The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


July 16, 2009

A hootenanny is like church?

There are certain things we try to do each summer with the kids, especially when visiting our lake cabin in Minnesota. Last summer about this time I made a list of those rituals in this very blog space.

On July 4, we revived a lake ritual I grew up with but haven’t enjoyed in years. We had a good old-fashioned Sevig Hootenanny. Think: Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul and Mary, old hymns. In decades past (60s, 70s) my brothers and I knew all the words to “Tom Dooley,” “M.T.A.” and “This Land is Your Land” without skipping a beat. But now we’re in our 50s and 60s. The guitarists scrambled for chords and the singers stumbled over the words—but occasionally we came on strong and sure. Many of the 60s folk songs are as deeply rooted as the trees that tower over our cabin.

And there was one that produced a sense of longing and sadness when my niece asked, “What’s the one Grandma always wanted to sing before we all went to bed?” Ah yes, “Don’t it Make You Want To Go Home?”

Don’t it make you wanna go home?
Don’t it make you wanna go home?
All God’s children get weary when they roam
Don’t it make you wanna go home?

The family has changed since we last had a hootenanny—my parents are both gone, there have been two divorces, more grandchildren and even a great grandchild added. And this was the first hootenanny for a spouse and boyfriend. If we were struggling, they really struggled while trying to catch on to these family favorites.

That’s when I saw the evening as a metaphor for church. People continually walk through our doors trying to get the hang of what we’ve been doing for years. They’re joining a family with a history and a song—sometimes watching and learning, sometimes joining in. And together, the newly made group both stumbles and comes on strong.

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