Visions of sugar plums dancing in children’s heads during this Christmas season calls to mind a memorable evening at Montreat some years ago.
During a conference, participants had arrived for an old fashioned Montreat-style barn dance. The bleachers were full and the floor was comfortably crowded. As the Stoney Creek Boys played good mountain dance music, everyone danced the figures with ease and all were enjoying the company of friends and conferees.
As the caller, I decided to do a trio dance called the Black Mountain trio in which trios are facing trios. The instructions were given and the dance was about to begin, when two little boys came forth and said, “Mister, we want to dance.”
So I asked for one person to come and dance with the little boys to make the trio. To my surprise, out of the more than 100 conferees on the side lines, no one came forth. I asked several times, with no response, and then out of desperation, I asked, “Is there a Christian in the house who could dance with these two boys?”
Still, no one came forth. To keep the many dancers on the floor from waiting any longer, I was about to say to the little fellows, “Just pretend that you have a third person.”
Then, at the far end of the barn, I saw folks moving out of the way and, to my surprise, a gentleman in a wheel-chair came rolling across the floor toward the little boys. He rolled up between the two fellows, held out his hands and made the trio complete.
I worried about how the whole dance sequence would work with the new trio’s having to move around the dance floor, but then somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered that Scripture has something to say about our being led by children.
At that point, I relaxed and called the figures and to my amazement the participants danced as if there wasn’t a wheel-chair on the floor. It was beautiful to see the graceful movement of the dancers on the floor. At the end of the dance, the two young boys hugged their partner with huge grins on their faces.
I, of course, recognized the man in the wheel chair because he was the keynote speaker for the conference and that year’s moderator of the General Assembly — Howard Rice.
As we talked after the dance, Howard said he was embarrassed that no one came forth as partners for the two young fellows. He said, “After you asked for ‘a Christian’ and still no one came forth, as keynote speaker of the conference, I could do no other than come forth in order that the young boys wouldn’t have to pretend that there was a third person to dance with them.”
Even though I have had many wonderful experiences seeing Scripture being fulfilled instantaneously while leading recreation, this has been a highlight of my recreation ministry. The same Jesus who came alive in a barn for the shepherds and townspeople of Bethlehem that first Christmas came alive for those two boys that night in a barn at Montreat in the form of Howard Rice.
At the close of the evening one conferee remarked to me that my style of barn-dancing just isn’t everyone’s “cup of tea.” I recognize that.
But when there is an obvious need, it seems to me that this is a time for self-giving so that others may enjoy life. Mary and Joseph didn’t want to be in that barn and Jesus didn’t want to go to the Cross, but they did it for you and me.
Thank you, Howard, and Merry Christmas to all.
Glenn Q. Bannerman is Professor Emeritus of Recreation and Outdoor Ministry, Presbyterian School of Christian Education, Richmond, Va. Howard Rice died earlier this year after a long illness.