"Let us all stand"

I was a child in Memphis, Tennessee, but I still remember this service.

It was a Sunday evening; service started at 6:00 sharp.

A visiting minister respected by all was there. He was known to go long in the pulpit, but he didn't usually do bad.

Song service was abbreviated - that was standard procedure from my pastor when a speaker was known to preach for an hour or more.

At 6:30, he was in the pulpit. He started out by telling some stories. He was doing good. He had our attention. He spoke for a while, but the people maintained interest.

After a solid hour, his voice boomed out, "Let us stand"! We rose to our feet. Normally he went for an hour-and-a-half, but tonight he was shorter. We were excited!

But he wasn't done speaking. He continued, "Let us all stand ... for the reading of the scripture!"

A gasp echoed across The House of God. This was not the end. This was the beginning.

He read his text, and we slowly took seated positions in the pews. This was going to be a long night.

He exhorted for about 2 hours after this. I don't remember much of what followed, but what I do remember is that around 9:30 he spoke the words of comfort, "In closing". He had gone 3 hours, but now we had reached the end.

We all stood. He spoke a few final closing thoughts. He continued doing this for 5 minutes. 10 minutes. 15 minutes. At 20 minutes, most of us realized that he was not through yet. We took our seats once more, resigned that he was not yet truly closing.

10:00 rolled around, and The Pastor looked over to the church organist (who was also my mother) and pointed toward the organ. No words were needed. He motioned her to the platform, and she began to play softly. 3 and half hours were enough. The special speaker was receiving his curtain call.

At 10:30 pm (4 hours in), he issued the call: "I invite you all to join me in the altar." The floodgates opened. Whether from exhortation, attrition, or fear of elongating the service even further, we ALL made our way to the front of the church.

He still had the microphone. He continued talking. 15-20 minutes in at the altar, The Pastor asked for the mic. "Didn't Brother ______ do good?" There was silence in Heaven for the space of 10 seconds. "Alright. let's close with prayer." The Pastor prayed, and we were dismissed. Dad leaned over to me and my Brother and said, 'let's go family!'

Dad pulled the car up to the church door, and Mom met us there. All of us headed off to find food. The digital clock on the dashboard read, "11:05". Burger King was closed. McDonald's was too (this was the 1990's). We found a Taco Bell drive-through near the midnight hour, and at 11:50 we were back home.

That night I learned an important ministerial lesson: there's a fine line between a long message and a hostage situation!


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