they did.
Here's the song, in case you are unfamiliar with it.