In celebration of the holiday, this morning we attended a Fourth of July ceremony held in a Civil War era chapel not far from our house.  The preservation and use of the chapel had been taken up about ten years ago by a small group of passionate and motivated individuals and for most of the years since its restoration, the July 4th ceremony has been the high point of their calendar of events.  We have wanted to attend for a few years now but for one reason or another have not made the five-minute drive up the road.  Today, finally, we made the trip.

The chapel is small—perhaps 20 feet by 30 feet—and can hold about 50 people in six rows of pews.  When we got there, shortly before the service was set to start, it was already almost full.  By the time the festivities started, every seat was taken and a few people were standing at the back.  As the man who organized the event later observed, this is the first year that the crowd exceeded capacity.

The service included readings of the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to and Bill of Rights from the Constitution, several patriotic poems (my only complaint with the service is that citations for the readings were not included in the printed program) and one or two blessings and prayers (even though the service was ostensibly secular).  Of course, we started with the Pledge of Allegiance (it has been a while since I have done this but I was able to remember the words).

The readings were all fine but what I enjoyed most was the singing.  After our pledge to the flag, we sang the first and last verses of the Star-Spangled Banner (I did not know previously that Francis Scott Key wrote four).  This was followed, at intervals, by America (which also has four verses), America the Beautiful (three verses; it may have more), This Land is Your Land (including some verses I had never seen before), God Bless America and a religious hymn I did not recognize.

Most of the lyrics were provided, thoughtfully, on a handout inserted into the program.  The handout did not include, however, the lyrics for the hymn and God Bless America.  I think this is because the organizers and most of those assembled were members of the congregation of one of the churches in town and knew the words from frequent singings at Sunday services.  I looked up the words to God Bless America on the internet and found that just like for White Christmas, Irving Berlin wrote for the unofficial national anthem a brief introduction that is almost never heard.

I had forgotten how enjoyable it is to sing with a large group of people, especially such familiar songs in such an informal setting.  Although there were clearly (and audibly) a few trained—or at least well-practiced—voices in the audience (I would include Rachel in this group), most of us were just belting it out (I did try to sing harmony on This Land is Your Landbut I’m not sure how successful I was).  It was a simple shared experience that provided joy to a small group of strangers on a hot July morning.

We plan to go again next year.

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